Aaron Peiffer and I are both converts from what some call the “New Calvinism” of evangelical Protestantism. We used the English Standard Version of the Bible, listened to guys like C.J. Mahaney and John Piper, and certainly didn’t talk much about the Virgin Mary (only at Christmas, I repeat, only at Christmas). You should check out Aaron’s blog, As Christ Intended, and read his guest post below. I’d also like to add an asterisk to Aaron’s comments about Mary being necessary for salvation. If you are an evangelical reading this post, please take time to understand the Catholic understanding of salvation and justification before calling him a heretic. I certainly don’t understand everything yet! Feel free to comment with questions.
An Evangelical Unhinging
I remember how late in my college years something of the mystery of the incarnation slowly started to unsettle my evangelical mind. Not that I ever found the incarnation puzzling or troublesome per se as an evangelical, but the Catholic understanding of the incarnation left me unsettled. I had no problem believing that the eternal God took on human flesh in Christ Jesus and was born of Mary–provided we say no more of Mary! She played her role two thousand years ago and is now worshiping Jesus in heaven, so why all this praying to Mary business? Why the Immaculate Conception, the Perpetual Virginity, and the assumption into heaven? Why the various pompous titles such as Queen of Heaven, Mother of God, Virgin of Virgins, Mother of the Church, Our Lady of Victory, et cetera? Why all the feast days, rosaries, icons, statues, devotions, confraternities, and churches dedicated in her honor? Does not this all amount to so much superfluous praise and unnecessary devotion if not idolatry plain and simple? Why is devotion to Mary necessary when we can just pray directly to the Lord Jesus? Does not devotion to Mary tend to impede true devotion to our Lord?
Mother of the Church
Slowly I began to understand that there is something disingenuous about a love for Christ that does not extend to his very mother. Without devotion to Mary our faith is stunted and our love incomplete since to speak of love for Jesus, but to act in indifference towards his mother, is to disregard his very Sacred Heart. It is the Catholic conviction that there is a depth and perfection of love for Christ that can only be acquired through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Can we imagine that in heaven Christ is embarrassed and ashamed of how often and devoutly people speak to his mother? Christ is not a jealous demiurge that spurns association with lowly men, rather he is our very brother through the humanity he received from Mary. Simply put, if Christ is our brother then Mary is our mother. God formed the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in the virginal womb of Mary and likewise he produces Christ in all the members of his Mystical Body on earth through Mary. As St. Louis De Montfort eloquently explains,
“If Jesus Christ, the Head of men, is born in her, then the predestinate, who are the members of that Head, ought also to be born in her, by a necessary consequence. One and the same mother does not bring forth into the world the head without the members, or the members without the head; for this would be a monster of nature. So in like manner, in the order of grace, the head and the members are born of one and the same Mother.” (True Devotion to Mary, 32)
Later as a young Catholic neophyte I still had a somewhat deficient understanding of the necessity of devotion to Mary and the depth of the Church’s teaching on her. I certainly believed in the importance of devotion to Mary, but I did probably would not have said it is necessary for salvation, and yet this is just what our holy Church teaches us. Hence St. Louis De Montfort pointedly declares “He who has not Mary for his Mother has not God for his Father.” (True Devotion to Mary, 30). As the Catechism teaches “She is mother wherever he is Savior and head of the Mystical Body.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 973) After all, Mary’s intercession and that of all the saints is superfluous if our prayers alone are a sufficient means of obtaining every grace necessary for salvation from God. Certainly Christ is the only mediator between God and man, but Mary’s intercession “in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 60). God has freely chosen to associate man in his work of redemption, and nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Mary Immaculate (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2008). We cannot help but contemplate in awe her sublime faith and humility and spontaneously declare with St. Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
Question: Is Mary important to you?