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Roots of Marian Devotion Go Back to Old Testament
Scholar Scott Hahn roundly rejects the idea held by some outside the Church that Catholics, by honoring Mary, somehow detract from God.
"The glories we honor in Mary are merely her own reflections of God's glory," says the author of books such as "Rome Sweet Home" and "Hail, Holy Queen." Here, the one-time Presbyterian minister spells out his ideas.
Q: Why do you say that Catholics should love Mary a lot more than they do?
Hahn: Because God does! And he wants us to love her as much as he does.
At the time of the annunciation, the angel Gabriel prophesied that all generations would call Mary blessed. In our generation, we need to fulfill that prophesy. We need to call her blessed. We need to honor her — again, because God did.
Jesus himself, as a faithful Jew, kept the Fourth Commandment and honored his mother. Since Christ is our brother, she is our mother too. Indeed, at the end of John's Gospel, Jesus named her as the mother of all of us beloved disciples. So we too have a duty to honor her.
If we look back into the biblical history of ancient Israel, we discover that the Chosen People always paid homage not only to their king, but also to the mother of the king. The "gebirah," the queen mother, loomed large in the affections of Israelites. And the evangelists are very much aware of this.
In Matthew's Gospel especially, we find Jesus portrayed as the royal Son of David and Mary as queen mother. The Wise Men, for example, traveled far to find the Child King with his mother.
We find the mother of the Son of David portrayed in a similar way in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 12. There she is shown to be crowned with 12 stars, for the 12 tribes of Israel. The New Testament writers, you see, were careful to show us Mary's important place in the kingdom, and how we should love and honor her.
In my personal life, I've found the Blessed Mother to be a great intercessor, as she was at the wedding feast in Cana.
Why should we love Mary more? Because of God's grace — she exemplifies it! Because of God's Word — she teaches it! And because she is God's masterpiece. The Scriptures provide too many reasons to love her; I couldn't list them in so short a space.
Q: What are the main objections that non-Catholics present against Marian doctrine and devotion?
Hahn: Some non-Catholics believe that, by honoring Mary, we're somehow detracting from God. We're not. The glories we honor in Mary are merely her own reflections of God's glory.
St. Bonaventure put it very well when he said that God created all things not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to share it. Mary's sinlessness itself was a grace from God.
St. Augustine said: When God rewards us for our labors, he is only crowning his work in us. When God exalted the lowly virgin of Nazareth, he was crowning the greatest of his creations. When we honor Mary, we recognize God's work, and we praise him.
Others object to the Church's dogma of the immaculate conception — that Mary was without sin from the very first moment of her life. They claim that, if this were true, she would have no need of a redeemer, no need for Jesus. But that's not true. Mary's immaculate conception was itself a fruit of Jesus' redemption.
Even today, we can see that Christ saves some people by deliverance and others by preservation — some turn away from a life of crime, others are preserved from it by their good upbringing. Mary was preserved by a singular grace. Mary, you see, is dependent upon God for everything. She, by her own admission, is his handmaid.
Some very misguided people try to claim that Catholics make a goddess of the Blessed Virgin. But that is an abominable fiction. As much as we exalt Mary above our own sinful selves, we recognize that she is more like us than she is like God. She is still a creature, though a most wonderful creature. God himself exalted her to show us both the greatness of our human nature and the all-surpassing greatness of divine grace.
Even the early Protestant reformers never called for a wholesale rejection of the Marian dogmas. Luther and Calvin believed, for example, in Mary's perpetual virginity. Luther even believed in the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, centuries before the Church solemnly defined it. Not until later generations would Christians come to such a far-reaching rejection of Mary's place in salvation history.
Q: How does Mary help us to understand the mystery of Christmas?
Hahn: Well, it's impossible for us to imagine the Christmas story without her. Her consent, her "yes," made that day possible. When God became man, he was born of a woman, born under the law. Christ is at the center of Christmas, but he chose not to be alone at the center. As a baby, he needed a mother to hold him. If we choose to ignore the mother, we can't see the Child.
In the stories leading up to Christmas, we encounter Mary as the model disciple. God found her humility irresistible, and we have to imitate her. God empowered her to love his Son as much as he deserves to be loved. And so we imitate her in that as well. Mary helps us to understand the mystery of Christmas because she received the greatest Christmas present ever, and she gave it to the world, just as we should.
Q: Why do you most converts to Catholicism have such an intense devotion to the Blessed Virgin?
Hahn: I can only speak for myself. I discovered the Catholic Church as not only the family of God, but as my family too. Mary is not only the mother of Jesus, but my mother too.
That's a wonderful discovery to make so late in one's life. So maybe we're making up for lost time! Or maybe we have a special affection for the practices that are distinctive to the ancient Christian faith — the practices that we missed in our own upbringing. ZE02122522
For a more in depth article on this issue see Scott Hahn's Mary, Holy Mother
ZENIT is an International News Agency based in Rome whose mission is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially the media.
Reprinted with permission from Zenit - News from Rome. All rights reserved.
Dr. Scott Hahn is professor of theology and Scripture at
Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. He received his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell
Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in biblical theology from Marquette
University. This series explores God's fatherhood, drawing from Sacred Scripture
and the Church's Tradition. This is the third installment.
Copyright © 2003 Zenit