This post forms part of the What Catholics Believe series.
Luke 1:47-28 (KJV): And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Mary is a sore point when it comes to Catholics and Protestants. Some Protestants accuse us of worshipping Mary; Catholics think Protestants ignore her.
Certainly, Catholics do not worship Mary. Nor do we consider her to be a goddess. But what do we believe and what do we not believe?
It’s also worth mentioning at this point that Mary is a symbol of the Church, and the first person to directly allow Jesus into her life. This is quite biblical – just look at Revelation 12:
Rev 12:1-2,5 (KJV): And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. … And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
A woman … who gave birth to Jesus. Yes, the woman symbolises Israel, and the woman symbolises the Church. The woman symbolises multiple things, but at the core, the woman is the mother of Jesus. Only those in denial of Mary could not acknowledge this basic obvious symbol.
As the symbol of the Church, and as the first Christian, Mary is now what we will become. She birthed God into the world; we are called to bring God to others. She was sinless; we will be made spotless. She was taken body and soul into heaven; we will ultimately be resurrected and our bodies reunited with our souls in heaven.
Outline of this post:
- Mary is the Mother of God
- Mary, Ever Virgin
- Mary the Immaculate Conception
- Mary, assumed body and soul into heaven
- Mary, Queen of Heaven
- Mary, Woman and Mother
- Mary the Ark of the New Covenant
- Mary, the New Eve
- Mary, intercessor for Christians
- Mary, source of our salvation
1. Mary is the Mother of God
Let’s start with the basics – Mary is Jesus’ mother. Luke 1:43 explicitly calls Mary “the mother of my Lord“.
Yet Jesus was God. So, logically, Mary was the mother of God.
Some Protestants will find that hard to accept, because they misunderstand what is meant. The problem is fairly easily resolved, however, if we look at who Jesus is. Jesus is one person with two natures. He is a divine person with a divine nature and a human nature. As a divine person, he is God. Mothers are mothers of persons, not mothers of their natures. We speak of “my mother” and “your mother“, not of “the mother of my human nature“. So, Mary being Jesus’ mother means that Mary was the mother of a person who was God, and therefore the mother of God. The Greek “theotokos” (θεοτόκος) explains this more – Mary is the woman who carried God in her womb, and gave birth to God.
What Mary is not: she is not the originator of the 2nd Person of the Trinity; she is not older than God; she is not the mother of God the Father. She is the human mother of Jesus, who was God.
The reason Mary was declare by the Church to be the Mother of God in the 400’s AD was because some people denied that Jesus was God. Some claimed that he was never God, while others claimed that he only became God later.
See my post Mary, the Theotokos for more on the historical reasons.
See these two videos for more:
Debunking the arguments against Mary the Mother of God, part 1
Debunking the arguments against Mary the Mother of God, part 2
The Case for Calling Mary “Mother of God”
2. Mary, Ever Virgin
Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin all her life. The biblical evidence includes Luke 1:34:
Luke 1:34 (KJV): Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
Mary is saying that at that time she was a virgin. However, it also indicates that she had planned to remain a virgin, in spite of her marriage to Joseph. Had she not planned this, her automatic assumption would have been, “Ah, when I marry Joseph, he and I will produce a child, and this is what the angel means“. That is not her reaction. Only if she had intended to remain a virgin can her lack of comprehension regarding a pregnancy be explained adequately.
Protestants bring up two other points that need addressing – Mary was a virgin until she gave birth (Matthew 1:25), and Jesus had brothers (Matt 12:46; Matt 13:55; Mark 3:31–34; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19–20; John 2:12; John 7:3-10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor 9:5).
These points do not refute the Catholic position.
Mary remained a virgin until she gave birth – this doesn’t mean that she didn’t remain a virgin afterwards. In fact, assuming she did not remain a virgin afterwards is reading something into the text that isn’t there. The word “until” in English is often used as a delimiting preposition – “I was in England until I went to France“. However, it does not work that way in the Bible, and that is why it is a case of reading into the text something that isn’t there when people assume “until” means her virginity came to an end.
Three instances if an open-ended “until” in the Bible:
2 Samuel 6:23 (KJV): Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.
Did Michal have a child after her death? Doubtful.
Psalm 72:7 (KJV): In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.
The Hebrew there is “till there be no moon“; the king symbolises God’s reign, especially at the end of the world. Will the righteous stop flourishing and will peace no longer be abundant at the end of the world, if the moon ceases to exist? No.
Psalm 123:2 (KJV): Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.
Will we cease to look to God and look elsewhere after he has had mercy on us? No.
1 Corinthians 15:25 (KJV): For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
Would he stop reigning after all enemies had been put under his feet? No. Until here is open-ended. αχρι (not the same as Matt 1:25) – Strong’s G891.
1 Timothy 4:13 (KJV): Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
Were they supposed to stop reading, exhorting, and ignore doctrine after he came? No. Until here is open-ended. εως (same as Matt 1:25) – Strong’s G2193.
Matthew 28:20 (KJV): Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Would Jesus no longer be with them after the end of the world? No. Until here is open-ended. εως (same as Matt 1:25) – Strong’s G2193.
Like the Ark of the Covenant, Mary would not be touched, metaphorically, by men. And the following verse has been applied to Mary by Christians from the earliest times:
Ezekiel 44:1-2 (KJV): Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.
Various people are named as Jesus’ brethren in the Bible. Yet, if one looks carefully, one can show that Jesus’ brethren actually had different parents.
Also, right throughout the Bible, those labelled as brothers or brethren are often not biological siblings. In Genesis 11:27 we see that Lot and Abraham were nephew and uncle, yet in Genesis 14:14, Lot is called Abraham’s brother – adelphos (αδελφος) in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint – this is the same word used in the New Testament for Jesus’ brothers. The same αδελφος is used in Genesis 29:15 for the relationship between Jacob and Laban, also nephew and uncle (see verse 10.) In cases where the identity of “brothers” can be determined to be cousins, we might expect to find the Greek word for cousin used. But in Hebrew there was no separate word for cousins, and when such relationships were depicted, usually “brother” was used, with “son of my uncle” as a circumlocutory alternative. Those who translated the Old Testament into Greek chose to translate directly, and so they used the term αδελφος, brother (cf Gen 14:14, 29:15). Similarly in the New Testament. Translating from their own mother tongue, Aramaic, the Apostles likewise would have used αδελφος, as it was a direct translation from Aramaic, which had no word for “cousin”.
In the links below, this is gone into in a lot more detail.
Why did Mary remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus?
St. Jude and the “Brothers” of Jesus
Did Mary Have Other Children?
Was Mary an Unwed Mother?
Jesus Christ, the New Temple … Mary as the Temple Gate
Catholic Encyclopedia: The Brethren of the Lord
Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
Why is Mary Considered Ever-Virgin?
The Case for Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
“Brethren of the Lord”
Mary Had Other Children…? Or Did She?
3. Mary the Immaculate Conception
Some Protestants teach that we are all either predestined to salvation or to damnation. Most Christians, Catholics included, teach that we are saved by grace alone, unable to obtain salvation by our own doing. God alone calls us, and God alone provides the grace by which we have the ability to respond to his call. Why, then, is it so hard to believe that God predestined Mary to be saved, and furthermore, kept free from sin? Do we not trust the power of God’s grace?
The term “Immaculate Conception” has two parts. Immaculate – spotless, without a stain of sin. Conception – Mary was sinless from the moment of her conception, so she was free of original sin.
Biblically, the concept of Mary’s sinlessness comes from the concept that she was “full of grace“. The precise word in Luke 1:42 is “kecharitomene” (κεχαριτωμενη). It means more than just being given grace like the rest of us are. It indicates a past event with ongoing status. Mary was given grace, and made full with grace. To be full with grace means that she did not lose or lack or reject any grace given by God. To have not lost grace, to be filled with it, means the absence of sin, which results in the loss or absence of grace.
The two main arguments against Mary’s sinlessness are a) that she needed a saviour (Luke 1:47), and b) that all men have sinned (Romans 3:22-23).
Mary needed a saviour. No human, sinless by his/her own power, could bridge the gap between God and man. Mary still needed Jesus for that. And Mary was not sinless by her own power – she was preserved sinless because of the saving act of Jesus on the Cross, not in spite of it. By his death and resurrection, Jesus will change us all from sinners to spotless saints. So he did with Mary, who, without him, would have been a sinner.
All men have sinned? St Paul says this, yes, but he is clearly not including every single human being – after all, Jesus was a man and he did not sin. St Paul also states (Rom 9:11) that babies are without sin. What we all, other than Jesus, are – and babies and Mary are included here – are creatures in need of salvation. But not all men have sinned, by St Paul’s own admission, which means he was stating a generic fact in Romans 3, which was not an absolute all-encompassing statement.
Mary’s sinlessness was to provide a sacred vessel for Jesus by which to enter the world as a man, and a gift to her for her saying Yes to God.
Like Mary, we will too be washed clean of sin, with no stain remaining.
A further interesting fact is that after Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ blood continued to circulate in her body until she died, due to the concept of microchimerism – cells from fetuses get into their mothers’ circulation, and may remain in the mother for the rest of her life. Mary had the literal Blood of Christ in her body. This supports the need for both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
4. Mary, assumed body and soul into heaven
Catholics believe that after Mary died (and many believe she was spared death as well, although that is not Catholic dogma) her body was taken up into heaven and reunited with her soul.
The dogma states that “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” (Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII) (via Internet Archive)
In the Bible, Enoch and Elijah, and possible Moses, were also assumed into heaven. So this concept is not biblically impossible.
Jesus’ body also ended up in heaven – he rose from the dead, and then ascended into heaven. However, there is a big difference here: Jesus ascended into heaven by his own power; Mary was, like Enoch and Elijah, taken up by the power of God.
Biblically, the Assumption is hinted at in Revelation 12, and the early Christians believed in it.
Lastly, Mary’s Assumption is a precursor to our own eventual bodily resurrection.
5. Mary, Queen of Heaven
From early on, Christians saw the parallels between Mary and the Davidic Queens. The mother of the king was considered to be the queen, and she had significant influence, as can be seen with the case of Solomon and Bathsheba:
1 Kings 2:20 (KJV): Then she said, I desire one small petition of thee; I pray thee, say me not nay. And the king said unto her, Ask on, my mother: for I will not say thee nay.
The fact that there was idolatry involved in the case of Asherah, a pagan goddess, who was called Queen of Heaven, does not nullify the rest of the Bible’s parallels.
Luke 1:31-33 (KJV): And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
6. Mary, Woman and Mother
John 2:4 (KJV): Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
That is unfortunately a bad translation. It really means “What has that got to do with you or me?” I.e. Jesus is saying that it’s not his or his mother’s job to ensure there is enough wine.
Also, in modern English, we do not address woman as “Woman“. “Woman, where is my food??” No … but we do call them “Lady” sometimes as a title, although it’s more often something like “Lady, you dented my car!!“. “Madam” is often used to speak of women of inferior morals. However, generally, “Ma’am” is a way to address a woman with respect – and it is in this way that Jesus addresses his mother.
John 19:26-27 (KJV): When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
No disrespect there at all.
Important in that verse is that a) it is significant in that the Bible bothers to record it as one of Jesus’ last sayings on the Cross, and b) it indicates that Jesus was giving Mary as a mother to his beloved disciple, John.
Why did Jesus give Mary to John? Normally the eldest son would be responsible for the care of the mother; if the eldest son died, the job would be given to the next son. Jesus, according to Catholic teaching and the Bible, had no siblings – Mary remained a virgin all her life. So Jesus had no siblings to take care of Mary after his death, resurrection, and ascension. Also, because this event is given the emphasis and importance it is given as one of Jesus’ final statements on the Cross, even the early Christians found it significant – Jesus gave his mother to mankind.
Protestants will sometimes argue that Mary had other children, and that she was only a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus. I’ll deal with that error lower down, but if they are right, then giving Mary to John has even more significance – Jesus bypassed all his siblings, who would normally have taken on the task of caring for her, and gave her to John. That is highly unusual, making the universal mothership of Mary even more pronounced.
Was Jesus Dissing His Mother When He Called Her “Woman”?
7. Mary the Ark of the New Covenant
One argument Protestants present is that Mary is hardly mentioned in the Bible. Yet that isn’t entirely true – there are several explicit mentions of her, but there are others that are not as obvious. These passages show us Mary contrasted in the New Testament with the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament.
In short, both Mary and the Ark were where God’s glory was physically located – the Word of God in Mary’s womb. The Ark contained several items (Heb 9:4) – the nourishment from God to the Israelites (manna), and the symbol of the Aaronic priesthood, Aaron’s rod, and the word of God given to Moses on stone tablets. God overshadowed and dwelled in both the Ark (Exodus 40) and Mary (Luke 1). Mary had in her womb Jesus, who became for us the bread of life, who became the eternal high priest of the order of Melchizedek, the Word of God himself. The Ark and Mary both then travelled to Judah (2 Sam 6, Luke 1). King David, dressed in a priest’s girdle, and John the Baptist, son of a priest and a future priest, leapt with joy in front of the Ark/Mary. Both King David and Elizabeth rejoiced in front of the Ark / Mary, which/who both remained for 3 months. Then both the Ark and Mary went back to Jerusalem, to the Temple.
8. Mary, the New Eve
St Irenaeus, the disciple of St Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John, wrote, around 202 AD, in his Against Heresies:
In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise “they were both naked, and were not ashamed,” (Genesis 2:25) inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve, because what is joined together could not otherwise be put asunder than by inversion of the process by which these bonds of union had arisen; so that the former ties be cancelled by the latter, that the latter may set the former again at liberty. And it has, in fact, happened that the first compact looses from the second tie, but that the second tie takes the position of the first which has been cancelled. For this reason did the Lord declare that the first should in truth be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:30, Matthew 20:16) And the prophet, too, indicates the same, saying, “instead of fathers, children have been born unto you.” For the Lord, having been born “the First-begotten of the dead,” (Revelation 1:5) and receiving into His bosom the ancient fathers, has regenerated them into the life of God, He having been made Himself the beginning of those that live, as Adam became the beginning of those who die. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22) Wherefore also Luke, commencing the genealogy with the Lord, carried it back to Adam, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of life, and not they Him. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.
– Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 22)
9. Mary, intercessor for Christians
Christ is our only mediator, says the Bible. The Bible also uses the term “intercession” when speaking of Christ (Heb 7:25). The terms can be used as synonyms in English, and that is how Catholics often use them – as synonyms. So do Protestants:
Quite simply, intercessory prayer is the act of praying on behalf of others. The role of mediator in prayer was prevalent in the Old Testament, in the cases of Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel, Hezekiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Christ is pictured in the New Testament as the ultimate intercessor, and because of this, all Christian prayer becomes intercession since it is offered to God through and by Christ.
– What is intercessory prayer?
We are all able to pray for each other, and the Bible teaches the value of intercessory prayer.
1 Tim 2:1 (KJV): I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.
Adventists and others who believe the dead are unconscious in the grave claim that the saints cannot pray for us because they are not in heaven. However, this is based on an erroneous understanding of the biblical afterlife. See the following posts on this blog dealing with this topic:
Are we allowed to pray to Mary?
Yes, we are. Nothing in the Bible prohibits the addressing of those in heaven; in fact, in several places, angels in heaven are addressed by humans – Psalm 103:20-21. Requests are asked of angels – Gen 19:15-21. Angels could speak to humans from heaven – Gen 21:17-18 – which means that they should be able to hear us from there. Those in heaven know what we are up to – 1 Samuel 28:18 – Samuel knows what Saul has not done; see also Rev 19:6; Luke 15:7-10 indicates that those in heaven, in the presence of the angels, rejoice when sinners repent.
In Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4, the angels offer the prayers of humans to God. In Revelation 6:9-10 we see the souls of the dead praying to God. If we may address those in heaven, and if they know what is happening on earth, and if prayer by those in heaven is possible, then we can ask them to pray for us.
Is praying to Mary not worship?
No. For low church Protestants, the average worship consists of prayer and singing hymns and a sermon. Protestant worship is modelled on the synagogue. For Catholics, that does still form part of what we call worship, but the ultimate worship service in Catholicism and Orthodoxy is the Mass. We are in the very presence of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. For Catholics, worship is modelled on the Temple. Jesus, as a first century Jew, would immediately recognise in the Mass many elements of Temple worship.
So, when we have the sacrifice of Calvary as our highest form of communal worship, everything else is synagogue-like in comparison. Yes, we pray, we read the Bible, and we sing pretty badly. But these things are lesser forms of communal worship.
Pray, in English, isn’t limited to worship. Pray simply means to ask. We explicitly differentiate between the worshipful prayer we offer to God, and the non-worship form of prayer we direct to angels and saints. If English (and Hebrew and Greek) had developed separate words for these two actions, we would use them. But in all three languages, the same words are used for both. That can understandably become confusing for Protestants, who only address God, and never the angels and saints (unless they’re singing one of the psalms that addresses angels, but then they don’t notice.)
Worship is also an act of the intellect and an act of the will, not an act of body posture (kneeling, bowing, which are all legitimately done to humans in the Bible) or vocalisation. If bowing is done with the intent of worship, then it is worship. If it is not done with the intent of worship, then it is not worship. The same applies to prayer.
Why Invocation of the Saints is Essentially Different From the Sin of Necromancy
Biblical Evidence For Invocation of Angels For Intercessory Purposes / Asking For Dead Men’s Intercession, and Their Prayers For Us
Biblical Evidence For Saints in Heaven Being Aware of Earthly Events
10. Mary, source of our salvation
One of the more blasphemous-sounding concepts is the idea that Mary is the source of our salvation. Yet in the early Church we see this concept taught. However, if correctly understood, it should be no problem.
Only Christ saves us, right? No, not according to the Bible. Yes, Christ saves us. But the Bible also speaks of secondary means of salvation – those things Christ uses to save us – as saving us. He is the primary source of salvation, but he uses faith (Luke 7:50), grace (Acts 15:11), baptism (1 Peter 3:21), and humans to save us (Jude 1:23, 1 Timothy 4:16).
Soon-to-be Father Joe Heschmeyer points out a useful analogy, one commonly found in medicine when talking about the cause of death: Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy; a bullet killed Kennedy. Both make perfect sense, and both are true.
When we say that Mary saves us, we do not mean that Mary suffered and died for our sins. What Mary does do is this: she brought Jesus into the world when she said “be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38); she prays for us, and who is more righteous than she is – “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
Is it Idolatry to say that Mary Saves Us?
Mary is, for Christians, a devout and holy example to follow (cf 1 Cor 11:1). She is our mother, our queen. She was kept pure by God, and never touched by men. She brought Christ into the world, as his mother, and is the Ark of the New Covenant. She said yes where Eve said no.