Mary receives special honor because she, who once cared for the physical body of Christ, now cares, through her intercession, for the mystical body of Christ (the Church). Devotion to Mary differs, just as devotion to family differs, from devotion to God. In no way does it imply equality with God. When we refer to Mary’s power or speak of her being our salvation we are talking about the power of her intercession. As the Scripture says: "the prayer of a righteous person has great power" (James 5:16).
Mary was the first Christian and a perfect example of what it means to be one. She was willing to do whatever God asked of her. She was about 14 years old when the angel Gabriel told her that she would conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. At that time a woman could be stoned to death for bearing a child that was not her husband's. Despite that Mary said yes. She didn’t know what the future would bring but she knew that she could trust God. She was humble and obedient. Her entire ministry can be summed up by her words at the wedding at Cana: "Do whatever He [Jesus] tells you" (John 2:5).
The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about Mary. However, she does appear or is mentioned at a number of critical points. Here are four that I think are important:
Her role in Salvation history is foretold (Genesis 3:15)
2. Jesus' first miracle at the wedding at Cana is a result of her intercession (John 2:1-11)
3. At the foot of the cross her role as mother of the Church is implied (John 19:26-27)
4. She is portrayed as the ark of the New Covenant and the mother of us all (Revelation 12)
In all four of these passages Mary is either called or referred to as "woman." Woman is a term of respect. However, it is not a title that a son would normally use for his mother. Jesus is speaking to Mary as something other than His mother. He is speaking to her as the mother and protector of the Church. And that is the way the Early Church saw it:
Irenaeus commented that "the Word will become flesh, and the Son of God the son of man—the Pure One opening purely that pure womb, which generates men unto God" (Against Heresies 4:33:12 [A.D. 189]).
Epiphanius remarked, "True it is . . . the whole race of man upon earth was born of Eve; but in reality it is from Mary that Life was truly born to the world, so that by giving birth to the Living One, Mary might also become the Mother of all the living" (Against Eighty Heresies, 78,9 [circa A.D. 374]).
Augustine summarized, "The Mother of the Head, in bearing Him corporally became spiritually the Mother of all members of this Divine Head" (Of Holy Virginity 6, [A.D. 401 AD]).
As Scott Hahn has pointed out, Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly. And that would include the fourth Commandment which tells us to: "Honor thy Father and Mother." The Hebrew word for honor is kabed. Kabed means to bestow honor and glory in a heavy manner. As Christians we imitate Christ.
As for the title of Co-Redemptrix, it must be noted that the Church did not give Mary this title but agrees with the theology behind it. Use of the term is in no way an attempt to equate Jesus and Mary. The title comes from tenth century theologians who explain that redemption was accomplished in three steps: (1) The Incarnation, when the Word was made flesh, (2) The performance, Christ's death and resurrection (the essential sacrifice which redeemed man), and (3) The application, whereby redemption is communicated to believers. Jesus alone accomplished the second step. Mary cooperated in the first and third steps. Indeed we are all commanded to participate in the third step: "Make disciples of all nations" (Mark 28:19). In 1 Corinthians 3:9 we are referred to as "God's co-workers." Does that make us equal to God? Does our work have the same value as His? Of course not! We merely work with God for the furtherance of His kingdom. It is only in this sense that we can be co-workers or co-redeemers with Christ.
Marian apparitions are another area that attracts much criticism. One accusation is that the apparitions are a manifestation of Satan. But is that really the case? The Bible records a number of occasions where an angel or saint was sent by God to deliver a message. Sometimes the visit would be in person while at other times it would be in a dream. In Genesis 19 two angels visit Sodom to help Abraham and his family escape God’s judgment. In 1 Samuel 28 Samuel appears to King Saul. In 2 Maccabees Onias and Jeremiah appear to Judas Maccabeus. In Matthew 17 Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on a mountain. In Luke 1:11 the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah. And finally in Luke 1:26 the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary. So apparitions are not some unique Catholic invention. We see the precedent for them in the pages of Scripture.
But what about Marian apparitions? Are they from God or Satan? After all Satan is in the business of counterfeiting the things of God. Jesus gave us guidance on the matter when He said: "By their fruit you will know them" (Matthew 7:16). If the message is Christ centered and faithful to Church teaching the fruit is good. Anything else is unacceptable. The Church accepts or rejects a particular apparition based on these criteria. There have been very few apparitions that have been approved. And in any case no one is required to believe in any apparition. So what type of fruit do we get from the approved apparitions:
Fatima – Pray, avoid sin, do what Jesus tells you, I will aid you with my prayers.
Lourdes – confirmed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, exalted the virtues of Christian poverty and humility, and promoted personal conversion as it is the next life that is important, prayer, penance, humility as well as mercy for sinners and compassion for the sick.
Guadeloupe – God is the only God and Creator of everything, follow and live God’s commandments, Mary takes us to Jesus, do not despair – Mary prays for us. As a result nine out of ten million Aztecs who professed a polytheistic human sacrificing religion converted to Christianity.
That is some pretty good fruit. However, if you still think these apparitions are of Satan, I would remind you of what Jesus said when He was accused of performing miracles by the power of Satan: "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end" (Mark 3:24-26).
The most curious objection to Mary concerns her title "The Mother of God." I find it hard to believe but there are actually people who think this means that Mary is the mother of the Trinity. That in some way the Trinity is subordinate to her; that she created or originated the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Obviously such an accusation is laughable to say the least. The title Mother of God actually has more to do with Jesus than with Mary. It is an assertion of His divinity. Mary as the "Theotokos" or God-bearer conceived our Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit. God was the originator and Mary was the bearer. As we read in Scripture Mary was the mother of Jesus … Jesus is God. Therefore Mary is the mother of Jesus who is God. In short Mary is the Mother of God. The Gospel asserts as much in Luke 1:43 where Elizabeth says to Mary: "How does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me." We call Jesus Lord because He is our God. The mother of my Lord is the mother of my God or, to shorten it, the mother of God.
The reluctance by some to acknowledge Mary’s unique role seems to be more about distancing ones self from the Catholic Church than a search for truth. All too often evidence takes a back seat to personal preference. Martin Luther was the father of the Protestant Reformation and I think it is safe to say that he was not the least bit shy when it came to distancing himself from the Catholic Church. And yet he wrote in a prologue to the Magnificat: "May the tender mother of God herself procure for me the Spirit of wisdom profitably and thoroughly to expound this song of hers." Also, in his last sermon at Wittenberg he said: "Is Christ only to be adored? Or is the holy Mother of God rather not to be honored? This is the woman who crushed the Serpent's head. Hear us. For your Son denies you nothing."
John Calvin, in his "Institutes of the Christian Religion," wrote, "We cannot celebrate the blessings given us in Christ without commemorating at the same time how high an honor God has granted to Mary when he chose to make her the mother of his only Son." Ulrich Zwingli stated, "The more honor and love for Christ, the more also the esteem and honor for Mary."
Scott Hahn once noted, just as a sculptor is honored when we admire his work, so too
is God honored when we admire his work (Mary). Such was the mind of the
Protestant reformers and such is the mind of the Catholic Church.
For Further Study
Books - Meet Mary - Getting to Know the Mother of God by Mark Miravalle and Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Fr. Luigi Gambero and Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn
CD - The Gospel Truth About Mary:Vol.1 and The Gospel Truth About Mary: Vol.II
DVD - Mary The Mother of God with Stephen Ray
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