THE MARY OF SCRIPTURE AND THE MARY OF ROMANISM
Many years ago, when I was in the civil service, a discussion about the Virgin Mary took place during my absence, and several Protestants told a Roman Catholic colleague that when I returned I would put her right on the issue. I think all were surprised by my response for I stated very clearly that, as an evangelical Protestant, I held Mary in the highest esteem as she had been chosen by God to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Luke’s detailed account of the incarnation, we read that the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was “highly favoured… and blessed among women” (Luke 1:28). Her cousin Elisabeth, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, declared in a loud voice, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42). Mary herself, in her Magnificat, said, “Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
However, as I also pointed out to my colleagues, Mary was a sinner who needed to be saved just the same as the rest of us, and as evangelical Protestants, we must totally reject the idolatrous cult that surrounds her within the Church of Rome. Interestingly, my Roman Catholic colleague went home and related all this to her husband, who advised her to resist my attempts to convert her! That experience reminded me that spiritual confusion on key issues is to be found among Protestants as well as Roman Catholics.
Let’s briefly examine Mary in Scripture and then look at five Roman Catholic teachings about her.
- Mary in the Bible
The Old Testament refers to Mary indirectly in a few prophetic passages such as Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”. There is also a reference to “she which travaileth” in Micah 5:3.
In the Gospel accounts in Matthew and Luke, Mary plays an unsurprisingly central and vital role in the incarnation story, as we have already seen above. She accepted by faith all that the angel had told her. When the shepherds came to worship Him in the stable and spoke of what they had witnessed, we are told that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Some forty days after His birth, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem to be presented to Simeon, and after the old man had prophesied of the role the child would play, we are told, “Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him” (Luke 2:33). It is important to note Simeon’s words to Mary, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
Mary is mentioned in Matthew 2 when the wise men visit the house. And they were indeed wise men, for we are told that they worshipped the child Jesus (Matt 2:11). There is no mention of them worshipping Mary. Later in that chapter, Mary fled with Joseph and her Son into Egypt, which must have been a very gruelling experience.
Mary appears again in Luke 2 when she and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem when He was 12. That was a seminal moment from varying perspectives. She then features at the commencement of His public ministry at the wedding in Cana. In her last recorded words, she tells the servants at that wedding, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5), and what excellent advice that is! A few verses later, in John 2:12, we read that she went with Jesus to Capernaum and stayed there a few days. In Mark 3:31, there is a reference to how Jesus’ mother and brethren called to Him at a time when some feared He had lost His senses. The Gospels mention Mary at the crucifixion, where John described her as standing by the cross (John 19:25) and what a painful experience that must have been for her. Jesus words to her and to the disciple John about her are very profound and deeply moving. Mary’s final appearance is after the Ascension, when she was present in the upper room (Acts 1:14). Paul makes indirect reference to her in Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4.
- Mary and Rome
There is so much more we could say about this amazing, unique and wonderful woman, but in the space available, we must examine the way in which she has been re-invented, contorted and embellished by the Church of Rome. By adding to her, they have taken away from her. By creating a cult of the Virgin Mary, they have left the real Mary in the shadows.
A cultic interest in, and veneration of, Mary grew and developed in the Dark Ages as Romanism imbibed some of the traditions of the various pagan religions. By the 11th century, as Peter Slomski points out in his booklet, “Roman Catholicism: The Testimony of History and Scripture”, “Mary, the mother of Jesus, began to stand out as the greatest of saints and became known as ‘the Queen of heaven’. This would lead on to the phenomena of Marian apparitions and shrines to Mary”.
Mary is regarded by Rome not only as Queen of heaven but Mother of God. In a sense, she is the mother of God as she is the mother of Jesus who was God in the flesh. However, the Bible nowhere refers to her as either Queen of heaven or mother of God. These titles elevate her without any Scriptural authority whatever.
(1) Mary the Mediator
Roman Catholics pray to saints but praying to Mary is on a higher level. As ‘mother of God’ and ‘queen of heaven’, she occupies a central role in the devotional life of Roman Catholics. She is regarded as a mediator between us and Christ. The Rosary, considered by Rome to be an “epitome of the whole Gospel” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994 “CCC” para 971), is said regularly, perhaps daily, with the aid of a set of beads. Central to this is the “Hail Mary” – “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen”. One of the concluding prayers of the Rosary is as follows, “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy. Hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope .To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping, in this valley of tears. Turn then most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us; and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary pray for us, O holy mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”.
CCC para 969 –“Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix”..
The Bible states clearly, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). We come to the Father through Christ. We should not pray to Mary or any other saint.
(2) Mary Immaculately Conceived
This was established as official church teaching in 1854. It asserts that Mary was sinless at her conception and “By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long” (CCC para 493). Again, there is no Biblical warrant for this. Rome promotes the idea purely on based on tradition. Para 491 of the CCC states, “Through the centuries the church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception”.
Paul states in Romans 3:23 that “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”. The only human being without sin was the Lord Jesus Christ. Mary was born in sin. She knew that she was a sinner. Her spirit “rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47) and her faith was in Christ.
(3) Mary a Perpetual Virgin
Rome asserts, “Mary remained a Virgin in conceiving her son, a Virgin in giving birth to him, a Virgin in carrying him, a Virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a Virgin” (CCC para 510). Rome is quick to remind us that Reformers such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli seem to have held to the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity. But it has no Biblical warrant. Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph “knew her not” until after Jesus was born. That would imply that Mary and Joseph later had a normal sexual relationship and that they subsequently had other children. Indeed, there are references in the Bible to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. So, a plain reading of Scripture would lead to the conclusion that the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity rests on very shaky foundations. Its chief purpose seems to be to further elevate her standing in Roman Catholic mythology.
(4) Mary as Co-Redeemer
It must be acknowledged that there are varying views on this within the RC Church. While many Roman Catholics would accept that Christ is the Redeemer, the CCC states at para 1172, “She (Mary) is inseparably linked with the saving work of her Son”. Again, this runs contrary to clear Biblical teaching. Yes, Mary was undoubtedly deeply affected by what she witnessed at the Cross, but she could not help her Son in his work of redemption in any way. We would say with the hymn-writer “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gate of Heaven and let us in”. Jesus said, in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. Mary cannot save. Only Jesus saves. As stated above, Mary was a sinner who needed a Saviour.
(5) Mary’s Bodily Assumption
This was accepted as official dogma in 1950. The CCC at para 966 states, “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things”. The Bible speaks only of Enoch and Elijah going straight to heaven without experiencing death. There is no mention of Mary. Surely such an amazing and highly unusual occurrence would be noted. It is not noted, because it did not happen. It is another invention of Rome designed to further enhance the cult of the Virgin.
The Feast of the Assumption is 15 August, and, as a child, I remember the AOH parades in Ulster on that date. This year, on that date, Pope Francis asked Mary to intercede so that humanity might overcome the coronavirus epidemic – a further reminder that Rome’s obsession with Mary shows no signs of abating. On the contrary, Mariolatry is more central and important than ever.
We conclude with some comments by James G McCarthy in his book “The Gospel According to Rome”. He states in p.225, “This is the Mary of Roman Catholicism, a woman whom the Church has exalted above every other created being and has assigned attributes, titles, powers, and prerogatives that in Scripture belong to God alone. To her the Church has erected statues, shrines, churches, cathedrals, and basilicas. To her the Church calls all the faithful to lift their prayers, petitions, and praise. This is nothing more than pagan goddess worship dressed up in Roman Catholic gowns”.
It is our prayer that our Roman Catholic friends and neighbours would lift their eyes off the Mary of the shrines and of papal superstition and look to her Son Jesus Christ alone for salvation.