Devotion to Jesus’ mother is as old as Christianity. When Jesus began his active ministry and traveled all over the Galilee, Judea and beyond, Mary often traveled with him. She was no stranger to his friends. The Catholic Church takes the biblical passages about her very seriously and over the centuries has bestowed upon her various titles that reflect those roots.
We learn about Mary primarily from Matthew (1-2) and Luke (1-2). Both open their Gospels with the infancy narratives. We are told in John 2:1-12 of the wedding at Cana and in John 19, that Mary was present at the foot of the cross.
Mary was Conceived without Original Sin
Catholics believe that every human since Adam and Eve have been conceived with Original Sin. The sins of disobedience and pride that caused Adam and Even to disobey God’s command, has been passed down to all their offspring. The sacrament of Baptism, washes away that original sin and brings people back into God’s grace.
The angel Gabriel greeted Mary with the words: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Gabriel’s description of Mary as “full of grace,” meant that she was without sin of any kind. She was born sinless. This is the basis for her title “Immaculate Conception.” Only a sinless person could conceive, carry and bear the Divine. To be singled out by God, from all possible generations, to bear His Son, is a significant honor. To imagine that God would single out a sinful woman to bear his son is unthinkable.
God chose to take on human form, to live as a human, to experience what all humans experience. To accomplish this, he had to be born of a woman. The woman who carries and gives birth to the divine must herself be pure, in every sense of the word. She had to be a virgin, as God’s birth was the greatest thing the world has seen. God chose a sinless virgin so that He, Himself, could “open” Mary’s womb.
To imagine that the woman who was to raise and educate the Son of God could commit sin after she gave birth is equally unthinkable. All Christian faiths agree that Jesus was sinless. How can a sinless person be raised by a sinful person? God would not allow it.
Mary is the New Eve
Matthew often says that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old (The Jewish Scripture). Mary’s sinlessness has its parallel in Genesis. Eve was created without sin. (If Adam and Eve committed the first sin, we must assume that they were sinless prior to that moment.) God promised the serpent (Gen 3:15) “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” If “offspring” refers to Jesus, then “the woman” is clearly Mary.
Mary, the mother of Jesus (the new Adam), could not be more sinful than Eve.
Mary as the Ark of the Covenant
When Mary visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-43), John, her unborn son, leaped for joy in her womb on recognizing Christ in Mary’s womb. Since we assume Mary set out immediately to visit Elizabeth after the Annunciation, the fetus, Jesus, could not have been more than five weeks old at the time.
The Ark of the Covenant held God. David danced before the Ark of the Covenant. Mary’s body held God in the person of Jesus. John danced in his mother’s womb when the newly pregnant Mary came to visit. (Ark of the Covenant.)
Mary was a Perpetual Virgin
Unlike Protestant theology, the Catholic Church assumes Mary’s perpetual virginity. Nothing that held the divine can subsequently hold something conceived with original sin. Only by God’s grace did Mary live an unsullied, sinless life. Although there is reference to Jesus “mother and brothers and sisters,” nowhere in the Bible is there any reference to any other children of Mary. Mention is made only of Jesus’ relatives. In Hebrew and Aramaic, there is no word for “cousin.” Cousins were called brothers and sisters. So the reference to Jesus “brothers and sisters” was probably in reference to Jesus’ cousins. There is also the ancient belief, found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (Chapter 8), that Joseph was a widower when he married Mary and that he had had children by his first wife. The reference to “brothers and sisters” may refer to Joseph’s children. Mary had only one child. (Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.)
Mary is the Mother of God
If Jesus is divine, then logically Mary, as his human mother, is “Mother of God.” In fact, Elizabeth called Mary “Mother of My Lord.” (Luke 1:43)
Mary is the Mother of the Church
Throughout the Gospels, Mary was present. When Jesus was dying (John 19:26-27) he looked down from the cross and addressed his mother with the words “Woman here is your son” referring to the “beloved disciple.” Then turning to this disciple, he said “Here is your mother.” (In Jewish custom, a widow was helpless if she did not have a male relative to care for her, whether a son or a husband. If Mary had other sons, and if Jesus had other brothers, Jesus would never have given his mother into the care of a non-relative.) With these simple words, using the last of his breath, Jesus gave Mary to all humans (as represented by the beloved disciple) as mother. For some reason, many Protestant sects disregard this passage and do not connect it with the passage about Jesus’ mothers and brothers.
Islam, in contrast, has a great devotion to Jesus’ mother.
Mary is the Queen Mother
Solomon was a King of Israel. The kings of Israel, like their counterparts, had many wives. Who was to be queen? They solved this problem by making the king’s mother the Queen Mother. Solomon showed to his mother, Bathsheba, great deference. (1 Kings 2:18-20) He bowed to her. He placed her at his right hand. He asked her opinion when judging and administering the land. People would go to Bathsheba and ask her to intervene for them with Solomon. As a good son, he always granted her requests.
Just as the citizens of Israel went to Bathsheba to solicit her assistance in their requests to Solomon, Catholics ask Mary to intercede with her son. If Mary asks Jesus, he is sure to listen, just as Solomon listened to his mother and granted her requests. Is Jesus less respectful of his mother than Solomon was to his? Does this mean that Catholics ignore Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit? No. Catholics pray to the divine but also ask Mary to “pray for us.” (see the second half of the Hail Mary.)
Mary as Advocate
John’s Gospel tells the story of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-9) when the hosts were running out of wine. (Since wedding feasts in Jesus’ day lasted a week, this was a serious problem.) Mary noticed what needed doing and told her son, “They have no wine.” His immediate response was “this is no concern of mine.” Mary, knowing her son intimately, went to the wine stewards and told them to “do whatever he tells you.” Jesus lavishly turned gallons of water into wine – because his mother asked him to.
If Jesus complied with his mother’s wishes while he was alive, why would he refuse her requests in heaven?
Mary as Role Model
Gabriel politely asked Mary if she would be willing to assume the awesome task of bearing and raising God’s son. Mary’s fiat, “Be it done to me according to thy word,” (Luke 1:38) her complete acceptance of the will of God, is considered the epitome of Christian behavior – to cooperate with God’s will, freely.
Respect for Mary as the Mother of Jesus
Those who love and respect their mothers, would be very hurt if their closest friends ignored her, treated her badly or disrespectfully. Mothers are to be treated with kindness, patience, and respect. Can anyone doubt that Jesus would see it differently? For those who believe that Jesus is a friend, as well as Lord, why ignore his mother? Ignoring Mary is being disrespectful to Jesus. Christians can no more ignore Jesus’ mother today than the Apostles could have when Jesus was alive. Yet many Protestant sects believe that Mary ‘gets in the way’ of their relationship with Jesus. They see Mary as a distraction rather than as a helper. They do not see that she loves them just as she loved “the beloved disciple” and all the other disciples of Jesus. Now she is in heaven she can love even more and be of greater help. It’s hard to imagine anyone ignoring the mother of the beloved, but it is true.
Catholic devotion to Mary is richly deserved. Granted, Mary was a human person. She did, however, conceive, bear and raise the Divine. An honor reserved only to her. The respect given to her by the Catholic Church is reasonable. Where would Christianity be without her?