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The Virgin Mary: 10 Questions and Answers

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Bede is an artist with an interest in theology and the lives of the saints.

Icon of the Mother of God of Passion, by Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492)

Icon of the Mother of God of Passion, by Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492)

Our Heavenly Mom

God blessed me with a very dear mother. I recall our daily ritual of her opening a can of spinach and together we'd sing "Popeye the Sailor Man." She also understood when I felt too "sick" to go to school. Most importantly, she passed on to me the torch of her faith.

Despite all this, I told her as a child, "You may be my earthly mom, but my real mom is in heaven." In other words, the Virgin Mary is my real mom. Unsurprisingly, she agreed with me. As it goes, both moms are now in heaven.

Could it be true that Blessed Mary is more of a mother than my biological mother? In a certain sense, yes, because she brings about the life that matters most—eternal life in heaven. Her responsibility is to clothe, teach, protect, and nurture the soul. If the soul is docile, the Blessed Mother will assuredly lead it to everlasting happiness.

This article tries to clarify misconceptions about the Virgin Mary, our "Heavenly Mom."

10 Key Questions About Blessed Mary

1. Why do Catholics worship Mary?

2. How can Mary be called the "Mother of God" since God is eternal?

3. How can Mary be free of Original Sin since the Bible says that everyone needs redemption?

4. Catholics pray before icons and kiss statues of Mary. Isn't this idolatry?

5. Why was Mary's body preserved from corruption after death?

6. Is Mary the mother of all people?

7. What's an "apparition of the Virgin," and how many have been officially approved?

8. Why is Mary called the "Ark of the New Covenant"?

9. How can we know that Mary remained a virgin?

10. What is the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

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1. Why do Catholics worship Mary?

Catholics do not worship but honor Mary as the Mother of God. Adoration and worship belong to God alone. Why does this misunderstanding persist?

Perhaps because people see Catholics processing through the streets with a statue of the Virgin Mary and scratch their heads. Additionally, Protestants see Catholics kneeling before icons or statues of the Virgin and wonder: "Doesn't the Bible tell us to worship God alone? What is this idolatry?"

While these apprehensions are understandable, they are mistaken: Catholics venerate the Virgin—they certainly don't worship her. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Mary herself prophesied of this veneration: All generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48). This is not boastfulness but a humble attestation of God's gift.

Even Muslims highly esteem Mary as the mother of Jesus, whom they consider a great prophet. But Catholics honor her as the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Secondly, since God is our Father, this makes Jesus our Brother; consequently, Mary is our Mother.

Jesus entrusted her to St. John, his beloved disciple, as he was dying on the Cross. Catholic and Orthodox Christians see St. John as representing all of humanity (see John 19:25). Hence, Mary's motherhood extends to all humankind, especially Christians.

In sum, by honoring the Mother of God and our mother, Catholics not only perfectly obey the Ten Commandments but imitate Jesus because the fourth commandment says, "Honor your father and mother." As Dr. Scott Hahn, a former anti-Catholic, ex-Protestant minister, points out, the Hebrew word for honor is kabbed, which literally means "to glorify," not simply tip one's hat.

Christ didn’t just honor his Heavenly Father. He also perfectly honored his earthly mother, Mary, by bestowing his own divine glory upon her. Our veneration of Mary, then, is an essential part of our imitation of Christ.

— Dr. Scott Hahn

2. How can Mary be called the "Mother of God" since God is eternal?

In 431 AD, the Council of Ephesus declared that Mary was the Theotokos, or "God-bearer." The Latin translation of Theotokos is "Mater Dei," which translates as "Mother of God" in English. This title may throw some people off: "How can Mary be the Mother of God since God is eternal?" The answer is simple: Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God; therefore, she is the Mother of God. Yet, this needs further clarification.

"Mother of God" may convey the idea that she gave birth to God's divine nature. Mary is the mother of God's human nature, not divine nature. She is a human being, born in time—God is eternal without a beginning.

Fr. Dominic Murphy, F.I. explains Mary's unique role as the Mother of God in the following video.

3. How can Mary be free of Original Sin since Scripture says that everyone needs redemption?

The first human beings created, Adam and Eve, were perfect in God's original plan. They came into being sinless but lost this gift after failing the test imposed by God. Hence, as progenitors of the human race, Adam and Eve passed their infected nature on to successive generations to our present day.

In consequence, God put "Plan B" into effect. This plan involved the preservation of a single human being from the infection of original sin. Mary, as the "New Eve," is the pure font through which salvation comes to us. God preserved her so that Jesus, as the "New Adam," should come to us through an immaculate channel.

"Hold it!" say the Scripture scholars, "Doesn't the Bible say that 'All men have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)?' Isn't Mary in need of redemption?"

"Yes!" Mary was also redeemed through her Son's merits gained on the Cross—ahead of time. That is, God applied the grace of redemption to Mary in a unique fashion. He is outside of time and employed his Son's redemptive merits ahead of time. "She is redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son" (CCC, #492).

4. Catholics pray before icons and kiss statues of Mary. Isn't this idolatry?

If I were to kiss a photo of my dear mother, would someone accuse me of idolatry? It's not an act of worship but a simple expression of love for my mom. In like manner, if I were to reverence an image or statue of Mary, it's a manifestation of love for my heavenly mother, not an act of adoration. Nonetheless, this element of Marian devotion generates a lot of bad sentiments among Protestants. What is the offense?

Because the Bible says, "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them" (Ex. 20:2–5).

While God forbids the wrong use of statues and images, He commands the proper use of them.

Going forward five chapters in the Book of Exodus, we find God bidding Moses make two five-foot golden angels to be placed with the Ark of the Covenant. These are statues, no question, yet properly used. They augment, not replace, the worship of God.

We next travel to the Book of Numbers, chapter 21, where God commands Moses to make a bronze serpent statue and mount it on a pole. Persons with snake bites would be healed by gazing at the bronze serpent. Jesus prophesies his death by crucifixion by comparing Himself to the serpent fixed on the wood.

However, the main point is this: before God became visible through the Incarnation of his Son, it was impossible to make an image of Him. He is pure Spirit. Yet, God becomes visible in Jesus; therefore, it is acceptable to make an image of Him as a means of communing with his person.

The same principle applies to images of heavenly persons to whom veneration is due, particularly the Virgin Mother. Images enhance our worship of God and veneration of Mary and the saints. The honor we pay to statues or images goes to the person depicted—not the wood, stone, or paint of these depictions.

The Leushino icon of the Mother of God with scenes of her life

The Leushino icon of the Mother of God with scenes of her life

5. Why was Mary's body preserved from corruption after death?

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary's body and soul into heaven is a unique grace. Human beings normally experience the natural dissolution of their flesh after death. Why was Mary's body preserved from this phenomenon? Two reasons:

  • Firstly, death is a consequence of Original Sin. God told Adam and Eve: "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Genesis 2:16-17). All human beings experience death because of Adam and Eve's disobedience. Since Mary was preserved from this infection, she was delivered from its consequence: death.
  • Secondly, her bodily Assumption is a singular gift from God in virtue of Jesus' bodily Resurrection. He is the "first fruit" of redemption (1 Cor 15:20), and Mary is the second. It is most fitting that God should preserve his mother from corruption and bring her whole to heaven. Her body, then, is glorified before any other human being.

6. Is Mary the mother of all people?

Yes, the Virgin Mary is not only the mother of all Christians but of all people in general. We may recall that the first woman God created was named "Eve," which means "mother of all the living." In fact, she became the "mother of the dying" because she passed on the consequences of her sin, namely, death.

Once again, Mary helps carry out God's "plan B." By assuming the role of the "New Eve," Mary becomes a universal mother.

In a beautiful prayer, St. John Paul II addresses the Virgin:

O Mother of all men and women, and all peoples, you who know all their sufferings and their hopes, you who have a mother's awareness of all the struggles between good and evil, between light and darkness, which afflict the modern world, accept the cry which we, moved by the Holy Spirit, address directly to your heart.

As mentioned above, Jesus Himself entrusted his mother to St. John the beloved Apostle. St. John represents all of humanity, but particularly, the followers of Jesus. In her role as "universal mother," then, Mary prays and works to lead people to salvation, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or woundedness.

the-virgin-mary-10-questions-and-answers

7. What's an "apparition of the Virgin" and how many have been officially approved?

An "apparition of the Virgin" is a supernatural appearance of Mary to one or more persons, often with an important message for the world. The Catholic Church scrupulously investigates these alleged visitations before granting official recognition. The Vatican has approved 16 of these appearances, while others, such as the famous visions at Garabandal, Spain (1961-65), have a neutral judgment.

Three of the most famous approved apparitions are listed below:

  • Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mary appeared five times to St. Juan Diego in December 1531. The Virgin requested that a church be built on that spot. Juan's account met with incredulity on the part of the bishop of Mexico City, compelling the Virgin to obtain a miracle. She advised Juan to pick roses growing nearby to show the bishop. Juan did so, perplexed that such beautiful roses could grow in winter. As he unloaded the roses from his tilma (outer garment), in the bishop's presence, Mary's image was imprinted on the tilma. Truly miraculous phenomena surround this image: it has no pigments or dyes, always remains at 98.6°F, and the tilma (made of cactus fiber) has lasted for five hundred years, whereas it should have disintegrated after fifteen years. Additional miracles surrounding this image may be found here.
  • Our Lady of Lourdes: The Virgin appeared eighteen times to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. The Virgin's chief message concerned the need for penance and that a chapel be built at the spot of the apparition. She asked Bernadette to drink water from the ground, but Bernadette could only gather a few drops of muddy water. However, as she dug more, a spring of water bubbled forth. It has flowed unceasingly since then and has provided physical and spiritual healing for millions of people.
  • Our Lady of Fatima: The Virgin appeared six times to three children, ages 6, 7, and 9, in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. In her July 13 appearance, the Virgin spoke of future events, such as the end of World War I, the start of World War II, and the spreading of Russia's "errors," which would cause much suffering on the earth. She also gave the children a vision of Hell. Her chief requests were for people to pray the Rosary, do penance, and that a church be built on that spot.

The climax of these apparitions was the "Miracle of the Sun," witnessed by approximately 70,000 people. Witnesses describe the sun as rotating in different directions and flaring out different colors.

Other approved apparitions of Mary include two in Belgium in 1932-33 (Beauraing and Banneux), several in South America, one in Akita, Japan, in 1973, and one in Champion, Wisconsin, which occurred in 1859.

the-virgin-mary-10-questions-and-answers

8. Why is Mary called the "Ark of the New Covenant?"

Prototypes and prophecies of the Virgin abound in the Old Testament. We might consider Isaiah 7:14, which says that a virgin shall give birth to a son and name him Immanuel, which means "God with us." Again, the Burning Bush parallels Mary's perpetual virginity, as she remained intact while God dwelt within her womb.

So also, many of the Old Testament women are foreshadowings of Mary—Sarah, who gave birth miraculously; Rebecca, who clothed Isaac in Esau's garments is similar to Mary clothing the Christ in human flesh; also, Rachel, the mother of Joseph who was sold as a slave but became a savior of his people.

However, the Ark of the Covenant, the Israelites' holiest object, is preeminent among the prototypes of Mary. The Ark contained manna from the desert, the stone tablets of the Law, and Aaron's rod. These items in the Ark find their fulfillment in Jesus, the "true bread from heaven," the summation of the Law, and who brought fruitfulness through the cross, symbolized by Aaron's rod, which budded with almonds.

Significantly, the Ark was covered with pure gold on the inside and outside, symbolizing Mary's spotless purity: she was a fit home for God Incarnate. In addition, the "glory cloud" (shekinah) covered the Ark, just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary.

Finally, the Old Testament ark traveled to the house of Obed-edom in the hill country of Judea (2 Sam. 6:1-11) and remained there for three months. When the Prophet David returned the Ark to Jerusalem, he danced before it with joy.

These events correspond to Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth. St Luke says that the pregnant Mary traveled to the "hill country of Judea," where she remained for three months in the house of her kinswoman. St. John the Baptist, contained in Elizabeth's womb, leaped for joy at the sound of Mary's voice.

9. How can we know that Mary remained a virgin?

In the Annunciation account, the angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear a son, the Son of the Most High. In response, Mary asks, How shall this be, since I do not know man? (Luke 1:34)

While translations vary widely, the most accurate rendering of Mary's words is "I do not know man." In the Jewish Bible, "to know" is a euphemism for sexual relations, as in "Adam knew his wife Eve" (Gen 4:1). In Greek, Mary's phrase "I do not know" means both present and future knowledge.

Just as someone who says, "I do not smoke" means "I do not smoke (presently), nor do I have any intentions of smoking (in the future),'' so also Mary's words mean "I do not have sexual relations (presently), nor do I intend to have relations (in the future)."

— Dr. Brant Pitre

The angel Gabriel reassures Mary that God Himself will be the Father: "The Power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the Child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

So also, Joseph's doubt concerning Mary's pregnancy is removed by the angel's message: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." (Mt. 1:20) What could be a clearer indication that Mary conceived miraculously and thus remained a virgin?

Despite these solid proofs, what are we to make of "Jesus' brothers?" The answer is simple: the Greek word for "brothers," adelphoi, is synonymous with close relatives, such as cousins. Examples abound in Scripture of this usage, such as when Jacob refers to his "brothers" when, in fact, they are cousins (Genesis 31:36-37).

the-virgin-mary-10-questions-and-answers

10. What is the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart?

The Virgin personifies humility, service, love, and mercy; the Devil personifies pride, disobedience, the total refusal to serve God, hate, and violence. Hence, there is a white and black enmity between these two persons. As it is, Scripture reveals a battle between a woman and the Devil, with the human heart as the battleground.

For example, after the sin of Adam and Eve, God promises a future triumph over evil. He tells the Devil: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; she shall crush your head, and you shall bruise her heel (Gen 3:15). Catholic exegesis teaches that the "woman" in this passage is the Virgin Mary, already contained in God's thought at the beginning of time.

So also, in chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation, a battle occurs between a woman whose son will rule the world with an iron rod and a "Great Red Dragon." Again, Catholic exegesis indicates that the woman here is Mary, ever-virgin. St. Louis de Montfort, writing in the 18th century, said that this battle would intensify until it came to a head at the end of time.

In Mary's appearance at Fatima on July 13, 1917, she told the children that Russia would continue to spread errors, but, "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world." But, what exactly is Mary's triumph?

The Immaculate Heart of Mary by  Leopold Kupelwieser  (1796–1862)

The Immaculate Heart of Mary by Leopold Kupelwieser (1796–1862)

Here, we enter the realm of speculation: will Russia try to dominate the world? Are we approaching the end of time and the return of Christ? While one must be cautious with private revelation, the writings of the Hungarian mystic Elizabeth Kindlemann (1913-1985) give some insight into the nature of Mary's triumph. Cardinal Péter Erdő, Primate of Hungary, established a commission to examine these alleged messages from Jesus and Mary and has given official approval (Imprimatur).

In essence, the messages convey that a "Flame of Love" will issue from the Heart of Mary when the world is in its darkest hour. A new era will henceforth dawn for humanity. Is it not perfectly in accord with God's wisdom that a "New Era" should come to birth through a mother?

"Do not abandon the battle," said Mary to Elizabeth, "Through my Flame of Love, a new era of grace, never before known on earth will begin...When [the Flame of Love] pours out, my love will destroy the satanic hatred that contaminates the world. The greatest number of souls will be set free. Nothing like this has existed before."

While it's best to "wait and see," the Triumph of Mary's Heart appears to involve a transformation of hearts: the casting out of all evil, the advent of unprecedented grace, and a "second Pentecost," whereby humanity will understand God's "Plan A."

Behold, Your Mother!

The Blessed Virgin Mary is God's masterpiece among all of humanity. Just as an artist is not offended but happy when their work is esteemed, God is pleased when his children appreciate his artistry.

Therefore, He says, Behold your mother (John 19:25). In other words, He's happy when we appreciate his dear mother's purity, beauty, and maternal role. She is not only exalted in glory but most lovingly solicitous to us on earth. In a word, she is our "real mom."

References

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah, by Brant Pitre; Image, 2018

Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, by Scott Hahn; Doubleday, 2001

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by Doubleday, 1995

Hahn, Scott. "Honoring Mary, Imitating Christ." St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, 2019, https://stpaulcenter.com/honoring-mary-imitating-christ/

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Bede

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