Saturday, September 4, 2010

Where do I find Marian devotion in Scripture?

Dear Rev Know it all,
If devotion to the Blessed Mother is authentically Christian and comes to us as part of the faith that we received from the Apostles, why doesn’t it seem to be reflected in the Scriptures?
Yours, Marian D. Voshun

Dear Marian,
Devotion to our Blessed Mother is most certainly reflected in the Scriptures. In order to point out where and how it is let me do a little speculating. WARNING!! THE FOLLOWING IS JUST A THEORY AND SHOULD BE NOT BE TAKEN AS CATHOLIC DOCTRINE (Still, it’s an interesting possibility.)
There are two Gospels that were written roughly one hundred years after the death and resurrection of the Lord, and though they are not inspired, nor considered canonical, they probably do contain some reliable historical details  about the lives of Jesus and Mary. Both these texts given evidence that, a century after the fact, Mary was already regarded as a central person in the life of the Church. When theses stories are read in the light of the four canonical gospels, they bring up some interesting possibilities.
The first is called The Gospel according to the Hebrews, preserved only in fragments in the writings of the Church Fathers. It seems to indicate that Jesus went to be baptized by John at the suggestion of our Blessed Mother. The following is a quote fro the Gospel of the Hebrews
And behold the mother of the Lord and his brothers said to him, "John the Baptist baptizes for the forgiveness of sins. Let us go and be baptized by him." But Jesus said to them, "in what way have I sinned that I should go and be baptized by him? Unless perhaps, what I have just said is a sin of ignorance".

Compare this to St. John, chapter 2, the wedding feast at Cana.
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." "(My) Lady, what is it to you and me?" Jesus replied, "My hour has not yet come."

 In both cases Jesus seems to be resisting His Mother’s suggestion. It seems to me, that our Blessed Mother is reminding Jesus that the time has come  to begin the work of redemption. Remember, Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine. I wonder if, in the fullness of His humanity, Jesus didn’t realize that His baptism in the Jordan and the beginning of His miracles meant the end of the quiet life of a handy man in Nazareth in the midst of home and mother. Remember that Jesus, “ the days of His flesh, offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Son though He was, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:6-8) In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pleaded with His Divine Father, but still He obeyed. Jesus was like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15). He was no masochist. Like us, He didn’t want to suffer.  If this is the case, the Gospel of John and the noncanonical Gospel of the Hebrews reflects an awareness that Mary’s role in the life of Christ was more than incidental.
Elsewhere in the canonical gospels, we see Mary’s unique status in the early church.  “Mary treasured these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) and Mary said “...all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48)   Mary is mentioned by name about twenty-five times in the New Testament and as Jesus’ mother about 50 times. This makes me think that, for a woman who said little and wrote nothing, she had a  unique importance among the little flock of early Christians. “All right, she is mentioned,” I can hear you saying, “but where is her role as intercessor?”
Let’s consider her life. Though we have no firm dates, it is reasonable to say that she was born about 15BC., and if she lived a biblical life span she died at 70 or 80 years.  That would put her death at 65AD. Something huge happened in 64 AD: the beginning of the first persecution of the Church by the emperor Nero following the great fire of Rome. I suspect that St. John’s exile to Patmos would have happened at this time. Dr, Scott Hahn, who is one smart cookie, makes the point that the Apocalypse isn’t a prophecy of the end of the world, rather it’s a prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in 70 AD. Jesus had prophesied this in three of the four Gospels and the Christian community did in fact abandon Jerusalem shortly before its destruction. 
If St. John is the author of the Apocalypse, (which all sorts of people say he isn’t, though tradition says he is) and if Dr. Hahn is correct, then the Apocalypse would have been written during John’s imprisonment on Patmos possibly during the Neronian persecution of the church. It is doubtful that were he exiled there as an old man he would have survived very long. In the year 64 he was still in his 50's.
This gives us some insight into the chronology of the life of our Blessed Mother, We know that Mary lived with John after the death and resurrection of Jesus (John 19:27) We also know that around 50AD, John is in Jerusalem at the First Council of Jerusalem, (Acts 15) It would seem to me that sometime after this he took up residence in Ephesus, and that Mary would have accompanied him. If John were arrested sometime around 65AD, Mary may have returned to Jerusalem as she ended her life in this world. There is a strong tradition that Mary died and was buried in Jerusalem, and there she was taken up to heaven. If the Apocalypse was written sometime around 65 AD and the other New Testament  Scriptures were written from 50 AD to 70 AD, Mary’s intercessory role in heaven would not have been apparent. She wasn’t in heaven. She was in Ephesus.
There are two Scriptures which speak clearly of the role of our Blessed Mother Acts 1:13  Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. The disciples are named, but the only other person named is “Mary, the mother of Jesus.”  She was singled out in a unique way at a time when she was interceding for the church.
And then there is Revelation 12 in which we read of the great sign, a woman clothed with the sun who cried out in childbirth. Her offspring was snatched into heaven to save him from the devouring dragon, and she herself fled to the desert, to a place prepared for her by God. I wonder if, when these images were brought to John by the Holy Spirit, he didn’t remember the stories that Mary told all those years she was like a mother to him. She must have told him about how she had fled with Joseph from the wrath of Herod the Great and how they traveled through the desert of Sinai to Egypt. He must have remembered how, after her son Jesus was taken up to heaven, she had fled with John from Herod’s grandson during the first persecution of the Jerusalem church. I imagine that the Holy Spirit reminded him of these things and gave them new and prophetic meaning. He understood that she was the image of the whole church, the mother who cries out in childbirth, as if interceding for the birth of the firstborn, the mother who is persecuted and exiled, the mother cared for by God.
If my chronology is at all correct, Mary only begins to be understood as the paradigm of the church after the greater part of the New Testament had been written, but as soon as she was gone, St. John wrote in veiled and prophetic language of the great symbol that she is. Having lost this mother who had been with him for more than thirty years, he understood more fully who she  was and what her life meant. From these first understandings the church has always grown in its love and devotion to her. God has no ego problem. The love and devotion offered to the saints, and to the Blessed Mother in particular, does not detract one bit from the worship offered to Him.
Rev. Know-it-all  


  1. This is an interesting, research response to an interesting question. Thanks for posting this.

  2. A wonderful response, Father. May I add a comment as one who has recently Reconciled to the ancient Church Universal? I come from a background of faithful, earnest Protestants who were originally students of Alexander Campbell, then called Campbellites, now called the churches of Christ -- a self-professed "non-denominational" church. They are deeply steeped in Sola Scriptura. Not being a Cradle Catholic, I have a different understanding of Marian's question. Marian, many things Protestants take as true are also not reflected clearly in Scripture my friend. Like the Ultimate Supremacy of Scripture, Self-Attesting Scripture, and the Canon of Scripture. The universal Church, called catholic, has always taught that the Deposit of Faith given by the Apostles, both written and oral, a paradosis, is our basis of belief. And that paradosis does not and cannot contradict Scripture, whether the minutiae are spelled out or not. The argument that (fill in the blank -- in this case that) Marian Devotion may not be genuine because it is not "Scriptural" or clearly stated in Scripture is an Argument from Silence. This is a deduction that a "lack" of specific reference to a subject by an author concludes that he was unaware of the subject. The Gospel writers' focus was always Jesus and the Church He founded. A careful study of Scripture reveals that this is what we usually see Mary doing in the Gospels -- pointing to Jesus. "Do whatever He tells you." It is a tough thing for those of us not raised with a veneration of Mary. But it is Truth. She is to be respected, thanked, and revered, but not worshiped. That is for God alone. Thank you Marian for a thoughtful question. And thank you Father, for your insightful response. I offer this as one who comes from a different starting place on this Road, in case my understanding is of any benefit to you or others. May God Bless the work of your hands.
    Summer Frost

  3. The above comment sure was helpful!