How Special is Mary?
On the wall of the Kennedy Expressway underpass in Chicago is a stain which many believe is a representation of the Virgin Mary. For the past a few weeks, police patrolled the area, and hundred of people walked to see the image and a large memorial of flowers and candles around it. Elbia Tello said, “We believe it’s a miracle. We have faith, and we can see her face.”
The reason that Elbia Tello and others flocked to Chicago to see this image is that Mary has been given a special place in Catholic theology. John Paul II’s coat of arms had a large “M” for Mary.
The rosary is largely a prayer to Mary. Part of the rosary is the “Hail Mary” which is like this: “Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Another part of the rosary is the “Hail, Holy Queen” which is like this: “Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness, and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us; and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus; O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.” I pray that you find these prayers as blasphemous as do I.
But how special is Mary? tonight, I want us to look at Mary through the eyes of Catholic theology, and then examine that theology through the truth of Scripture.
Mary is Considered a Perpetual Virgin in Catholic Theology
Notice this quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The deepening of faith in the virginial motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man” (paragraph #499, p. 126).
Granted, the Bible does present Mary as a virgin. “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18). “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:22-23). When Gabriel informed Mary that she was to bear a child, she asked him, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Lk 1:34).
There can be no doubt that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth, yet contrary to Catholic theology she did not remain a virgin. Notice what Matthew writes: “He had no union with her until she gave birth to a son” (Matt 1:25). If Joseph and Mary never had sexual intercourse, why does the text say they did not have a sexual union until after Jesus was born?
The New Testament refers to other children Mary had. “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him” (Matt 12:46). Matthew 13:54-56.
The Catholic Church, of course, teaches that these were not brothers of Jesus, but close relatives. Notice the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact, James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus,’ are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary.’ They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression” (paragraph #500, p. 126).
The Greek word means “brother.” It isn’t always used to mean a sibling; in the New Testament, both fellow Jews and fellow Christians refer to each other as “brothers.” However, John the Baptizer, who was a close relative of Jesus (probably a first cousin) is never called Jesus’ “brother.” Taking “brother” int eh two passages mentioned above to mean anything other than sibling would be greatly odd, for Jesus’ mother is mentioned in both texts. Why would you refer to “mother” and “brother” in such close proximity and not mean sibling?
Mary is Worshiped in Catholic Theology
Catholics deny that they worship Mary in the same light as they do God. According to Catholic theology, there are three levels of veneration. The highest level is reserved for God alone. The lowest level is reserved for angels and saints. Mary comes in between the two.
Several elements in the veneration of Mary comes quite closely to worship. Again from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship. The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion” (paragraph #971, p. 253). “Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the actions of the Holy Spirit, the church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.” There are several prayers—including the rosary—which are given to Mary.
God—and God alone—is worthy of praise. When Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet, Peter replied, “Stand up, I am only a man myself” (Acts 10:26). Peter was an apostle, the first Pope in Catholic theology, and he refused special honor. At the conclusion of Revelation, John bowed down to worship the angel who had shown him all the wonders to come. The angel said to John, “Do not do it! I am fellow servant with you an with your brothers the prophets and o all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (Rev 22:9). Again, angels are honored in Catholic theology, but this angel refuses any special honor.
Only Deity can hear and accept our prayers. “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6:6). “One of those days Jesus went to the mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Lk 6:12). “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5).
Jesus had many opportunities to exalt his mother, but he consistently failed to do so. Matthew 12:46-50. Jesus could have said, “Bring in my mother—she’s important—she’s honored.” But he doesn’t do that at all—He looks around at the disciples and says, “The one who does God’s will; that’s my mother.”
Jesus had a great opportunity to honor his mother (Lk 11:27-28), but notice what he says about his mother: “Those who do the will of God are more blessed than my mother.”
Mary is a Mediator in Catholic Theology
The reason prayers are addressed to Mary in Catholicism is that, according to Catholic theology, Mary is Mediatrix. In other words, she is a mediator before the Son. Notice these quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
- Paragraph #969, p. 252: “Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”
- “The gospel reveals to us how Mary prayers and intercedes in faith. At Cana, the mother of Jesus asks her son for the needs of a wedding feast; this is the sign of another feast—that of the wedding of the Lamb where she gives his body and blood at the request of the Church, his Bride. It is at the hour of the New Covenant, at the foot of the cross, that Mary, is heard as the Woman, the new Eve, the true ‘Mother of all the living.’”
The idea is really something like this: Jesus can be quite angry, thus if you want to get something from him, you go through his mother. Mary, after all, convinced Jesus to turn the water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Again, this is an idea totally foreign to the New Testament.
Jesus serves as our mediator before the Father; we do not need Mary to intercede for us. “There is one God and one mediator between God and men the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Tim 2:5-6). According to 1 Timothy, the basis of Jesus’ mediatory roe is his sacrifice for man. Since Mary did not give herself for man, she cannot be our mediator. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 Jn 2:1).
The Holy Spirit also served as a mediatory. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom 8:20).
First Timothy says that there’s only one mediator between God and men, while Romans mentions the Spirit’s intercessory role. What’s up with that? Jesus is our one and only mediatory when it comes to sin. When we sin, Jesus and none other pleads our case before the Father. That’s what 1 John seems to suggest. The Spirit does not intercede for us when we sin—that’s Jesus’ role. Yet, the Spirit is the One who takes our prayers and presents them acceptably to the Father.
The work of Christ and the Spirit leave no room for Mary to intercede.
Mary is Sinless in Catholic Theology
Notice these quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
- Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (quoted in paragraph #491, p. 124).
- “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life” (paragraph #411, p. 104).
Such is not at all keeping with biblical teaching.
The so-called Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, given by Pope Pius XI, says that Mary was born without original sin. Original sin is an errant doctrine.
Children are not born in sin. “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek 18:4). “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him” (Ezek 18:20). “Everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—his own teeth will be set on edge” (Jer 31:30). Mary, just like you and I, was born without any stain of sin.
Yet, Mary, contrary to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, did not remain sin-free.
Only Jesus was completely free from sin. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15). “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Pet 2:22).
Everyone else—including Mary—has sinned. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12). “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 Jn 1:10).
Mary was a very special woman—She had the privilege of bearing God’s Son, but she was not free of sin.
Mary Ascended to Heaven in Catholic Theology
Again, notice the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free form all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (paragraph #996, p. 252).
There are a couple points of conflict with Scripture in this doctrine:
Only Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven; that is not mentioned of his mother.
While Jesus was blessing his disciples, “he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Lk 24:51). Jesus “was taken up before their [the apostles] very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
Two others had ascension-like experienced—Elijah ad Enoch—but nothing similar is said of Mary.
Jesus has been exalted above all, but not his mother.
“God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, tot eh glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). “After [Jesus] had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs” (Heb 1:3-4).
Jesus—not Mary—has the highest place and the highest name.
Although Mary does not have the exalted position given to her by Catholics, Mary is a very special woman. Imagine the honor which was hers to bear and raise the Messiah, Creator, Savior, and Redeemer. No wonder she said in Luke 1:48 “from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
When Gabriel came to Mary, her obedience provides us a wonderful example. Mary replied to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Lk 1:38). Can we, like Mary, say, “I am the Lord’s servant—let God’s will be done in me.” Do you need to come this evening and become God’s servant?