What do Catholics believe about Mary?

Loren, a reader, asked some honest questions about Catholic beliefs. As replying to them in the comments section would result in too long a reply, and may result in confusion later on, I decided to respond to her questions in the main blog.

Loren’s first question is on the Virgin Mary.

Q: Mary the physical mother of Jesus is of great importance to Catholics, but the Bible says very little about Mary. Why?

A: Actually, the Bible does say some things about Mary, but much of what Catholics believe about Mary comes from both Scripture and Tradition. The purpose of the Bible is to help us come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah (John 20:31). The verse just before that (John 20:30) tells us that there are a lot that is not recorded in the Bible, because it goes beyond the scope of the Bible.

So what do Catholics believe about Mary? I won’t go too deep into these, but will provide you links to articles for further reading if you’re interested in finding out more. We can discuss these in greater detail if you choose to do so later.

i) We believe that she is Ever Virgin.

We know this through the witness of Scripture and Tradition, that Jesus was Mary’s only child and that she remained a lifelong virgin. This is something that the Catholic Church has always believed in, until Protestants (most notably, Martin Luther) came up with the theory that scripture alone is all that is necessary for salvation. You will notice that Martin Luther’s teaching is not one that is found in the bible…

An important historical document which supports the teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity is the Protoevangelium of James, which was writen probably less than 60 years after Mary’s earthly life ended (around A.D. 120), when memories of her life were still vivid in the minds of many.

Here is an article that goes more in depth in explaining the cultural reasons why Mary was a virgin, and why it is an insult to the Blessed Virgin to say that she bore children other than Jesus Christ:
http://www.catholic.com/library/Mary_Ever_Virgin.asp

ii) We believe that Mary is the New Eve, and that she was sinless (full of grace). (called Immaculate Conception)

Man (and Woman) fell from grace because even though they were conceived without Original Sin, they disobeyed God. Mary is the New Eve and she too is conceived without Original Sin. Unlike the first Eve, Mary always obeyed God, just like Jesus who is the New Adam. Whereas the first Adam and Eve died and turned to dust, the New Adam and Eve were lifted physically into heaven. This teaching of the Church existed even before terms like ‘original sin’ had been defined.

http://www.catholic.com/library/Mary_Full_of_Grace.asp

iii) We believe that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven. (called the Assumption)

Since it is sin that brings about death, then Mary who is sinless cannot have died. The Church teaches that at the end of her earthly life, she was taken up, body and soul, into heaven. This is supported by the lack of relics (parts of the body, or pieces of clothes, taken from a holy person after death). Relics have always been popular remnants of holy people throughout the history of Christianity and even before that.

Jerome, the great biblical scholar, had this to say of relics: “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bown down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order to better to adore him whose martyrs they are”.

Scripture records the bones of Elisha being used to bring a dead man to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). The gospel also records a woman cured of a haemorrhage by touching the hem of Christ’s cloak (Matthew 9:20-22). In Acts 19:11-12, handkerchiefs or aprons were carried from Paul’s body to the sick and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. These are all examples of God’s use of relics to effect cures.

There were no relics from Mary, no body, no tomb, at all, despite the holy life that she lived and was recognised for. This is evidence that she was taken body and soul into heaven.

iv) We believe that Mary is the Mother of God.

One of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that Jesus is both human and divine. Jesus is a man who is also God at the same time. Since Mary is Jesus’ mother, it follows that Mary is the Mother of God. We cannot say that Mary is only the mother of the human side of Jesus, for that separates Jesus into two identities.

Although Mary is the Mother of God, she is not the mother in the sense that she is older than God or is the source of her Son’s divinity. Rather, we say that she is the Mother of God in the sense that she carried in her womb a divine person – Jesus Christ, or God in the flesh.

If we deny that Mary is Mother of God, we necessarily also deny that Jesus is human. It is easy to see why Christians (until recent times) have been unanimous in proclaiming Mary as Mother of God.

For additional reading:

- Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Related articles

- What do Catholics believe about the Pope?

- What do Catholics believe about confession?

- What do Catholics believe about penance?

- What do Catholics believe about Purgatory?

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11 Responses

  1. Hi Bro. Alex,

    Did you know that first half of the Hail Mary is completely biblical? It goes like this:

    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among all women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. (Luke 1:42)

    In Luke’s gospel, we read that Mary praised God and in her prayer, she said that “From this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:48). Indeed in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church, all generations of Catholics have addressed Mary as blessed. Wouldn’t you say that any Christian who does not call Mary blessed is contradicting scriptures?

    If you are going to use the Bible as the basis for your Christian faith, we must first understand where the Bible came from and what is its purpose. If you trace the history of your Bible, you will definitely find that the Bible comes from the Catholic Church because it was the only church in existence in the time that the Bible first came into being. The purpose of scripture is as the evangelist John tells us:

    “There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.” (John 20:30)

    This means that there are many other things that Jesus revealed to his disciples that are not recorded in scripture, because they do not relate directly to the message of salvation brought by Jesus Christ. The full teaching of Jesus is not found in scripture only, because scripture was written for the above reason. There is much that is handed down through the disciples that is not found in scripture.

    Remember that for the first 400 years of Christianity’s existence, there was no Bible because there was no biblical canon yet. It was only in the 4th century that the Church recognized certain books as inspired by the Holy Spirit. There was only one church back then, so there was no need to differentiate it from others. It was only later when some people decided that they didn’t agree with the teachings of the Church that’s when they decided to break away and form their own. In effect, they were rejecting the complete faith as revealed by Jesus to humanity.

    There were many other letters and books written by other Christians. How do we know which ones were genuine and inspired by the Holy Spirit? This is when the bishops of the Church then came together and decided which books were completely in line with Church teaching and which were not. The books that you find in your Bible today are the ones that were chosen by those bishops in the 4th century with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In other words, nothing in the Bible contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church, since that is the basis that was used to judge whether the books were genuine or not in the first place.

    However, you have seemingly interpreted some scriptural texts that runs contrary to what the Catholic Church appears to teach today. There is some discrepancy here. Since I have explained why the books in the Bible cannot contradict Catholic Church teaching, we can come to a few conclusions:

    1. Your understanding of the Catholic Church teaching is flawed i.e. you have misunderstood what the Catholic Church really teaches.

    2. Your understanding of scripture is flawed i.e. you have misunderstood what scripture is really saying.

    The second reason is quite common because Christians today mistakenly believe that anyone can interpret scriptures in the way they want. They mistakenly believe that the Holy Spirit protects them from error. What happens then when two people, believing that the Holy Spirit is teaching them something, come to two opposing conclusions? Who is right? Who is wrong? This happens frequently in many evangelical churches, which is why whenever two pastors disagree on a doctrine, the church splits up and the disagreeing party goes off and forms a new church under him.

    The way to handle such disagreements is to look at how the apostles and their successors handled it. The direct successors of the apostles are none other than the pope today and the heads of the various churches in full communion in the Catholic Church. We can all trace our apostolic succession back to the first apostles. Peter was the 1st bishop of Rome, and Pope Benedict XVI (our pope today) is the 265th bishop of Rome.

    All that I have written here is not a matter of what the Catholic Church teaches. It’s a matter of history. Can we come to an agreement on this? Because if we cannot come to an agreement on what is historical fact, it will be very hard to come to an agreement on what the Catholic Church really teaches and what scripture really says.

    If we can agree on this, then I can begin to explain to you the various ways in which you have misunderstood what the Catholic Church really teaches. I won’t be so bold as to teach you what scripture really says as I am no expert on this area. But I should be able to help you to better understand the teaching of the Catholic Church even with my limited knowledge.

    God bless,
    Catholic Writer

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