I’m very uncomfortable on the subject of Mary. Mary worship is usually one of the top three accusations thrown the Catholic way, and some of them are guilty of it. I’m not wholly familiar with all Marian doctrines and have considered them secondary when trying to understand church matters, but some of them are dogmatic. If you are Catholic, you are required (a funny term, because what does that mean, actually? “you ought to” and plenty of people don’t) to believe in the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, in her “ever-virgin” status, and her assumption into heaven. Other practices, such as the rosary, are merely disconcerting. Keep in mind, I have no problem with the idea of asking the saints in heaven to pray for us. I see it as no different than asking a brother or sister in Christ here on Earth to pray for us.
I was reading a re-conversion testimony online, and was somewhat surprised that I never noticed something the author mentioned. In her evangelical experiences, she noted the lack of any positive attention whatsoever to Mary, the most notable woman in the Bible. My experience were not quite as extreme, which I attribute to my parents’ loving attitude toward God and Christ. At Christmas time, they included Mary in the wonderment of Christ. Yet in general, I never heard a sermon on Mary, or a biography contemplating the Mother of Christ. The author assumes this is because of the fear of mariolotry, but why define yourself in terms of not being something?
Mary should mean a lot more to Protestants than she currently does. Consider the commandment to honor your mother (Deut. 5:16). If Jesus was a perfect example of how we should behave, then he honors his mother perfectly. And if we are to imitate Christ, we not only honor our mother, but also his mother. Christ perfectly honoring his mother is a concept from which springs the mysterious idea of her petitions always being granted by God. We see this in Christ’s first miracle, when he turns water into wine at Cana. He even granted this insignificant petition of his mother’s under protest that his ministry wasn’t supposed to begin yet. (John 2:1-11) I really don’t know what to think of the idea of all her petitions being granted, but I do know that to some unknown degree, we ought to honor the mother of our Lord. I don’t know yet where to draw the line.
Regarding the Marian doctrine that she was ever-virgin, I found a funny and articulate article by an Orthodox priest. I highly recommend his concise explanations to anyone having trouble. The most convincing aspect of his arguments is that Christ commends his mother to John (John 19:26-27) which would have been unspeakable if he had other brothers. The comparison of the three stories at the cross made me go back and reread them all together. Then the reality of the situation as seen through the eyes of these witnesses struck me. Imagine John, near enough the cross to talk to Jesus, with Christ’s mother nearby. It’s almost startling to see that scene take form, and I’d recommend reading them all together.
The imitation of Mary, a phrase which gives me the willies, can be understood if we understand her as the most blessed human who is not divine. Honestly, she was chosen to carry the Christ! Mary was the servant of the Lord (Luke 1:38) and was dubbed “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed among women” whom “all generations will call blessed”(Luke 1:48). Of the fully human not divine crowd, she has found the most favor with God and fully submitted to His will. If we find other Christians note-worthy, and admire and wish to emulate John Calvin or Saint Augustine or Iranaeus, then how much more should we admire and seek to imitate Mary? Of course Christ comes first, he’s the only reason she is special at all, like the Catechism says.
“Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.”511 “No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.”
Concerning Mary’s Assumption, I personally see no contradiction with the Bible. I have said before that the Bible doesn’t say “Mary died and was buried.”, it speaks of the assumptions of Enoch and Elijah so we know this is not reserved for Christ, and Christ honored his mother perfectly implying he might do such a thing. If you accept the authority of the Church, then there are no real obstacles to believing in the Assumption.
I haven’t looked into the Immaculate Conception as much. I know it’s intimately connected with the sinlessness of Mary (which is only by the merit and sacrifice of Christ for all you Protestants gasping out there!), but I don’t understand it. The Protestant in me protests (imagine that) by saying Christ was the only possible sinless person because he was the only one worthy to sacrifice, despite knowing that Catholics say it is only through Christ that Mary was sinless. I also don’t understand how she was conceived sinless by sinful people in any way that Christ could not be conceived sinless by a sinful woman.
I welcome discussion on this, but I beg ahead of time for people to remain calm and respectful. The subject of Mary is particularly touchy for both sides. I hope we can all handle it well.