Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hail WHO? -- What Do Catholics Really Believe About Mary?

Hello, Coffee Talkers!
I have been considering starting a little Coffee Talk series on Mary, and what Catholics really believe about her, since Catholic devotion to Mary is misunderstood by so many people (Catholics included!). A letter came in to me last night which touches on so many of the major areas of confusion and controversy about Mary, it's almost like I paid the writer to send it in! (Note well the almost, since I'm not really raking in any dough with Coffee Talk, but perhaps my prayers will be payment enough.) In any case, I include the full letter here, and will use at as a starting point for introducing the Catholic Church's teachings on Mary.

Dear Leslie,
I have questions concerning the devotion to Mary, and I recognize that you are very knowledgeable in this area. I hope you can help me resolve the issue that concerns me.

I grew up in the church but left the church later in life for many reasons, some of which were the teachings on Mary and the saints.  I have returned to the church after many years, not because I suddenly agreed with these teachings but because I felt led by the Lord.  I expressed some of my concerned with the pastor at my parish when I returned. He was not concerned with what I believed or did not believe and I thus became reunited with the Catholic Church. I am going through RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults -- classes for those preparing to become Catholic Christians] and attending other classes at my parish to find out where the church is today and refamiliarize myself with the faith.

I grew up pre-Vatican II. The mass was said in Latin. We prayed the rosary every night but we never read the bible. The only exposure I had to the bible was that which was read in church. I would like to list some of the things I was taught while growing up.

  1. The authority of the church was above that of the bible.
  2. We could never go directly to Jesus or God. We had to go through Mary, his mother.
  3. We could not even have salvation unless we went through Mary.
  4. We could pray to the saints and ask them for favors, but never God.
  5. Today I hear even Catholics say, “In Jesus name we pray.” Yet while growing up we said after every prayer said at home, “All for Jesus through Mary.”  My younger sister thought for years we were saying “Awful Jesus through Mary.”
I was terrified of God for a better part of my life.  I began to read the bible in my adult years and sought Him desperately for many years. I went to mass during those years but did not send my children to CCD [Confraternity of Christian Doctrine - religious education classes for children] for fear that they would come away with the same fears I had.  I sometimes considered myself brainwashed.  They attended CCD long enough for first communion and confirmation. Other than that, I taught them at home. 

The above might sound harsh but it is the reality of my formative years.

After seeking the Lord for so many years and praying for truth, I left the church. I won't go into detail, but the Lord took me on a twenty-year journey. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I share all that to get to a point.

Again, growing up I believed that I had to go through Mary not only to reach Jesus, but also to gain salvation. I am learning now that was never actually taught by the church.  This was a misunderstanding on my mom’s part. A misunderstanding she taught to all of her children. Most of whom left the church because of these teachings.  I have now learned that I am not even required to pray to the saints or to Mary. I may go directly to the Lord as I have over the last 20 years.  Considering my upbringing this news was refreshing.

Now comes the next step.

I enjoy going to daily mass. A couple of weeks ago there was a Fatima Pilgrimage. A man from the pilgrimage came to my parish, and after mass he spoke of Fatima and a prayer the angels wanted us to pray. I saw the prayer as good and signed a card saying that I would say the prayer. I went to the back of the church and picked up some of the literature. What I read on the literature gave me great concern, and I see now where my mother got the idea that salvation came from Mary.  On one of the handouts were the 15 promises of Mary to Christians who recite the Rosary.  I won't type them out because I am sure you are familiar with them.   According to those who promote this apparition, there are a number of promises made to those who will serve Mary and recite the rosary. One is that they will not perish.  Evidently, my mother understood that to mean that if we don’t serve her and recite the rosary we would perish. 

The bible says that we should serve God and God alone and that salvation comes from Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  I know that the church does teach that but why would they allow the above teaching to mislead a person.

My mother was not the only one who believed the teachings of Fatima. I met many people over the years who thought these teachings were the teachings of the church. 

Again, I did not return to the church because I believed everything, I returned because I felt the leading of the Lord and I was completely honest with the priest who leads my parish.  My question is why does the church allow a confusing teaching such as Fatima to exist.  I learned in RCIA that a Catholic is not required to believe in any of the supposed apparitions of Mary, nor are they required to recite the rosary. We were told that the rosary is considered a tradition with a small “t” meaning it can be discontinued at any time.

How would I explain the teachings of Fatima to non-Catholics or Catholics who have left the Church?

Thanks for letting me express myself. I truly would like to have a positive understanding on this issue.  Understand, I have no problem with Mary or even the rosary, but the teachings of Fatima seem to contradict the teachings of the bible. Please correct me if I am in error. 

Loving the Lord but Apprehensive About Apparitions

Dear Loving but Apprehensive,

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your concerns! Your questions about the Catholic Church's teachings on Mary, and the apparitions in particular, are shared by many people. For a general (and hopefully helpful) explanation of why Catholics pray to saints, please check out this post.

Over the course of several blog posts, I would like to address your questions in a manner that will hopefully give some insights into the hows, whats, and whys of Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I would like to cover the following topics:
  • Mary's role in salvation history
  • the Marians dogmas of the Catholic Church, namely:
    • Mother of God
    • Immaculate Conception
    • Ever Virgin
    • Assumed into Heaven
  • the three main Marian devotions of the Catholic Church, namely:
    • the Rosary
    • the Scapular
    • Marian consecration
  • Marian Apparitions and messages to the modern world
Obviously, I will not cover these all at once (or it would turn into Sleep Talk rather than Coffee Talk!), but for tonight, allow me to share one insight into Marian devotion that has helped me in my own journey of faith. God could have sent his Son, Jesus, into the world in any manner he wanted. Of all the ways God could have come into the world to dwell among us, He chose for Jesus to be born of a human mother, Mary.
“When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5)
Jesus, who was fully human and fully God, entrusted himself fully to Mary, his human mother, during his earthly life. Therefore, we need not fear giving the mother of Jesus (and therefore the mother of God) our respect and devotion, nor should we be wary of entrusting ourselves to Mary and her maternal care and heavenly intercession for us. If we really ask ourselves the rubber bracelet question -- "What Would Jesus Do?" -- we see the answer clearly: He would entrust himself to Mary. It is not Mary who saves us, but by God's design, it was through Mary that salvation came into the world. Let's not be afraid, then, to honor her as Jesus' mother and to ask for her maternal care and prayer for all of us journeying here on earth.

More to come, and soon, Lord willing! In the meantime, be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

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