WHY DO CATHOLICS HONOUR THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Every 15th August, Catholics all over the world join to celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin Mary into heaven. In Cameroon, this is the most popular and most widely celebrated feast of Our Lady, and it is beautifully translated in Pidgin English as “BIG DAY MARIA”. We celebrate today the fact that “The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 966).
Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death. It is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion. (CCC.964)
I. SOME MISCONCEPTIONS
Unfortunately, this is one of the most controversial and least understood feasts of Our Blessed Mother among some non-Catholics.
They accuse us of worshipping Our Lady; that is not true. We do not worship Our Lady, we honour her, for Scripture Says “You must worship the Lord your God alone.”(Deut.5:7-8) We honour Our Lady for the role she played through her “Yes” in the salvation of mankind.
Non Catholics accuse us of focusing more on Our Lady than on Christ; that is not true. They accuse us of making a goddess out of Mary; that is not true. They accuse us of idol worship if we venerate the statue of Our Lady; that is not true. Some say devotion to Mary is not based on the Bible; that is not true. That the Catholic Church gives a lot of importance to the Virgin Mary; that is true and that is what we shall be explaining on this solemnity of the Assumption.
- WHY DO CATHOLICS HONOUR THE VIRGIN MARY?
- The Annunciation – Luke 1:28. When the Angel Gabriel came to announce to Mary that she would be the mother of Christ, he greeted her in these words, “Hail Mary Full of Grace, the Lord is with you”. Grace is a participation in the life of God (CCC 1997), and when we sin, we destroy this life of God in us. To be full of grace is to have complete fullness of the life of God and this implies absence of sin.
When a glass of water is full, nothing else can go into the glass without some of the water spilling out. If Mary was full of grace, it means sin did not exist in her; she was all holy and that is why the Angel added, “The Lord is with you”. We honour Mary because she was full of grace, she was all holy and sinless. This was a unique favour from God to one of his specially chosen creatures. To the angel’s message, Mary answered, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk.1:38).
- The Visitation: (Luke 1:40-41) “As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greetings, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Because Mary was full of grace, her greeting alone brought joy to John the Baptist in his mother’s womb. The same greetings opened the heavens and brought the Holy Spirit to Elizabeth. This was a great miracle, and we believe that the words from Mary’s mouth still works miracles for us in our day.
- Mary’s Blessedness: (Luke 1:42) “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. Through the mouth of Elizabeth, scripture tells us that Mary is the most blessed of all women, even those present in this Church or those non-Catholic women who condemn her. She stands privileged among people because she did what no human being did – she brought God into the world. For this reason, we give honour to Our Lady.
It is important to note that Mary’s blessedness was not just because she bore Christ in her womb, but as Elizabeth adds “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45). Mary’s faith in God and in his promise showed that she completely abandoned herself to the providence of God. She is the role model of our faith in the future promise of God to mankind. In her, we see the blessedness of those who don’t have any doubt with regard to the word of God. She is the contrast of the Apostle Thomas to whom Christ says after his resurrection “You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn.20:29). Jesus further confirms that blessedness belongs to those “who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Lk.11:22). Such was the blessedness of Mary that led to her being assumed body and soul into heaven.
- Mary is the mother of God and our mother: Knowing fully well that God had specially chosen Mary to be the instrument of the incarnation of His only Son, Elizabeth exclaimed; “Why should I be honoured by a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Elizabeth is conscious that Mary is the mother of her Lord and God. If Jesus Christ is God, and Mary is the mother of Christ, then Mary is the mother of God. Who would not bow down before the mother of God? Who would want to dishonour the mother of Christ the Lord? Who would want to disrespect the mother of the Messiah and Redeemer? If Christ means anything to us at all, his mother will definitely mean a lot to us.
On the cross, Jesus made a gift of his mother to the Church through the Apostle John when he said, “Mother, behold your son; son behold your mother” (Jn.19:26). Mary is the mother of all Christians. “From that moment, the disciple made a place for her in his home” (Jn.19:27). She went everywhere with the Apostles and was a mother to them all. That is why she was present among them in
prayer when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. “All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including the mother of Jesus.” (Acts 1:14). If after Christ had died, his apostles gathered around his mother, who are we to shun his mother today? If Mary is our mother, then we heed to the exhortation of Ben Sirac who says “Whoever honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune…. He who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord” (Ecclesiasticus 3:4 &7).
The Church teaches that “The Virgin Mary is acknowledged and honoured as being truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer… She is clearly the mother of the members of Christ’s Church since she is by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head. Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church”. (CCC.963) The Catechism further teaches that “Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power” (CCC. 970)
- Devotion to our Lady: “Yes, from now forward, every generation will call me blessed” (Lk.148). The Magnificat or the song of Mary brings out her role in the story of our salvation. The Almighty has done great things for her, shamed the proud and raised the lowly. Because of God’s favour to the lowly, “all generations will call me blessed.” ‘All generations’ means all people for all ages unending. This includes past generations, our present generation, and all future generations. All generations is not limited to Catholics, but includes all peoples from all tribes, tongues, nations, religions etc. All Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, non-Christians, and indeed, ALL GENERATIONS will call Mary Blessed. This is not a matter of choice. If it is, then we are picking and choosing what to obey in the Bible. Our devotion to Our Lady is in obedience to these prophetic words of hers.
- The intercessory role of the Blessed Mary: The prayer we call “The Hail Mary” is all scriptural; a combination of the words of the Archangel Gabriel and Elizabeth. “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. The second half is our intercession through our Lady “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Even then, some people don’t still think that Mary can obtain favours for us from her Son.
In John 2:1-10, Our Lady asked a favour from Jesus on behalf of the newly wedded couple at the marriage feast at Cana. “They have no wine” she said, and knowing that her Son can never fail her if she asks for anything, she told the servants “Do whatever he tells you”. That is how Christ worked his first miracle, through the intercession of his mother.
The Rosary is the most powerful prayer of intercession through our Blessed mother, and it is also a prayer to recognize who she is in the history of salvation. Every Christian is called upon to say the Rosary daily in recognition of Mary’s Blessedness and ask her intercession.
When Our Lady appeared to the three shepherd children at Fatima, she told them to “pray the Rosary” and this call reaches out to all of us Catholic Christians and all Christians. Let us say the Rosary with faith and devotion and we shall see that “our waters will be changed into wine” through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother.
- Devotion to Mary is not idol worship: An idol is a piece of anything made and venerated as if it is a god. The Catholic Church does not teach, has never taught and will never teach that Mary is a god. But the Church teaches at all times that Mary is the mother of God. This accusation of idol worship is difficult to understand. When I put the picture of my mother on my wall, they say it is love for my mother. When I put the picture of Our Lady on my wall, they say it is idol worship.
When we erect statues in honour of national heroes or the president of a country, they say it is patriotism, when we erect a statue in honour of Our Lady, they say it is idol worship. The statues and the pictures are representations of Our Blessed Mother. They are not ends in themselves, but objects that remind us of our mother and what she did and still does for us.
In 2 Samuel 6:1-23, David danced before the Arch of the covenant as it was being brought into Jerusalem. Michal the daughter of Saul thought that he was doing something dishonourable. The Arch was not God himself but a representation of God’s presence among his people.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship. The Church rightly honours the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times, the Blessed Virgin has been honoured with the title ‘mother of God’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs… This very special devotion … differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.”(CCC. 971)
To say therefore that devotion to Our Virgin Mother Mary is idol worship, is to misunderstand the liturgical cult set in place by the Catholic Church for Christ, and the difference with devotion to his mother.
III. IMITATING THE VIRTUES OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY.
Our Blessed mother is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix. (cf. CCC.969). She is indeed a great woman and a shining example for all humanity.
-She was a woman of faith (Lk.1:45)
-She was obedient to the will of God (Lk.1:38)
-She was a perfect example of Christian charity (Lk.1:39-45
-She was a model of hope in the promise of God (Acts 1:12-14)
-She was a model of chastity and virginity (Mtt.1:18-23)
-A woman of meditation and contemplation on the Divine mysteries (Lk.2:19; Lk2:52)
-Caring mother of the family (Mtt.2:13-18; Lk.2:41-52)
-Woman of prayer (Acts 1:12-14;)
-Sharer in the passion of Christ (Lk.2:35; Jn.19:25-27)
Although we can hardly enumerate all the virtues of the Virgin Mary, we are called to emulate the exemplary life that enabled her to be assumed into heaven, body and soul. Let us copy her and we shall never stray.
May Mary, assumed into heaven intercede for us on this her feast day, so that through imitating her virtues, we too may one day also enter heaven and share in the glory of all the Saints, where Jesus Christ is King, living and reigning with God the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.