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In Defence of the Virgin
The Queen of Heaven
I have noticed that there exists a malignant sentiment among both converts and cradle Catholics in regard to the Virgin Mary. Due in part to human concupiscence and partly due to the germ of Protestantism that has infected the Church in the last couple of decades, modern Catholics seem to shudder at any perceived over-emphasis on Marian devotion. Anxiety over committing any accidental idolatry by venerating the Mother of God seems to be common, in fact, I admittedly struggled with this when I first began to return to the faith. The Catholic emphasis on Mariology terrifies protestants and even elicits protests from our Eastern Orthodox cousins who recoil at “Roman Marian excess.” The other day I recall extolling the virtues and spiritual benefits of daily rosary recitation when an individual innocently asked me “But why are there so many hail marys in it, isn’t the focus supposed to be on Christ?” Such a question would have been alien to most Catholics of the last two millennia. Another stumbling block seems to be the Marian apparitions that are ubiquitous in Catholicism. “Where is this in the Bible?” Many have bought into the Protestant delusion that the Marian cult is of pagan origin and arose in the middle ages. Today I hope to alleviate your confusion. We will cover three major topics here. The reason why the Virgin is venerated in a unique way, why Marian devotion has precedence in both the Old Testament, and a justification for Marian prophecy. I will only be just barely scratching the surface
In Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary is above all of the saints, but infinitely below God. She is the greatest fully human being to ever live. This is the most important point in understanding why Marian's devotion is not idolatry. Many Catholics get caught up in her occasional title of Co-Redemptrix with her Son, wrongly assuming this implies some form of ontological equality with God, but “redemptrix” is a ministerial function, a task, not a state of being. (The title is not dogmatically declared by the way). To highlight the hierarchical primacy of Mary above the other saints, we can turn to the terminology used to describe her veneration. Dulia is the term used to describe veneration of the saints, while Hyperdulia, a kind of hyper veneration is used for Mary. While Latria, supreme worship or adoration, is reserved for God alone. Mary is above all the saints, but infinitely lower than God. As St Louis de Montfort tells us:
But we must take great pains not to conceive this dependence as any abasement or imperfection in Jesus Christ. For Mary is infinitely below her Son, who is God, and therefore she does not command Him as a mother here below would command her child who is below her. Mary, being altogether transformed into God's grace and by the glory which transforms all the saints into Him, asks nothing, wishes nothing, does nothing contrary to the eternal and immutable will of God.
So why is the Virgin Mary afforded such glory? What is it about her that is so special?
The climax of cosmic history, the sublime moment in which the Word became flesh, when God came to dwell among us, occurred when a humble virgin gave her consent and said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” It was through the humble flesh of a virgin that “God became man so that Man could become like God.” (St Athanasius). She is the flashpoint, the vessel, that God used to transform the human race, for it was through her womb, her flesh that God conjoined his own. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
The moment when the angel of the Lord came to Mary with the great announcement of the Incarnation, [she] gave her reply...[then transpired] the greatest event in our history, the Incarnation; the Word became flesh ... she placed her entire being at the disposal of God’s will... The will of Mary coincides with the will of the Son in the Father’s unique project of love and, in her, heaven and earth are united, God the Creator is united to his creature ... John XXIII issued an invitation to contemplate this mystery, to “reflect on that union of heaven and earth, which is the purpose of the Incarnation and Redemption.”
(Quick disclaimer, I found these Pope Benedict quotes from Daniel O Connors fantastic book Thy Will Be Done).
This union of heaven and earth begins with one humble woman’s consent.
I find myself frequently meditating upon this incomprehensible mystery. Mary was a human being, she experienced consciousness in the same way any of us do. Imagine it, for nine months, having the creator of the cosmos inside of you. Not in a vague, spiritual way, but to have his flesh and bones grow within you. How can such a being not have power and precedence over every creature? For nine months, she and God were in a sense physically joined. Every mother knows the intimate connection between themselves and a child growing within them. Imagine feeling the heartbeat of God within you, the mere thought transcends language. (It is for this reason, that in Marian iconography when she is depicted on a throne, it is always when she is pregnant, holding the Christ Child, or seated next to him in heaven. Mary’s greatest glory is her union with Christ. There is no deification of her alone).
And then to raise God as your son, to accompany him throughout his life, and then to watch him be tortured and killed on a cross. Without complaint. She never looked away, she never abandoned him, she never asked him to stop the madness and not give his life. From the moment she consented to bearing the child, to the moment she consented to his death on the cross, she lived a life in perfect accordance with God’s will. Perfect humility. Perfect submission to God.
St. Maximus tells us that, and we know that this is true, Adam (and we ourselves are Adam) thought that the “no” was the peak of freedom ...[but] the height of freedom is the “yes”, in conformity with God’s will. It is only in the “yes” that man truly becomes himself; only in the great openness of the “yes”, in the unification of his will with the divine, that man becomes immensely open, becomes “divine” ... it is in the “yes” that he becomes free; and this is the drama of Gethsemane: not my will but yours. It is by transferring the human will to the divine will that the real person is born... This, in a few brief words, is the fundamental point of what St. Maximus wanted to say and here we see that the whole human being is truly at issue; the entire question of our life lies here.
-Pope Benedict XVI
The goal of man is total union with Christ, total union with God’s will, the “mystical union” of the saints, and no human being has got closer to Christ than his mother.
Before continuing, I would like to assert my first defense of a certain facet of Marian devotion. Some Christians become caught up with the Hail Mary prayer, and its precedence in devotionals like the Rosary. “The Our Father is in the bible, where is the Hail Mary?” I will repeat a justification explained to me by a brilliant professor of mine. Something that instantly elucidated a mystery inherent in that prayer. The Hail Mary is not just biblical, but it contains some of the first utterances of the New Testament chronologically. It is in a sense recapitulating the divine incarnation and Christ’s entrance on the earth by focusing on the avenue in which he freely decided to incarnate, his mother. The first part of the prayer comes from Luke 1:23. “And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
When we say those first lines of the Hail Mary, we are repeating the words spoken by Gabriel that heralded the divine incarnation, the joining of Heaven and Earth, the Word becoming flesh. The next part of the prayer comes later in the Gospel of Luke, when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. “And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And so when we recite the second line of the prayer, we are reciting the words used by the mother of the One who Cries out in the Wilderness, John the Baptist, who is bearing John in her womb, as she too announces the entrance of God into the world. The final lines, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” is doing nothing but asking the Mother of God to pray for our own souls now, and at the moment of our exit from this world. And so this prayer, far from displacing Christ and perversely exalting Mary above him, is in fact radically focused on Christ, but during the period in which he first became flesh in the womb of his mother. The Hail Mary is a prayer exalting the divine incarnation. And the words that fill it were uttered before even the Our Father. The first utterance of the prayer is a recitation of Gabriels words announcing the divine incarnation, then Elizabeth (with John the Baptist inside of her) words announcing the presence of the Lord within Mary, and finally, a personal request to the Virgin to pray for us sinners.
Furthermore, while on this topic, let us discuss the Rosary. To the untrained eye, it may appear to simply be a tedious exaltation of Mary the person, but like the Hail Mary, it is actually radically Christocentric. Through the praying of the decades of the Rosary, the Marian Psalter, you are meditating upon various acts of Christ’s ministry, but through the eyes of the human who knew him best, his mother. Each mystery of the Rosary is meditated upon while calling to his mother, as you watch his deeds with the Virgin praying at your side. You are having his mother guide you to him. This is Mary’s role, just as it is the role of the saints in heaven. Mary was there throughout his life, through all his trials, so what better person to accompany you upon this meditation of Christ’s life than Her?
Before continuing, I would like to reinforce an earlier point. Mary’s perfect submission to Gods will. In the words of St Alphonsus:
A single act of uniformity with the divine will suffices to make a saint ... [This is] absolutely true—because he who gives his will to God, gives him everything. He who gives his goods in alms, his blood in scourgings, his food in fasting, gives God what he has. But he who gives God his will, gives himself, gives everything he is ... St. Augustine’s comment is: “There is nothing more pleasing we can offer God than to say to him: ‘Possess thyself of us’.” We cannot offer God anything more pleasing than to say: Take us, Lord, we give thee our entire will ... Let us not only strive to conform ourselves, but also to unite ourselves to whatever dispositions God makes of us. Conformity signifies that we join our wills to the will of God. Uniformity means more—it means that we make one will of God’s will and ours, so that we will only what God wills; that God’s will alone, is our will. This is the summit of perfection and to it we should always aspire; this should be the goal of all our works, desires, meditations and prayers ... Mary [is] the most perfect of all the saints because she most perfectly embraced the divine will.
It is time to turn our attention to the title of Queen of Heaven. Evangelicals will shriek and shout over the “obvious” idolatry occurring in this “apotheosis,” proclaiming that such a conception is completely absent from the bible. Surely this is the result of medieval papist shenanigans. Oh but how wrong they are. The Queen of Heaven title is not pagan, in fact it is thoroughly jewish. We will now explore the Old Testament roots that justify Marys position, proving that Mariology is thorougly biblical.
Christ is indeed a king, a new David. The Gospel of Matthew even opens with a genealogical descent linking Christ to King David. This is a fulfillment of prophecy and a typological completion. This is unanimously agreed upon by all Christians of all denominations. Much of this next section will be taken verbatim from Brant Pitre’s fantastic book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary.” I highly reccomend reading the entire thing, and since the author does such a fantastic job in describing this, I will let him speak for himself:
Taken as a whole, the New Testament clearly depicts Jesus as the long-awaited Davidic king—also known as “the Messiah” (Greek christos)—who has come to inaugurate the everlasting kingdom promised by God to David. Jesus isn’t just a new Adam, or a new Moses. He is also a new David. The reason all of this matters for us can be expressed in a simple question: If Jesus is the new Davidic king, then who is the new queen? Although modern-day Bible readers might not think of a queen when it comes to the kingdom of God, as any first-century Jew would have known, under the reign of David’s royal family, the kingdom was ruled by both a king and a queen. Unlike in modern-day kingdoms, however, the queen of Israel was not the king’s wife but his mother. She was known as the “queen mother” (Hebrew gebirah).
Her royal title—“queen mother” (Hebrew gebirah)—is the feminine form of the word “master” (Hebrew gebir). It can also be translated “great lady” or “mistress” (see 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16; Jeremiah 29:2). Indeed, in the historical books of the Old Testament, the queen mother holds a position of great honor. For example, in the genealogical introduction to each new king, it is the king’s mother, not his wife, who is mentioned (e.g., 1 Kings 15:1–2). Nowhere is this clearer than in the story of the first queen mother: Bathsheba, the wife of David and the mother of King Solomon. While King David is still alive, his wife pays homage to him. For example, whenever Bathsheba comes into David’s presence, she “bows” to him, “does obeisance to the king,” and calls him “My lord” (Hebrew ’adoni) (1 Kings 1:16–17). Once King David is dead, however, and Bathsheba’s son Solomon sits on the royal throne, the roles are reversed. Now that her son is king, it is the king who honors his mother—not just by rising in her presence and bowing to her but by seating her on a royal “throne”: So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. (1 Kings 2:19–20)7
Equally important, the mother of the king was not merely honored with the title of queen mother. She also held an “official position in the kingdom,” second in rank only to the king himself.9 In other words, the queen mother reigned alongside the king. Moreover, as we just saw in the story of King Solomon, the queen mother is seated at the “right hand” of the king (1 Kings 2:20). Something similar occurs in one of the Psalms of the “Sons of Korah,” which were written after the time of David. Psalm 45 describes the queen mother as standing “at the right hand” of the king:
The fact that she stands at the king’s “right hand” means that she has a share in his authority (Psalm 45:9), just as the king who sits at the “right hand” of God shares in God’s authority (Psalm 110:1). In the words of one Old Testament expert, after “the monarch himself,” the queen mother has “the place of highest honor” in the kingdom.
To those of you reading this who have never heard about any of this before, you must be in a state of shock. Catholics who are devoted to the Virgin and yet struggle with the constant insults to Our Lady’s majesty by prickly protestants insisting that the Queen of Heaven imagery is Popish paganism, you must be feeling as overjoyed as I was when I first learned of this. Why don’t we learn this in catechism?
But wait, there is more.
According to the Old Testament, the queen mother was also a powerful intercessor with her son. This makes sense. If you want to obtain a request from the king, having his mother as your advocate is a very good idea. Consider, for example, the story of Adonijah—one of David’s younger sons—who asks Bathsheba as queen mother to intercede for him with King Solomon: Then Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably.” Then he said, “I have something to say to you.” She said, “Say on”…And he said, “Pray ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak for you to the king.” (1 Kings 2:13–14, 17–18) Notice here that Adonijah assumes that the queen mother will “speak to the king” on his behalf and that King Solomon “will not refuse” any request made by his mother. Unfortunately, Adonijah’s strategy ultimately does not work out, since Solomon has his brother put to death. Despite Solomon’s abuse of his power, the passage provides an important window into the queen mother’s role as royal advocate and intercessor.
What was the first miracle that Christ performed? The changing of water into wine in Cana. And what prompted this miracle?
Extraordinary. It is Mary who prompts Christ’s first miracle, even though his “hour has not yet come.” And notice, Mary does not ask Christ to perform the miracle, she simply points out a fact. “They have no wine.” How profound. Just by pointing out a dilemma to her Son, he performs the miracle. This is all the justification one should need in begging our Lady for intercession. She is the Queen mother to the Eternal King of heaven and earth, who interceeds on behalf of her subjects. Why should we not turn to her for help? (I recently watched a sermon by a priest who touched on this topic. Mary simply points out a problem to God, without demanding. Let us try incorporating this into our prayer life. Simply pointing out to God problems, and not demanding the solution he uses to fix it).
There is much more to be discussed on the typological fulfillments that are embodied in Mary, how the Old Testament sings to her future coming. If you are interested, please check out the aforementioned book by Brant Pitre. But for this articles purposes, we will move on.
It is time to advance into the final topic of consideration. Marian apparitions and prophecy of the last millenium.
Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are firmly united in their opposition to Catholic Marian apparitions of a prophetic nature that have occurred in the last century. Fatima in particular, which the Russian Orthodox believe represents a direct threat against them. These apparitions are described as prelest or demonic deception. “What precedence do Marian apparitions have in the Bible? Why should Mary be an avenue for prophecy?” Let us begin.
Throughout the Bible, Angels are used by God to appear to men to carry messages, the Greek word Angelos literally means “messenger.” Frequently these messages are a form of prophecy or instruction. It is the Archangel Gabriel who appears to Mary to herald the divine incarnation. The ammount of times this occurs is too numerous to list, and because this is universally agreed upon fact in all Christian denominations, I will not delve deep into all the instances. Now what must be understood before going forward, is the role that the Saints in heaven will have. They will in a sense be fulfilling a similiar function as the angels, being active in Gods administration, his divine economy on earth, (intercession) while also partaking in the eternal doxology (glorifying God).
And I saw thrones, they that sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the witness of Jesus and because of the word of God and who did not worship the beast nor his image and did not take the mark upon their forehead or upon their hand. Then they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years will be completed. This is the first resurrection. Blissful and a holy one is the one who has a part in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.
Here the saints (in particular the martyrs) are given judgement. Remember, in the Jewish context, Judgement is synonymous with rulership. They are given an administrative power, this is why saints can be called upon for intercession. They play an active role in the administration of the divine economy upon earth, just as the angels throughout the old testament. “And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” (Hebrew 1:7). To reinforce this point, the Old Testament makes it clear that the Nations have been assigned a guardian angel, and so this is why now various countries are consecrated to a particular saint, as the saints in heaven can now fulfil this function of spiritual administraiton. And not just that:
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to be judged before the unjust, and not before the saints? Know you not that the saints shall judge this world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know you not that we shall judge angels? how much more things of this world?
(1 Corinthians 6)
The saints in heaven are higher then the angels. This providential plan was in part why the initial rebellion occurred in heaven. If God used his Angels to communicate prophecy to man before the divine incarnation, why wouldn’t he use his new Saints in heaven (who fulfill a similiar role in his administration) to do the same after the incarnation? And why would he not use his greatest saint, the Queen of Heaven, to communicate his greatest prophecy?
It must be reitterated that God does not need Mary, no more then he needs his angels or Saints. God freely chooses to share ammounts of his power with his celestial administrators, to advance his own glory.
God the Son has communicated to His Mother all that He acquired by His life and His death, His infinite merits and His admirable virtues; and He has made her the treasurer of all that His Father gave Him for His inheritance. It is by her that He applies His merits to His members, and that He communicates His virtues, and distributes His graces. She is His Mysterious canal; she is His aqueduct, through which He makes His mercies flow gently and abundantly.
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