If you pray to the mother of Jesus, do you not place her alongside God?
Answer: I will answer these two questions and further connected questions by speaking (1) about Mary as written about in the Bible, then in particular about (2) the meaning of Mary’s title Mother of God in the Christian faith, and finally about (3) the Church’s new dogmas about Mary
1. Mary as written about in the Bible
It is not Mary who is the center of the New Testament, but Jesus Christ. Mary, however, is his mother. This is why the Bible speaks of her. Not in the form of a biography, certainly not. What the Bible says about Mary is much more: It describes her importance for the salvation of Gods people. Mary is talked about in the larger context of God’s activity, which we already come across in the Old Testament. What we mean is:
Women save Gods people. Sometimes they are heroines (Deborah, Judith, Esther), sometimes mothers who give life to one of the great (Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah). Mary is the pinnacle of this biblical line. She gives life to the Messiah, the Son of God. She fulfills the faith of the patriarchs (Abraham!). She herself is the "daughter of Zion, the personification of Gods people. In her great song the Canticle of Mary or the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55), she places herself in the history of Israel and she herself speaks as a prophet, like the great prophets of old: to God alone be the glory, worldly powers and worldly riches have no meaning before Him! She realizes this principle in her own life. She lives only for her godly son. In the days of His big triumphs, she remains in the background, but she is with Him at the foot of the cross. Searching and questioning, she travels her path, she keeps all these things, reflecting on them in her heart (Luke 2:19), lives through uncertainty and disappointment. She is the mother who knows all pain. All this is what the Bible speaks of.
Mary’s whole love belongs to God, without any reservation she devotes her life to this incomprehensible high calling which has been given to her. Therefore she remains a virgin, wants only to be one thing the handmaid of the Lord – as she has promised to God (Luke 1:38).
The Protestant Catechism for Adults summarizes what the Bible says about Mary: She is described as the exemplary listener to God’s word, as the handmaiden of the Lord, who says Yes to God’s will, as the favored one who is nothing herself, but everything through Gods favor. Thus, Mary is the quintessential image of human beings who open themselves to God and allow themselves to receive His gifts, the image of the Community of believers, of the Church. Mary belongs in the gospels. Without her something important would be missing from Gods saving work.
Thus it becomes understandable, why Christians revere Mary. There is only one who has given us salvation, God through and in Jesus. But is it not important that it was a woman who received this salvation for us all? She said to the angel: May it be done to me according to your word – and so she became the mother of our savior. It was humankinds Yes to God.
2. Mary, the „Mother of God”
The creed says: “…born of the virgin Mary”, and it thus summarizes what the Bible is telling us. The Christmas story tells us very pictorially that Mary carried Jesus, her child, inside her like any other mother and that she then gave birth to Him for us. She is His mother in a much deeper sense than normal: Before she conceived the Son of God she accepted Him in faith.…
At first, Mary did not fully understand the angel’s message: How can this be, since I have no relations with a man? And the angel said to her in reply: The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Here, the Bible uses words that remind us of the Old Testament: God himself overshadowed Israel in a cloud and took residence in the holy tabernacle. In other words, the Bible says that Mary is God’s dwelling place; that God comes to us through her.
According to Matthew (1:20): It is through the Holy Spirit that she that this child has been conceived in her. This is the doctrine of the Church: Mary conceived her child as a virgin without having relations with a man. Some find this a big problem. But why should God not intervene in an unusual way when His own Son becomes man? Especially the immaculate conception explains that the new beginning which is happening through Jesus, is from God alone!
All this could happen only because Mary believed and agreed to it. And so she becomes the Mother of God. In the year 431 AD the Council of Ephesus determined this title for her, which Luther and other reformers retained. Of course, she did not give birth to God as God herself, for she is a creature like us. She gave birth to Jesus, who is God and a human in one person. If you believe in Christ as the Son of God you have to revere Mary as the Mother of God.
And so Mary is our mother too, because we Christians are one in Christ, we are the limbs of his body. Her love is for the whole Christ, and therefore also for us. We can all upon her as our advocate, our mother, our hope. We can tell her all our suffering. It is no more than what we do among each other. Because we all belong to Christ and are one in Him, we call on each other’s advocacy: Pray for me! This call is all the more valid for the Mother of God, who among all of us is closest to the Lord.
Of course, Mary must not be worshipped. Worship is due to God alone. But we may call on her, without affecting the unique position of Jesus Christ, because her advocacy, too, draws its power only from the salvation that God has achieved through Jesus. He who calls on Mary and reveres her confesses in this way his belief in Jesus Christ, the son of Mary and the Son of God.
One should not only speak theoretically of Mary. One should simply love her. Only then can one understand the meaning she has not only for Christians, but for all mankind. She is the Mother of Jesus Christ and therefore our mother, the mother of all mankind.
3. The new dogmas about Mary
Why are new doctrines still created in our time, almost 2000 years after Jesus? Why can the Pope announce the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, why can he declare only in 1950 that Mary ascended into heaven, body and soul?
Valid questions! Yes, everything God has to tell us has already been said. Nothing can be said over and above Jesus’ message which is passed on in the doctrine of the apostles. It all lays before us. But it lays before us more like a still unexplored land. From the beginning, the Church has tried to understand the secrets of faith more and more deeply, to make new discoveries, and find new connections.
Let us explain this with a comparison: We want to project a transparency, the picture appears on the screen. But it is still fuzzy. The main image is already recognizable, but much is still unclear. Now we slowly sharpen the lens. New details appear. They were certainly there before, but they can only be recognized now. Faith is like that. Through the thinking and praying of the Church the lens of faith has been further sharpened throughout the centuries. We will not complete the discovery of the riches of faith before the end of time.
My comparison clarifies something else: the details only become clear in the context of an overall picture. On their own, they would either not be seen at all or be misunderstood. The same is true for the two dogmas about Mary. They arise out of the overall picture of faith, not from individual sentences in the Bible. Therefore:
Mary is the quintessential image of a human being on whom God bestows His favor. She was determined by God to bring us Christ, the full light, life and grace of God. In her, Israel as a chosen people is fulfilled. Therefore, she herself is said to be full of grace (Luke 1:28). The meaning of this has been elevated to a doctrine by the Church in 1854 after centuries of deliberation: From the first moment of her life, that is to say from her conception, Mary has been free of any distance from God and from darkness, has been filled by His light and is without original sin. What Jesus has earned for us on the cross, what we are given at Baptism, she has already been given at the beginning of her life, because she was to be His mother.
Much nonsense is said especially about this doctrine. Many mistake the conception of Mary with that of Christ. They should study the Church calendar: Marys Immaculate Conception is celebrated on 8th December, exactly nine months before the feast of Mary’s birth (8th September). What those people mean is the conception of the Lord, which is celebrated at the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, nine months before Christmas…
The view that the Church considers sexuality to be something tainted is completely wrong. We do not start our lives as tainted because of our human conception, but because we are part of the dark part of the world that has turned away from God. Mary has never been part of that world. From the first moment of her life she stood in Gods light. That Mary has been assumed into heaven, body and soul, is a consequence of her close link with Christ. What we will all receive at the end of time, the resurrection of the body, has already happened to her because she is His mother. This doctrine is especially important in our times in which the body is being so dreadfully debased: by wars, by drugs, by pornography – when it is meant to be for the glory of God.
In Mary, we always see our own dignity and hope. In her we recognize the greatness God wants to achieve with us. Once you have understood this you will never cease to revere Mary.
(With small changes from: Winfried Henze, „Glauben ist schön. Ein katholischer Familienkatechismus“. Harsum: Druckhaus Köhler, 2001. ISBN 3-7698-0887-8., p. 69-76)
Text of the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46 -49):
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has
looked upon his handmaids lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
full of grace,
the Lord is with you,
you are blessed
and blessed is the fruit
of your body, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
intercede for us sinners
now and in the hour of
“We must try to love Jesus as His holy mother has loved Him. She is nearest to God. If we approach her, we approach God Himself.”
(Maximilan Kolbe (1894 -1941), Polish Franciscan, organizer of the Catholic press in Poland and Japan, sacrificed his life in Auschwitz as a hostage for a young man with a family who was to be murdered.)