Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hail WHO? Part Two -- Mary's Subordinate Mediation

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

I am delighted to have you here for part two of my new series "Hail WHO? - What Do Catholics Really Believe About Mary?"

Before launching into tonight's content, I want to share a personal story with you. One fine summer, after completing my bachelor's degree in music, I traveled through the southern United States and to Trinidad with Celebrant Singers, an ecumenical music ministry team. Our 20-member team shared our music ministry in Catholic churches, non-denominational churches and churches of many Protestant denominations, as well as parks, prisons, and anywhere else that would take us! But while over half of our ministry was in Catholic churches, only three people on our team were Catholic. And of the three of us, I was viewed as the one who knew the most about the faith -- and to be honest, that wasn't saying much. I had not attended a day of Catholic school in my life and was the product of pretty poor catechesis in my parish. I didn't know the Bible very well (although I knew many Scripture verses from sacred music), and I had no formal study in Catholic theology or philosophy. But suddenly, I was the go-to girl for everyone's questions about Catholicism. And most especially about Mary.

I still remember clearly the day that my team was invited to provide music for a Catholic Mass -- on the Solemnity of the Assumption! I'm pretty sure there were several members of my team who wondered if lightning might not strike us during the Mass for the idolatrous Mary worship in which we were most certainly participating. I saw them shifting uncomfortably during the Mass, and I'm sure if I was Protestant, I might have done the same. And then, of course, on the bus after Mass the questions started rolling in.

"So what is this Assumption thing about? You assume she went to heaven, or something?"
"No, we believe that her whole body was taken up into heaven --assumed."
"So you think she didn't die?"
"Uh, no. I guess not."
"Why not?"
"Well, I don't really know."

Maybe I gave a little better answer than that, though I doubt it. But besides realizing that I did not know very much about the teachings of the Catholic Church or good ways to explain my faith, I also had another very interesting realization that summer. Many Protestants are afraid of devotion to Mary, so much so that they even avoid reading or preaching on Scripture passages about her. Even when I would make reference to some of the Scripture passages I did know that referred to Mary, some Protestants I know would immediately become defensive. I suspect that this is because, deeply (and oftentimes subconsciously) ingrained in Protestant thought and theology is this thought -- whatever I do in my Christian worship, I can never take the risk of appearing Catholic. Since devotion to Mary (mother of Jesus, and therefore mother of God though she may be) smacks of Catholicism, and therefore of the idolatrous worship with which all Catholics are associated, I can never say that I see Mary as anything more than a normal woman. In fact, I will never mention her at all so that people know that I'm a Christian.

Now, this is certainly not true of every single Protestant Christian, but it has been my observation of a great many of my Protestant brothers and sisters, many of whom are among my dear friends. I am very grateful for them, and especially for the members of my Celebrant Singers Team that summer and all of the pastors and other church leaders I came to know along the way. They are very significant in my own faith journey, and a big part of why I went on to study theology, and Mariology (the study of Mary) in particular. (I know, I see some of you cringing and squirming even now, as you read the word Mariology. But please stay with me a little longer. Be not afraid!)

I've pulled out my notes and papers from my graduate theology studies on Mary, and am going to share some of those writings with you each night. I hope that you all might find them helpful and enlightening in terms of what Catholics really believe about Mary, and if the passages prove to be a little too academic for anyone (including me!), please feel free to sound off in the comment box (or via e-mail) to give your thoughts or to ask any questions. I'll try to lay out the various topics in such a way that they build on one another, but since all arguments rest on certain assumptions (no pun intended!), I'd be happy to offer further clarification or commentary whenever needed. So without further ado, the topic for tonight is Mary and mediation!

Secondary and Subordinate Mediation and Mary

In 1 Timothy 2:5-6, we read that there is one God and one mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus. These verses are often interpreted as meaning that the one mediation of Christ Jesus excludes any other form of mediation.

However, what is actually condemned in this Scripture passage is any parallel, rival, or equal mediation to Christ's own perfect mediation. Because Christ's one mediation is perfect, it calls for subordinate participatory mediation by creatures. We are called, in a secondary and subordinate way, to participate in Christ's perfect mediation.

Three examples can be given of ways that we, as creatures, are called to participate in that which is unique to Christ: 1) grace, 2) sonship, and 3) priesthood. As in these examples, so in the case of mediation are we called to a subordinate participation in Christ's perfection.

Three classic examples of subordinate creaturely mediation are 1) the patriarchs, 2) the prophets, and 3) the angels. These examples demonstrate the ways in which God allows his own creation to draw men into closer union with him.

Because the one mediation of Christ Jesus, in its perfection, calls for subordinate participatory mediation, such participation by his creation is to the glorification of Jesus Christ, the one Mediator. There are varying levels or degrees to which creatures are called to participate in Christ's one mediation, and to the extent that creatures respond to this call, they give glory to the Creator.

Mary's unique participation in the one mediation of Christ Jesus stands as the highest form of creaturely mediation, and her subordinate participation does not diminish but rather magnifies Christ's own perfect mediation. Because of her special role in the plan of salvation, Mary is called to this unique participation in the one mediation of Christ in which she assists in dispensing the graces which flow through her from Christ's redeeming cross.
Peace and all good,

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