Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Our Sunday Visitor: "Mary -- Crucial to Christmas"

Lutheran pastor Charles Dickson, author of the book A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary, writes in Our Sunday Visitor:
As we approach the Advent and Christmas seasons, we begin to ask ourselves the question as to what role the mother of our Lord should play in our worship and festival observances. How important a place? The answer in a nutshell is: a very important place.

Protestant observances of the events surrounding the Incarnation all but deny the importance of Mary. A few references to her in sermons, a character in the Christmas play, and a statue in the Nativity scene are about as far as it goes in terms of recognizing the role of Our Lady in the divine transcendent event. However, Catholic observers are quick to point out that their own Church hasn't always properly emphasized her importance.

The life and ministry of Jesus on earth begins with the Annunciation and the Incarnation. The vehicle or means by which the Incarnation took place is the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Incarnation of the Son of God requires that we discover God's purposes in the Word made flesh. Through the Annunciation, Mary learned that her motherhood would extend to all who stand in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. As Father Romanus Cessario writes: ''If we reflect on the truth that God chose to come among us as a little Child, we will begin to comprehend what Mary's spiritual motherhood means for the Church.''

Not to emphasize the central role of Mary in history is to dilute the importance of the Incarnation. And when the Incarnation is no longer crucial, the basic tenets of the Christian faith begin to crumble.

In one of his talks on Our Lady, Pope John Paul II clarifies the basis for emphasizing the role of Mary in the Christmas message: ''The fiat of the Annunciation inaugurates the New Covenant between God and the creature. While it incorporates Jesus into our race according to nature, it incorporates Mary with Him according to grace. The bond between God and humankind that was broken by sin is now happily restored.'' As Christians we realize that this change occurs only because of what God has accomplished in Jesus through Mary.


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At 12/19/2007 3:19 PM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Not to emphasize the central role of Mary in history is to dilute the importance of the Incarnation. And when the Incarnation is no longer crucial, the basic tenets of the Christian faith begin to crumble.

I've seen this in discussions with Protestants who deny Mary her title as "Mother of God". Once they've done that, you can generally get them to deny that Jesus' divine nature is inseperable from his human nature, and that God did not die on the cross for our sins, but only a man.

It's a shortcut right out of orthodox Christianity.

At 12/19/2007 10:07 PM, Blogger Luke said...

Here is my position on Mary:

Mary gave birth to Jesus. However, just like Joseph provided no sperm, so too did Mary provide no egg. In other words, the Christ child was solely conceived by the Holy Spirit. Resultantly, evangelicals like myself do not hold Mary to be sinless, nor do we believe that she bore only Jesus. The scriptures do not support a sinless Mary and also makes reference to Jesus' "brothers" or "brother".

I think what Paul is describing is not a "short cut out of orthodox Christianity", but an over-reaction to the Catholic view of Mary that protestants find to be unsupportable from scripture.

Mary is not the "spiritual mother" of the church, nor is she sinless, nor is she a "co-redemptrix." There is only one head to the church and it is Jesus. There is only one who was without sin, Jesus. There is only one who redeems, Jesus.

At 12/20/2007 11:46 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

"However, just like Joseph provided no sperm, so too did Mary provide no egg. In other words, the Christ child was solely conceived by the Holy Spirit."

So, then, where did Jesus get His humanity? You know, his human DNA? What's the point of bothering being born at all?

For 1500 years, all of Christendom accepted what the Church teaches about Mary. Even after the Reformation protestants such as Luther and Calvin continued to believe what the Church taught about Mary.

And now we're told that Mary wasn't even Jesus' biological mother, but rather some sort of surrogate, in order to get around said teachings.

That is most definitely a short-cut right out of orthodoxy.

At 12/20/2007 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jay,
If I may add just a thought.
Most Evangelicals like myself honour and respect Mary. We regard her as a Blessed woman, someone who showed the utmost faith by placing herself at God's dosposal.
Our argument is not with Mary; its with what your denomination has done to her. Why do you give her such a major role, yet poor old Joseph is sidelined?
Mary said 'yes' to God - but so did Joseph. If she had said 'no' then would Jesus have been born? If Joseph had said 'no' to God, would Mary not have been stoned and she and Jesus killed?
Mary raised and nurtured Jesus - but so did Joseph. Their responses were the same, but Mary gets a much higher position in the Catholic denomination than Joseph does. I know he is honoured by Catholics and has a feast day and so on. But Mary still gets greater prominance. Why? They responded in the same way.
On this post, you featured a picture of Mary with Jesus as a baby. Why is Joseph missing? Most couples, Catholic or otherwise, who have a young baby get a picture of both of them with their child. But the Catholic tradition is to leave Joseph out. Why do you give Mary greater prominance than Joseph?



At 12/20/2007 11:12 PM, Anonymous Brian said...


Obviously you have not paid close attention. St. Joseph features prominently in our faith. I have this icon hanging in two places in my home. Most Catholic Churches have an altar dedicated to St. Joseph. What makes Our Lady different, however, is her singular privilege of giving birth to the Son of God, and in so doing she became the new Ark of the Covenant and the new Mother of all the living. I understand you will probably reject this, but then again, if you didn't then you would probably be Catholic or Orthodox.

By the way, the Catholic Church is not a denomination. It is the Church.


At 12/21/2007 12:01 AM, Blogger Luke said...


If you want to make Jesus' humanity reliant upon science, as we now understand it, then Joseph would have had to have contributed the sperm. Without it, an egg is not fertilized. I have no doubt you know that. So I don't really think it's a stretch to say that Mary provided no egg. I concede that she was Jesus' "mother", but only as much as Joseph was his "father".

Jesus' humanity came from the fact that he "became" a man, making himself "a little lower than the angels." All that I am saying is that Jesus' conception was the result of a purely spiritual act. Of course Mary birthed him and because of it she is to be called "blessed among all women", but it does not make her higher than normal humanity. Just as Moses, Abraham, Jacob, David, or Isaiah were no greater than you or I, so too with Mary.

Additionally, the teachings about Mary have changed pretty dramatically over the last 2000 years and simply because church officials espoused a certain teaching does not mean that "all of Christendom" accepted or believed that teaching. The church is no higher than the individuals who make up its body. As Peter said to Cornelius, "Rise up, I am only a man myself."

At 12/21/2007 3:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jay,

Thanks for the reply.

But I repeat - if Joseph had not consented to be Mary's husband, she would very probably have been stoned to death and Jesus killed too.
Joseph also raised and taught and nurtured jesus. The bond between father and son is a very close one.
Joseph decision to say 'yes' was absolutely necessary, as was Mary's. Joseph's role in raising Jesus was as equal as that of Mary's.



At 12/21/2007 9:27 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

I appreciate the civil tone of the comments here.

Luke, you're offering a fairly gnostic view of Christ's humanity. One, in fact, that was rejected very early on as heresy by the early Church.

James, it was Brian who responded to your earlier comment. For what it's worth - and please don't take this the wrong way - Protestants give thought to the Holy Family, including St. Joseph, during approximately one month out of the year. Catholics, on the other hand, honor the Holy Family throughout the year as the model of the Christian family, and honor St. Joseph in particular as the patron saint of fathers as well as the patron saint and protector of the Church.

I think it's safe to say that the average Catholic probably gives much more thought and honor in one year to St. Joseph than the average Protestant does in a lifetime. But, as Brian explained, we give particular honor to the woman who contributed her humanity to Christ's humanity.

At 12/21/2007 10:07 AM, Anonymous George said...

I don't jump on these blogs very often, so please bear with me. In reading these posts, I see that Protestants certainly do not hold any truck with the dogma of the Hypostatic Union. These posts make me wonder what kind of a Jesus do the Protestants worship?

At 12/21/2007 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jay,

I'll leave this debate as I don't want to take up too much space.

As a Catholic for some 40 years, Legion of Mary for 12 of those and educated by the Marist Brothers, I'm fairly well up on Marian theology.
I just accepted what I was taught, but the more I investigated, the more it fell apart. This happened long before I left the Catholic denomination.
How could Mary and Joseph be a model family for Catholics when they never had sex or more children - both of which are good things in marriage.
The teaching I still here today from Catholic friends, and on other Catholic blogs, is Joseph was just the 'good man' needed to give respectability to the union. But Joseph and Mary never shared any intimate moments like kissing or holding hands. They did not even have to be attracted to each other. These are all good things in marriage.
Joseph was like the male head of a religious order, Mary like the mother superuior of a group of nuns.
Now, I repeat, I honour and love Mary, as an Evangelical. I think she was one of the most important women in history. I dislike Protestants belittling her.
But to go too far in the other direction, place her on a pedastal and attribute all sorts of claims to her like co-mediatrix, is not good.

I wish you all every blessing for Christmas and may God shine His blessings and abundance of you, your family, your parishioners and all your fellow bloggers!


At 12/21/2007 3:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hail Mary full of grace...thanks for that post...

At 12/21/2007 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James Hastings, you sound like you have had Marist training, "co-mediatrix"? ain't no such thing. As Pius XI said "No one can at the same time be a Catholic and a Marist." Oh, sorry, that should be "No one can at the same time be a Catholic and a Socialist". Well, it's the same thing. Peace.

At 12/22/2007 7:36 AM, Anonymous Donald R. McClarey said...

"And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee"

My heart rejoices that at least some our Protestant brethren are beginning to have an appreciation of the Blessed Virgin, "humanity's sole boast".

At 12/22/2007 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Annonymous - I believe in speaking in tongues, but I'm sorry, I didn't understand your strange remarks about Marists and Socialists and Pius XI.

Donald - my remarks about loving and honouring Mary are quite common amongst Evangelicals.
However, no one so far has explained why Mary gets a higher position in the Catholic denomination than Joseph.
I accept she gave physical birth, but that was never something Joseph could do. However, I repeat, he like Mary said 'yes' to God's plan; he like Mary raised and nurtured and taught Jesus; he like Mary was crucial to God's plan of salvation.
As a man in a very male dominated time, Joseph's role in teaching and raising Joseph would have been crcial.
So why oh why separate Mary?



At 12/29/2007 8:08 AM, Anonymous Donald R. McClarey said...

"So why oh why separate Mary?"

A good starting point in answering this question is to consider what the Church Fathers said about Mary:

Mary is the Mother of God and undefiled by sin. Saint Joseph, the model of all Fathers played an important role, and it in no way denigrates him to point out, as Catholics have done since the time of the Apostles, the unique favor shown by God to Mary. As Saint Ambrose declared: "What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose?"


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