Thursday, April 26, 2007

Scripture: Devotion to Mary (John 2:5)

In my email signature (as well as on the forum at I have a quote from the Gospel according to St. John, edited for context: [Mary said], "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)

I suppose I could have edited it further: [Mary said], "Do whatever [Jesus] tells you." Or: [Mary said], "Do whatever [my son] tells you." However you look at it, though, I hope one thing is clear: Mary, the mother of Jesus, says to us what she said to the servants at the wedding in Cana: "Whatever Jesus, my son, tells you, do it." Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite. And that lies behind the entirety of Marian devotion and intercession.

On Gretchen's blog, I wrote a comment to a post of hers which has inspired this post. Her post was about St. John's account of Mary and Jesus at the wedding in Cana. I wrote a brief comment saying I use John 2:5 in my signature; she asked how I chose it. I responded:
I used to have... trouble... with Marian devotion. I didn't understand it. It seemed at times that it sought to circumvent Jesus Christ and his saving work. It wasn't that I didn't respect Mary or understand her role in God's plan, I just didn't understand why she got so much attention in devotions.

It wasn't until I was reading the Gospel of John that I read that verse and paused. And all of the sudden, it was all made clear. I understood how Mariology connected with Christology, and how Marian devotion was really devotion to Jesus through Mary. How could I "visit Jesus's house" and not say hello to his mother?!

Understanding Marian devotion also made a lot of Mariology clearer to me. For example, by Hebrew tradition, the mother of the king was the queen; thus, Mary is the Queen of Heaven. In addition, subejcts of the king would ask the queen to intercede for them; thus, we can ask (or "pray to", although non-Catholics will shudder at the use of that term in that context) Mary to intercede for us.

The importance of Mary to all Christians is made clear when you understand what Scripture has to say about her -- not just the Gospels, but the types of Mary found in the Old Testament as well.
She asked for me to expound upon the subject, so here I will. Some of these conclusions I have arrived at personally, while others are ones I have found elsewhere. Each title or attribute of Mary is supplemented by a brief explanation of how devotion to that aspect leads to Jesus.

This is a rather lengthy post, so please bear with me.

Mary as the Mother of God
This is, perhaps, the simplest role of Mary to understand. If Jesus is eternally God -- eternally begotten of the Father: God from God, light from light, true God from true God -- that means Mary held not just an infant in her womb, but God Incarnate in her womb. That means Mary was not just the mother of Jesus the man, but Jesus the God.

Devotion to Mary as the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, the Bearer of God (Theotokos), shows great respect to the woman chosen by God to give birth to the Savior of the World. It points to Jesus because it recognizes and celebrates the beautiful bond between mother and son. The vocation of women to motherhood, with all its sacrifices and joys, is forever under Mary's care.

Mary, Ever-Virgin
Because Jesus was man and God, Catholics hold the conception and birth of Jesus as truly miraculous events. Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-25 attest to the virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic belief of Mary's virginity does not end at the birth of Jesus: we believe such a miraculous birth was effected without compromising Mary's virginity. Nor does the belief end after the birth of Jesus: we believe that Mary, the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38), was ever-faithful to God both in spirit and in body, and that she never committed any act of sexual intercourse. A logical assumption to make about Mary is that, knowing what she knew about Jesus and about her relationship with God, she would not have "returned to a normal life" as it were.

References to the family members of Jesus are never declared in the Gospel as being through Mary; that is, they are never named as the sons and daughters of Mary, but as the brothers and sisters of Jesus (cf. Matthew 12:46-50; 13:54-56; Mark 3:31-35; 6:3; Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12; 7:3-5). Moreover, Jesus uses the word "brothers" elsewhere in Scripture to refer to people who are not physical brothers (cf. Matthew 23:8; 25:40; 28:10; Luke 22:32; John 20:17; 21:23). And again, are all the teachings of Jesus which refer to us taking care of our brothers to be understood as only our brothers related to us by birth?

Finally, when Mary is present at the crucifixion with the disciple whom Jesus loved, Jesus entrusts Mary to his care (cf. John 19:25-27). Why would this be if Mary had other sons? I'll come back to this Scripture later.

Devotion to Mary as Virgin recognizes her being set apart by God for God, and calls us to set our lives apart for Jesus, no matter what our vocation (but especially as virgins for the sake of the Church).

Mary, the Gate
Another part of Scripture seen to point to the constant virginity of Mary is found in Ezekiel 44:1-2: Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And he said to me, "This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut." The gate, the type of Mary's womb, shall remain shut ... and no one shall enter by it, because God entered by it.

Devotion to Mary as the Gate recalls Jesus's majesty, his being God, and inspires us to regard what God has created with reverence.

Mary, the Immaculate New Ark
The Ark of the Covenant was associated with three relics of the Israelites: the tablets inscribed with the commandments, the jar of manna, and the rod of Aaron. The construction of the Ark was meticulous: it was made of Acacia (or Shittim) wood, plated inside and out with gold, with a molding of gold around its top, and fitted with rings so that two poles so it could be carried (cf. Exodus 25:10-15). Only the Levites could carry it, and no one was allowed to touch it (cf. Deut 10:8; 1 Chr 13:9-11; 1 Chr 15:2).

The three relics associated with the Ark are types of Jesus Christ: being God, he is the one who gave forth the Law (viz. the commandments); he is the true bread from heaven (John 6:32) (viz. the manna); he is the one high priest of the covenant (cf. Hebrews passim) (viz. the rod of Aaron the Levite, cf. Numbers 17).

If Jesus is the anti-type (the fulfillment of the type) of the contents of the Ark, that makes Mary the anti-type of the Ark itself. This is not just fanciful deduction; St. Luke attests to this theology by the very words the Spirit chose for him to use when writing the gospel. In Luke 1:35, Luke uses the Greek word episkiazo (επισκιασει), rendered in the RSV as overshadow, to describe the presence of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High, over Mary upon the conception of Jesus. He uses the same word in his description of the Transfiguration (cf. Luke 9:28-36), when the cloud from which the voice of God comes overshadows the Apostles (cf. Luke 9:34). This word is found in the Greek Old Testament (with which Luke would have been familiar) to describe the presence of God in the cloud overshadowing the Ark in Exodus 40:34-35. Mary is human, but clad inside and out with purity rather than gold:
"O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides." Athanasius, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin, 71:216 (before AD 373).
Being thus clad, destined by God for such a purpose, she is without the stain of sin, preserved perfectly pure. This was done by God the Son, the Eternal Word, for Mary herself declares "my spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Luke 1:47). She was saved by Jesus at the moment of her conception, kept by God for such a holy purpose. Arise, O LORD, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might (Psalm 132:8) is thus interpreted in light of this association of Mary with the Ark of God, in support of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.

Devotion to Mary the Immaculate reminds us of Jesus's saving work for all humanity, and should make us praise and worship him ever more for the redemption he has bought for us.

Devotion to Mary the Ark of the New Covenant recalls the former Ark, upon which the blood of the yearly sacrifice was sprinkled for the remission of the sins of the people of Israel. Jesus's blood (derived, as was his flesh, from Mary) now takes the place of that of lambs and goats. Thus Mary the Ark points us to Jesus the Eternal Sacrifice, the propitiation for our sin.

Mary, the Queen of Heaven
As Jesus is the King of Heaven, so Mary, his mother, becomes Heaven's Queen, in accord with Hebrew tradition. As such, we can turn to her to intercede on our behalf before the Lord, the King of Heaven (cf. 1 Kings 2:19-20, Abishag's ill motives notwithstanding). The queen of heaven referenced in Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-25 is not Mary, nor do Catholics commit the pagan practices Jeremiah speaks of.

Devotion to Mary the Queen brings us into deeper communion with all the saints around the throne of God, praying and interceding for us, and claims us as subjects to the King, Jesus Christ; as subjects of Christ, let us be loyal to his commandments, showing ourselves to be his disciples by our love for God and one another.

Mary, the Help-meet of Christ, the New Eve
God could have ordained for His Son to become Incarnate by the Holy Spirit itself; if He fashioned man from the dust of the earth, why not the body for Jesus? Instead, following the model of Adam (a type of Christ, cf. 1 Cor 15:45-49), He deemed that "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Genesis 2:18) Thus, as Adam had Eve, so does Jesus have Mary, not as wife but as helper. As Jesus is the anti-type of Adam, so Mary is the anti-type of Eve.

Devotion to Mary as the Help-meet of Christ inspires us to be helpers of one another in the service of Jesus Christ, in whatever vocation God calls us to.

Devotion to Mary as the new Eve recalls our spiritual origin, unity, and destiny, the Paradise of Heaven with God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this way, we recognize ourselves as "offspring" of Jesus, as his descendants by means of our adoption into God's Church.

Mary, the Mother of Christians
As Eve is the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20), Mary is the mother of all Christians. This is further supported by John 19:25-27, where Jesus entrusts his beloved disciple to Mary.

Devotion to Mary our Blessed Mother draws us closer to one another in Christian brotherhood and therefore to a more complete fulfillment of Jesus's command that we love one another as he loves us.

More on Mary
For more on Mary in Scripture, see ScriptureCatholic's page on her. They cover some of the same things I did, but probably in more depth, as well as things I didn't cover. I also did a post on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception last December, which involved a bit of dialogue on some Marian beliefs of the Catholic Church.

In Conclusion...
Devotion to Mary and her intercession for us, whatever her answer, is always based on what she said in Cana: "Do whatever he tells you!" Ad Deum per Iesum. Ad Iesum per Mariam.


Gretchen said...

Many, many thanks for your post. Next Wednesday, Coming Home Network's evening online chat (8 p.m. EST) has as its question: How do we tell Protestants about Mary?

Your post has given me much food for thought.

MMajor Fan said...

Beautifully written and thought through!

If I may add, there is one fundamental insight that many miss, and that is that Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel, sent by God, addresses Mary not by her name, but by the title "full of grace." Gabriel, who is sent by God and therefore speaks for Him, says "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." Gabriel is clearly addressing Mary as the person who is full of grace, and this is even before she gave her "yes", her fiat to being the mother of the Lord. Her immaculate conception and the purity of her as the living ark, as you rightly describe, is affirmed by the manner of Gabriel's giving her of the name "full of grace." No one else in scripture is declared by an angel of God to be "full of grace." I know that many who have trouble comprehending reverence for Mary do not notice or have properly explained to them the precision of that greeting.