VIRGIN MARY IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother, is highly regarded in the Catholic Church. She is regarded as and intermediary between Catholics and God as is often referred to as "Our Lady," "Blessed Mother," or even “Mother of God." Mariology (or "Marion devotion," Marianism has a negative connotation) has grown as a kind grassroots purist movement rather than a declaration by the Pope or the Vatican. One priest told the Washington Post, "We do view her as the first saint, the most important saint. Christ is more important. Christ is divine. Mary isn't. Mary is human."
The belief in the Immaculate Conception — that the Virgin Mary was freed of original sin by virtue of a special grace from God at the moment of conception — is a widely held belief among Catholics. In 1854, Pope Pius IX invoked the doctrine of papal infallibility to make the Immaculate Conception an infallible dogma even though it is not clear whether the conception refers to her conception or Jesus’s.
Mary is not buried anywhere because, according to the Catholic scripture but not the Bible, when she died she rose into the sky “assumed body and soul into Heavenly glory." This was made official ideology of the church in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. The major pilgrimage sites of Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe were all places where Mary not Jesus was seen.
The Papal infallibility invoked in 1950 by Pope Pius XII stated that the Assumption—the taking of the body and soul of Mary to heaven—really occurred. It was the last papal infallibility invoked. At the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, Pope John XXIII attempted to temper the enthusiasm for Mary with the statement: "The Madonna is not happy when she is placed before her son."
Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Christian Denominations: Christianity.com christianity.com/church/denominations ; Christianity Comparison Charts religionfacts.com ; Difference between Christian Denominations Quoracom ; Holy See w2.vatican.va ; Catholic Online catholic.org ; Catholic Encyclopedia newadvent.org ; World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches oikoumene.org ; Wikipedia article on Protestantism Wikipedia ; Online Orthodox Catechism published by the Russian Orthodox Church orthodoxeurope.org ; Nihov's Worldwide Coptic Directory directory.nihov.org
The notion of Immaculate Conception is that Mary was preserved from original sin by virtue of a special grace from God at the moment of conception. In 1854, Pope Pius IX made the Catholic concept an infallible dogma. The belief in the Immaculate Conception—that the Virgin Mary was freed of original sin at the instance of her conception—was a widely held belief. The papal declaration used in doctrine of papal infallibility to make it church doctrine.
According to the BBC: “The immaculate conception of Mary has no historical basis at all. This is something that was invented by later Christians to extend the idea of her holiness. The purity, the perpetual virginity, all of those kind of themes end up with Mary (as well as Jesus) having to be conceived immaculately. One of the difficulties that many people today have with the virgin birth is not so much historical, the idea that it couldn't happen, but theological; the idea that it must have happened in order for Jesus not to have had any sin. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]
“Early Christians like Augustine tended to think that Adam's original sin was passed on in the act of sex and that therefore in order for Jesus to be holy and sinless it was necessary for him not to have been born from parents who had had sex. Theologically people now have more problems with the Virgin Birth than they would have done in the past. In the past it was almost necessary to have a virgin birth in order to get Jesus out of this rather sticky difficulty of having been born with ordinary human parents who'd had sex. |::|
“The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary, the mother of Christ, was conceived without sin and her conception was thus immaculate. Mary's sinless conception is the reason why Catholics refer to Mary as "full of grace". The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated by Catholics on December 8th each year. |::|
“There are two mistakes that people often make about the Immaculate Conception: 1) Many people confuse the Immaculate Conception with the "virgin birth"; the belief that Mary gave birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin. They are not the same thing. 2) A less common mistake is to think that the Immaculate Conception means that Mary was conceived without sexual intercourse. In fact Mary had ordinary human parents who conceived her in the usual manner.” |::|
Catholic and Protestant Views on the Immaculate Conception
According to the BBC: Mary received God's grace from the first moment of her existence, and was totally and completely redeemed by this grace. Because she was redeemed, Mary spent her whole existence in a perfect relationship with God. God did this so that Mary would be worthy to be the mother of God. Pope Pius X said in 1904: “to the Christian intelligence the idea is unthinkable that the flesh of Christ, holy, stainless, innocent, was formed in the womb of Mary of a flesh which had ever, if only for the briefest moment, contracted any stain.” [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]
“Mary received this redeeming grace not because of any merits of her own, but because God freely gave her the gift of his love. Christians believe that God's redeeming grace is available to all believers: those who accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception regard Mary as the perfect example of the redeeming action of God's grace, and believe that Mary was only able to receive this grace because Christ would later redeem all humanity through his death on the cross. |::|
“Chosen in advance to be the Mother of the incarnate Word, Mary is at the same time the first-fruits of his redeeming action. The grace of Christ the Redeemer acted in her in anticipation, preserving her from original sin and from any contagion of guilt. This is an ancient teaching, but it remains controversial to some Protestants because it is not explicitly referred to in the Bible. Early Protestant thinkers were more devoted to Mary than some of their successors. Martin Luther, for example, was a firm believer in the Immaculate Conception. He said his sermon “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God”: “The infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin...From the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.”
“A 2005 report by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians found common ground for this belief when it stated that: “In view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One (Luke 1:35), we can affirm together that Christ's redeeming work reached 'back in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings. This is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and can only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize in this what is affirmed by the dogma - namely 'preserved from all stain of original sin' and 'from the first moment of her conception.' |::|
“The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as infallible by Pope Pius IX in the bull (formal proclamation) Ineffabilis Deus in 1854, and thus is an important article of faith for Roman Catholics. Before proclaiming the doctrine the Pope took steps to see whether the Church as a whole agreed by asking 603 bishops whether he should proclaim the Immaculate Conception; 546 (90%) said that he should. Bernadette's vision at Lourdes in 1858, where Mary revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception, put the stamp of God's approval on the doctrine. |::|
Pope Pius IX in his Ineffabilis Deus (1854) said: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.” |::|
Assumption of Mary
According to the BBC: Roman Catholics believe the doctrine of the Assumption, which teaches that at the end of her life, Mary, the mother of Christ, was taken body and soul (i.e. both physically and spiritually) into heaven to live with her son (Jesus Christ) for ever. Human beings have to wait until the end of time for their bodily resurrection, but Mary's body was able to go straight to heaven because her soul hadn't been tainted by original sin. [Source: July 21, 2011, BBC |::|]
“Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on August 15th each year. Eastern Orthodox Christians, following the Julian calendar, mark the event as the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, or the Dormition of the the Most Holy Mother of God on 28th August. |::|
“This is an ancient teaching, first found in the 5th century, but it remains controversial to Protestants because it is not explicitly referred to in the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church bases the doctrine on other valid authority. |::|
“A report in 2005 by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians found common ground (but not common authority) for belief in the Assumption: ...we can affirm together the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture and that it can, indeed, only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize that this teaching about Mary is contained in the dogma. [Source: 2005 report by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians] |::|
“The doctrine of the Assumption was proclaimed as infallible by Pope Pius XII on All Saints Day 1950 in the bull (formal proclamation) Munificentissimus Deus. We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. — Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950 |::|
“This made it an important article of faith for Roman Catholics. This was only the second time that a Pope had proclaimed a doctrine to be infallible. The first was the Immaculate Conception, another doctrine that concerns Mary. The Pope justified the Assumption not on Biblical authority but largely on: 1) the "universal consensus of the Church"; 2) the theological "suitability" of the doctrine. [Source: July 21, 2011, BBC |::|]
Universal Consensus, Theological Suitability and the Assumption
According to the BBC: “The "universal consensus of the Church" means that what the Church as a whole teaches and believes must be treated as a revealed and thus indisputable truth. The Church can only reach such a consensus through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit cannot be wrong. [Source: July 21, 2011, BBC |::|]
“This doesn't mean that Church doctrine cannot change - theologians use the idea of dogmatic progression, by which human ideas, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, slowly develop towards the real truth. Once the real truth is established, the "universal consensus" of the Church then confirms it as an eternal truth. |::|
“Before proclaiming the doctrine Pope Pius XII made sure that there was really was a consensus in the Church. In 1946 he wrote to all the Roman Catholic bishops to ask them a) whether they thought the Assumption should become Catholic dogma, and b) whether the priests and the laity agreed with them. 99% of the bishops said yes. |::|
According to the BBC: “The other main argument for the Assumption was that it fitted well with other Catholic teaching, and would reinforce believers' faith that they too would eventually go to heaven. The Assumption was also clearly in harmony with other Catholic ideas about Mary: 1) Her immaculate conception; 2) Her perpetual virginity; 3) Being the mother of God. Theologians argued that the Mother of God could not be separated from God, and so must have been taken up to be with him in heaven. |::|
Movement to Make Mary “Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix”
There is a movement in the Catholic Church for the Pope to invoke papal infallibility to proclaim a new dogma that Mary is "Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate of the People of God." This would elevate her to a status almost equal to Jesus, something for which there is little in the Bible to back up.
As of 1997, the Pope had received a sort of petition with 4.3 million signatures from 157 countries to support the elevated status for Mary. Among the supporters were Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 500 bishops and 42 cardinals. Pope John Paul II is believed to have supported the new dogma. He has always had a deep reverence for the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Poland and credited surviving the 1981 assassination attempt to the Virgin of Fatima.
The new dogma would say that Mary participated in the redemption, that all graces from the suffering and death of Christ pass through Mary's intercession, and all prayers from the faithful pass through Mary to Jesus. This notion of "Mariology" seems to contradict the scripture of 1 Timothy 2:5 which says: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus."
Catholic Views on Satan, Heaven and Hell
Although Catholics pray once a year to renounce Satan, placing too much emphasis on the devil is discouraged. The Catholic church teachers that the Devil is real and evil spirits exist. In recent years, theologians have downplayed Satan's influence and chosen psychological and psychiatric explanations for abnormal behavior.
When Christ comes to earth for the second time, all humans will be resurrected bodily and Christ will sit in judgment of them. Renaissance Catholic described heaven as a more human place presided over by the Virgin Mary. The concept of purgatory developed so that majority of people could reach heaven, but only after a long period of suffering and purging.
In the A.D. 5th century, Augustine upheld the idea of an eternal Hell, to which atheists and the truly wicked were condemned, but argued that those who committed lesser sins such as overeating and laughing too much would be saved by means of passing through a “purgatorial fire” before the Judgement Day.
In 1999, the an editorial in the influential Jesuit magazine La Civilta Catolica declared Hell “is not a ‘place’ but a ‘state,’ a person’s ‘state of being,’ in which a person suffers from the deprivation of God.” A few days later Pope John Paul II added, “rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God” and said that Bible “uses a symbolic language.”
According to the BBC: “Catholics believe in Heaven and Hell, but also in Purgatory. This is a place for those who have died in a 'state of grace' (that is, they have committed 'venial' or forgivable sins) and may not go straight to Heaven.[Source: June 23, 2009 BBC]
Catholics believe that the soul is immortal. At death each man and woman is sent to Heaven or Hell based on their deeds during their life and obedience to the laws of God and the church. Before entering Heaven many souls must spend time in Purgatory to become pure. The concept of purgatory arose in part because of the confusion over what happened to people after they died and waited for the second coming of Christ, when they would be whisked off to heaven.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “All who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (1030).”
Catholics believe that in purgatory they will be cleansed of their sin before moving on to heaven. Along with idea of purgatory developed the notion that “indulgences” could be bought with money to the Pope and this could earn one time off in purgatory. Indulgences were the trigger for the Reformation launched by Martin Luther. Some Protestants say that purgatory is s one of the most detestable of all Catholic teachings, saying it represents “a medieval invention nowhere to be found in the Bible” and calling it "a denial of the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice", instead representing "a second-chance theology that is abominable."
II Maccabees 12:39-46 — a part of the Bible accepted by Catholics and Orthodox Christians but rejected by Protestants and Jews — describes Judas Maccabeus and members of his Jewish military forces collecting the bodies of some fallen comrades who had been killed in battle. When they discovered these men were carrying “sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear”, Judas and his companions discerned they had died as a punishment for sin. Therefore, Judas and his men “turned to prayer beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out… He also took up a collection... and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably… Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” [Source: Tim Staples, catholic.com, January 18, 2014]
'Limbo': A Way to Deal with the Death of Unbaptized Babies
According to the BBC: “One of the biggest problems the Catholic Church faced over the years was the problem of children who died before they were baptised. Before the 13th Century, all unbaptised people, including new born babies who died, would go to Hell, according to the Catholic Church. This was because original sin had not been cleansed by baptism. This idea however was criticised by Peter Abelard, a French scholastic philosophiser, who said that babies who had no personal sin didn't even deserve punishment. [Source: September 17, 2009 BBC |::|]
“It was Abelard who introduced the idea of 'Limbo'. The word comes from the Latin 'limbus', meaning the edge. This would be a state of existence where unbaptised babies, and those unfortunate enough to have been born before Jesus, would not experience pain but neither would they experience the Beatific Vision of God. Abelard's idea was accepted in the 13th century by Pope Innocent III, the most powerful Pope in Roman Catholic history. The idea of Limbo was defined in 1904 by Pope Pius X in his catechism. |::|
“Babies dead without baptism go to Limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but neither do they suffer, because, having Original Sin alone, they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they merit Hell or Purgatory. — Pope Pius X However, unease remained over reconciling a Loving God with one who sent babies to Limbo and the church still faced much criticism. The Church, which has never claimed to definitely know who will go to Heaven apart from the Saints, or Hell, has said that the issue has long been one of speculation in the Church. This speculation has led to an oversimplification of the matter, and some people have regarded it as fact when it was never the case. |::|
“Catholics are only sure of the following two pieces of information in this matter: 1) that God is merciful; 2) that baptism is necessary for salvation Catholics feel sure that God won't impose punishment on babies who are free from personal guilt, but they do admit they don't know what their afterlife will hold. |::|
“In 1992, Pope John Paul II had Limbo removed from the catechism and both Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI urged further study on the concept. In April 2007 Pope Benedict XVI approved the findings of a report by the International Theological Commission, a Vatican advisory body, which found grounds that the souls of unbaptised children would go to heaven, thus revising traditional teaching on Limbo. The report said there were "reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness" Parents were urged to continue to baptise their children, as the Vatican stressed that baptism is still considered necessary to achieve salvation; the report emphasised that "there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible" to baptise them.”
Catholic Church favors the burial of the dead but stopped opposing cremation in 1963. Cremation has generally been frowned upon because of its close association with hell. During a Catholic funeral, the body of the deceased is sprinkled with holy water as a sign of purification and thurified (bathed in incense smoke) as a sign of respect because, according to St. Paul, our bodies are members of the Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit.” They are called upon to enter transfigured, into the heavenly liturgy.”
Last Rites are important to Catholics. The last rites are when a priest is summoned to the bedside of a dying person so the dying person can confess his or her sins. The priest usually says prayers and sometimes lays hands or anoints the dying person. The custom of last rites arose in the Middle Ages to address the concerns of people, who worried about dying before they confessed their sins and would thus be denied of a place or heaven, or would have stay longer in purgatory.
According to the BBC: “A Catholic funeral is slightly different and can be with or without Mass: 1) The Vigil for the Deceased: this is a service of prayers, songs and homilies either at the home of the deceased or in church, before the day of the funeral. 2) Introductory rites: the priest greets the congregation and says: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." He leads the coffin and congregation down the church aisle. Holy water is sprinkled and there is an opening song and prayer. 3) Liturgy of the Word: sermons from the Bible are read out, as well as a homily (a practical rather than theological sermon) and a Psalm. Liturgy of the Eucharist: there is a preparation of gifts, a Eucharist prayer is said and Holy Communion is received. 4) Final commendation: Mass ends, prayers are said and the coffin is taken out of the church. 5) Rite of Committal: prayers are said by the final resting place (at the graveside for burial and before the curtains close for cremation). [Source: June 23, 2009 BBC]
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines what a funeral is: The Christian funeral is a liturgical celebration of the Church. The ministry of the Church in this instance aims at expressing efficacious communion with the deceased, at the participation in that communion of the community gathered for the funeral, and at the proclamation of eternal life to the community.” |::|
Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “ Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018