Dear readers, I decided on this occasion of harvest, to cull from my diary, this article of the Holy Virgin Mary that I wrote down during my meditations at a time I was praying my rosary chaplet on the 15th of September 2002. They are questions non-Catholics usually ask. And they are answers that I thought up in the meditation, and also remembered given from various sources.
Question (Q): Why do Catholics worship Mary?
Answer (A): We do not worship Mary. We honour her.
Q: What you do is worship and not honour.
A: Only God knows the hearts of men. I have said that we honour her and not worship her. However you decide to take it is left to you.
Q: Then why do you honour her?
A: Because she is the mother of our Lord – Jesus Christ.
Q: And so?
A: And so we honour her. When a man achieves greatness, his parents also do, because “the children’s glory is their parents’”(Prov. 17:6). They gain respect because their son has made them proud and uplifted their dignity. In the bible, a woman was so moved by Christ, that she bore her mind (probably reflecting that of many witnesses at the time and faithful of the present who did not see but believe) in praise of His mother: “Blessed is the one who bore you and nursed you!” (Luke 11:27).
Q: Is that why you kneel and bow before her statue and other statues you call saints?
A: Statues are some of our sacramentals, which are used to aid us in praying. Statues are also used to help us visualize or to remind us of the features and uniqueness of the people they represent in their time.
Each person experiences God in his own way and manifests his feelings accordingly. Whether his manifest act is right or wrong, to an extent, can be modified from advice and counseling from appropriate authority/ies; or can be left to God to judge the actor’s conscience (1 John 3:20-21). This is because more important than outward expression is the inner-self which He sees and alone knows. But personally, I prefer counseling towards the proper behaviour, so that the right thing is done in addition to one’s good intension and clear conscience.
It is a common and customary thing to show outward signs of respect (such as bowing, kneeling or prostrating) to those whom one has regard for or owe it to. Subjects show this to their kings and queens, servants to their masters, children to their parents and elders, and so on. But it has become a thing of criticism for Catholics to show this outward signs of respect (which is a reflection of our inner regard) to our Mother – the Queen of heaven – the Holy Virgin Mary and mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. And so I ask the non-Catholics: when you show these outward signs of respect to kings, queens, masters or bosses, presidents, parents and elders, do you call it worshipping them? If not, why then do you condemn or accuse us of doing so to the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saints?
Therefore, however a catholic chooses to honour the Virgin Mary (within the dogma of the church) according to his emotional and spiritual disposition, is his personal concern, even if others judge him wrongly. Only God knows his heart.
Q: You talk (or concentrate) much more on Mary than Jesus Christ. Does that not show that you worship her rather than Christ? Or have more regard for her than Christ? Why place so much emphasis on her?
A: In the October 21st, 2001 St. Dominic’s (Yaba) Sunday bulletin, under the topic: Too Much Mary? , The pastor – Fr. Maryvin Ubili answered this question by saying: “…while honour given to Mary is to the glory of God, as ‘the children’s glory is their parents’ (Prov. 17:6). So, there isn’t too much Mary in the catholic church, because too much glory can never be given to God.” This is very true.
It is also true that we cannot separate Mary from Christ in the sense that they are one in flesh and blood. And so, to talk about Mary is to talk about Jesus Christ, because she’s the one whose obedience made it possible for us to have Christ Jesus.
Q: What is that supposed to mean?
A: It means that, if there were no Mary, there would not have been Christ.
Q: God had predicted the coming of Christ, so God could have used anyone to give Him birth.
A: God predicted Mary also, and at the same time He predicted Christ (Gen. 3:15). And many of the times He predicted Christ in the Old Testament, He also predicted about the ‘virgin’ – Mary (Is. 7:14 & Rev. 12).
No, He would not have used anyone. God is perfect and pure. He would only use a woman that is pure in body and soul (or spirit) to give His son flesh and blood. A woman who is obedient to Him and would nurture His son to obey Him too. There were many maidens, but there was only Mary who was worthy to bear His son, because only she was full of grace (Luke 1:28).
Mary would have refused the offer in order to live her personal ambitions like any one else would have shelved God’s work for theirs. But she chose to obey God because she was humble enough to acknowledge and admit that she is the handmade of the Lord (Luke 1:38), thereby disposable for His purpose for her on earth.
God, not only choose a Holy woman to be His mother, but a good, hardworking and obedient man, to be His foster father – St. Joseph.
Q: As long as Christ was meant to come, Mary was just an instrument to fulfill that purpose.
A: God did not see Mary as an ordinary instrument but full of His grace and blessed above all women. “A woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head” (Rev. 12:1). Christ did not see His mother as an ordinary instrument, but an obedient servant of God and a mother whom He lived under and in obedience to (Luke 2:51).
I do not see my mother as an ordinary instrument to my birth, but a woman who laboured and bore me, loving, caring, providing for me and teaching me, to make my life better. How do you see your mother, if you are bold enough to call the mother of your saviour an ordinary instrument and still claim to follow and love her son?
Q: Jesus, himself, did not glorify His mother the way you people do. Most of the time, He simply called her ‘woman’ and even said that those who are obedient to God are His mother and brothers instead (Luke 8:21).
A: It is not uncommon for men to call their mothers ‘woman’. I think that was what was obtainable in the past and sometimes still in the present. Although women were not equally regarded with men at the time, Christ showed regard for women, especially his mother. He praised her before the people and used the opportunity to invite us to be His mothers, brothers and sisters too by obeying God like Mary did (ibid).
The use of ‘woman’ by Christ, is a reflection of the word of His Father in Gen. 3:15 “… you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring.” pointing out Mary as the woman His Father spoke about. He offered her (the woman) to be our mother, and us to be her children, whom together we join in crushing the head of the serpent in our daily challenges against sin, like he did till His death on the cross.
Q: Why do you claim that she ascended into heaven?
A: The Church believes that she assumed her place in heaven because her body was no more found in her grave but in its stead were fragrant roses. Afterwards apparitions of her confirm her to be in heaven with her son.
The body and blood of Mary are also that of Jesus Christ, which they share because he got them from her. A part of that flesh and blood (in Christ) had ascended earlier, and the other (of Mary) only followed afterwards. If one did not experience corruption, of what glory is it if the other does? For they were both exempted from sin and corruption (Gen. 3:15,19), thence immaculately conceived. Yes, for she was “…full of grace”, “…as fair as the moon”, and “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (Rev. 12:1). God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have all declared her holy, chaste and pure in their various words. The church will not declare her any less. And that is why we believe that, since her body disappeared and was replaced by fragrant roses, she, like her son, ascended into heaven too.
Q: Why do you call Mary your mother?
A: Mary is our mother, because she is the mother of our brother and saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus made Himself our brother (Mk. 3:35 & Lk. 8:21), and by virtue of this, made us heirs to His throne. Since we are his brothers and sisters, then His parents are ours too. Therefore, God is our Father and Mary is our mother in the spiritual family of the Christian community. An understanding we also got when He said: “Woman, this is your son … There is your mother.” (Jn. 19:26-27).
Q: Why do you pray through Mary and not through Christ?
A: That depends. First, to God, we pray through Christ. And to Christ, we ask for Mary’s intercession, or if you like, pray through Mary.
Q: Christ is merciful and always ready to hear us. So why must you call on Mary to intercede for you to Him as if you do not believe He can hear you without her?
A: There are many angles to answering this question. First, let me clarify that if we do not ask for Mary’s intercession, we do not assume our prayers unheard or unanswered. Rather, we see her interceding for us a privilege to be cherished and used as often as we feel and please. It is one of the graces and privileges God has given us, but which only Catholics and few Protestants realized.
God has been in constant communication with the world He created, expressing His feelings when He is pleased, or sympathetic, or angry or disappointed with us. (These reactions can be found in the books of the Old Testament: kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah and others.) He did this personally by speaking to and through the prophets of old by Himself, or sending His angels (Tobit 5:48, Lk. 1:28, etc.), then His son (in the new testament). In Revelations, He made us realize that there are saints praying for us in heaven (Rev. 8:3-5). And in the transfiguration (Mt. 17), He actually showed us there are saints in heaven. These saints conversed with Christ before the apostles. All these and more go to show that it pleases God for us to have a good rapport with Him and His heavenly beings as He does or ‘tries’ to do with us (since we would neither answer when He called nor listen when He spoke – Is. 66:4) in order to have good rapport with us on earth. He has made us in His image and likeness, and it is His Holy Spirit, which He poured upon us (Acts 2:2-4) that guides us to understand that we can relate with God and His heavenly beings as He does with us. And we knowing that He is the ultimate, to whom all glory, honour, praise and worship belong.
On the 15th of Sept., 2002 (the day I had this meditation), the priest that celebrated the 11am mass (that I attended) in St Dominic’s Church told us, the congregation, a story. He said: There was a married couple. The wife caught her husband with another woman in their matrimonial bed, and left him. The husband went and confessed to that priest and asked him to plead to his wife on his behalf. The priest went with him to his wife and they both pleaded with her (the husband looking genuinely sorry). After a while, the wife, according to the priest, conceded, saying: “How can I not forgive him, because I love him, even though I know he will do it again.”
With this statement, the priest likened our relationship with God, where in spite of our sins and He knowing that we will sin again, He forgives us still whenever we ask. But note, the husband did not take his wife for granted, he went with a priests to plead with him even though he too knew that she loved him and would forgive him without the priest. Likewise we. We know that with or without Mary or/and the saints above who have pleased God by the way they had lived their lives on earth, God will always forgive us. But out of remorse, humility and reverence, rather than doubt, we ask for intercessions from those above and on earth (whom we feel are good Christians).
The bottom line is that, in the image and likeness of God in which we are made, we are able to recognise that God feels like we do and gives us the wisdom to relate with Him, as we would sensibly do with one another. There is no harm in it. Besides, it is benevolent to pray for your neighbour, or enemy, as the case may be.
Q: The bible says that Jesus had brothers and sisters. Why do you say that Mary did not have other children but Jesus?
A: It is because she did not. Jesus Christ was the only fruit of her womb, and subsequently, Christians, who believe they are now brothers and sisters of Christ.
When Jesus was 12years old, he remained the only child Mary and Joseph had. When they could not find Jesus, they assumed he was with their kinsmen. In the olden days, our kinsmen or relatives were also referred to as our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. If you want to know whose biological son or parent is a person, you simply say the name and the son of whom he is or the parent of whom he is. For instance, James and John, sons of Zebedee; or Mary, mother of Jesus. But now, the English language distinguishes relations by the names: uncle, aunty, cousins, nephews, and nieces; and of course mother, father, brothers and sisters.
But for justification sake, the brothers of Jesus, mentioned in Mt. 13:55, are clarified as His relatives in Mk. 16:1 and Mt.13:55. Of the four brothers mentioned, two: James and Joseph – sometimes called Salome, are sons of Mary of Cleophas. Mary of Cleophas is a relative of the Virgin Mary (Jn. 19:25), and her two sons are probably closest to Jesus. Simon and Judas are probably more distant relations.
Q: All men are born with original sin because of the sins of Adam and Eve. But you say that Mary is conceived without original sin. Then the bible says all have sinned and come short of God’s glory, but you venerate Mary as pure and chaste. Why?
A: “All have sinned…” Many people concern themselves more with this statement than with “Hail Mary, full of grace” and “Happy are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
The disobedience to God is the origin of sin and sins, henceforth. Christ seemed to be saying that his mother was sinless when he responded thus: “ Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.” (Mk 3:35) This is because His mother did (or obeyed) the will of God. Mary was pleasing in the sight of God, and God through angel Gabriel, proclaimed her – full of grace.
From the book – Fair As The Moon – (whose author’s name this writer has forgotten) Mary was exonerated from original sin at the time the sin was committed. She and her son were the consolation God conceived in mind when He announced the woman whose enmity with the serpent will bring forth an offspring whose feet will crush the serpent’s head. This pronouncement separates Adam and Eve, whose disobedience originated the sin that brought death; from Mary and Jesus whose obedience brought back life (everlasting). So, because they brought life, they cannot be part of the death by which original sin causes man to return to dust. God had separate and purified them from the original sin immediately in this conception of the two of them.
Finally, in an apparition to St Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, in France – 1858 – Mary proclaimed: I am the Immaculate Conception.” This confirmed the dogma by Pope Pius IX in Dec. 8, 1854 that generated controversies from Protestants and rested these controversies then in 1858. (From – The Pastor’s Desk-OCTOBER DEVOTION (3): The Struggle For Mary, Oct. 28th, 2001 St Dominic’s Church Sunday bulletin). But today, we have a new generation of Protestants (the Pentecostals) who are yet to know the origin and history of our faith.
Man might not be able to change his fellow man, but we can tell them the truth we know. Even if they do not believe us, they will believe God when He sends His Spirit to help them understand and believe. Only God can change man. And so, let us pray for our brothers and sisters that ‘they might listen to His voice, hardening not their hearts.’ Through Christ we pray. Amen. Holy Virgin Mary and mother – Pray for us all. Amen.
By Linda IfeanyiChukwu Oluwafemi Ogbue
[Written 30/September/2004. Published in the November 2004 St. Dominic’s Catholic Church Adult Harvest Magazine, P37. Not everything was published but i retain all my thought in the original write-up here.]