Matt C. Abbott
April 7, 2007
Catholic beliefs about Mary, the Mother of God
By Matt C. Abbott

The following article, by J.M. McCarthy, is reprinted (with permission) from the Winter/Spring 2007 issue of Catholic Men's Quarterly. I wish all my readers a happy and holy Easter; and I ask for your prayers for me and the members of my family.

A Common Sense Faith...

Mary, the Mother of God

By J.M. McCarthy

[CMQ editor's note: The following feature is written in the form of letters to a friend. Though many today believe faith to be a simple emotional matter with no connection whatsoever to man's reasoning faculty, the Catholic Church teaches otherwise. It is the conviction of us here at CMQ that the Catholic religion makes sense, has impeccable historical credentials and explains the human condition. We believe that it is true, beautiful and good, and considering ourselves not so much different from the average man on the street, we think you will come to view it that way as well. Cited quotes are from Fr. John Hardon's The Catholic Catechism, published by Doubleday & Co., Inc. in 1975.]

Dear friend,

Have I yet convinced you of the reasonableness of Catholicism? I've lain out the proofs for the existence of God, examined the life and claims of Jesus Christ and made the case that He is the Son of God, that He did found a Church, the Catholic Church, and that the Catholic Church, as the one founded by God, is equipped by its Founder with all the "tools" necessary to get us, me and you, into Heaven.

Along the way, through these letters, I have tried to demonstrate that concluding the Catholic Church is the one founded by God is an exercise of reason very much rooted in history, but that seeing how God has set up His Church necessarily involves us in the supernatural. But the mistake people make in this "rationalistic" age is that when once someone mentions the term "supernatural," they automatically assume that the use of reason must be dispensed with.

When I call these letters, "A Common Sense Faith," I don't mean to imply that every aspect of the Faith can be "proven" by the use of reason. No, otherwise the very word faith would be rendered meaningless. Rather, my claim is that arriving at a satisfactory intellectual conviction that the Catholic Church is what She claims to be is possible, nay, probable when the evidence is looked at dispassionately.

When once you get into the particular claims of the Church involving those "things unseen" such as grace, miracles, the soul etc., the claim to common sense is made on two levels: 1) A fair inquirer has no right to dismiss them out of hand. I maintain that the belief in the supernatural, the very existence of those things unseen is the common patrimony of mankind such that it can be considered the "received wisdom of the species," our own, most vital cultural knowledge as human beings. Those who deny the existence of the supernatural, of the soul, of the possibility of miracles, are in such a minority in the history of the race as to be, as I've mentioned elsewhere, "freakish." The burden of proof that the material world is all there is should be, and is, on them.

2) That said, when once the possibility of a supernatural order is admitted, the claims made in that realm can and should be examined "reasonably" in two ways. First, check them out on their own merits. Does any particular religion's scheme or explanation of things jibe with your understanding of human nature, your notions of justice, your own "common sense" experience? (Not that these are the ultimate yardsticks God's sovereign Will is but people today think like this, and the Catholic Faith has nothing to fear from such inquiry, provided it is undertaken by a sincere seeker of the Truth.) And, secondly, do the supernatural claims of a particular belief system make sense within the logic of its own system. Does the system, in other words, "hold together."

Catholic beliefs about Mary, the Mother of God, very readily lend themselves to a discussion based on the last criteria, for the dogmas regarding her are vitally important to preserving the true belief concerning the nature of her Son. It has been beautifully expressed that Catholic beliefs about Mary constitute a "moat" built around our beliefs concerning Christ.

The Immaculate Conception...the Virgin Birth...the Assumption into Heaven. At least two of these three Marian dogmas cause endless trouble for non-Catholic Christians, and yet, they not only make perfect sense within the inherent logic of Christianity, they are indispensable to the preservation of the Faith.

Mary was and is the Immaculate Conception; in other words she was conceived without sin. Many people confuse this with the Virgin Birth of Jesus, but no, the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary's conception in the womb of her mother. Though both her parents were subject to sin, God, through a singular act of mercy and favor, preserved Mary from Original Sin from the moment of her conception. Though she was conceived in the natural manner, the Immaculate "aspect" of her Conception had nothing to do with her human parents; it was a free gift from God, all part of the divine plan.

After the fall of Adam and Eve, all of mankind enters the world tainted with Original Sin, a sort of twisted invisible birthmark on the soul passed on down the human line. All of us have been born with this Original Sin, with one exception other than Jesus Himself... a young Jewish woman who was to conceive and bear the Christ Child. Why did God deem it suitable to preserve Mary from Original Sin? Is it not common sense? The Son of God, who has nothing to do with sin, entered this world in such a way that neither of His parents could pass on the "genetic flaw" because His mother did not have it and, well, God is God. It would be beneath the dignity of God to enter the world through anything but a spotless vessel.

"Why did Christ have to be born of a human mother?" you might ask. "If God is so into miracles why didn't He just appear out of thin air?" Well, I suppose you are right. God could do things anyway He likes. He's God. But the way in which He did enter human history as a man makes sense. Had he "appeared out of thin air," Christ would not have been both human and divine. Remember, His purpose in coming was to redeem us, to free us from our sins, to "make up for" the original fall of Adam.

A human fault calls for a human remedy. Thus Christ's humanity. But the gravity of the fault a lowly creature (Adam) offending the sovereign Creator required something, ahem, greater than a mere human could provide. Thus Christ's divinity. The God/Man Jesus Christ was the perfect sacrifice...because He, though God, shared in and elevated our humanity by assuming it and took our burden upon Himself. So, because it was most fitting and appropriate, Jesus would and did come into the world through a human mother, and, yes, she was "Immaculate."

The Virgin Birth refers to the Catholic belief that Mary remained a physical virgin throughout the entire process of her Son's conception and birth, and we Catholics rightly believe that she remained a virgin throughout her life. The reality of the Virgin Birth is contested by rationalists and non-Christians, but it is telling today that many of those who have lost the Catholic Faith, be they tenth-generation Protestants or people who still call themselves "Catholics," have trouble with the concept as well.

But, like the Immaculate Conception, it is fitting, as Fr. Hardon, quoting St. Augustine, makes clear: "When God vouchsafed to become Man, it was fitting that he should be born in this way. He who was made of her, had made her what she was: a virgin who conceives, a virgin who gives birth; a virgin with child, a virgin delivered of child a virgin ever virgin." Given the fact of the Incarnation, its manner becomes a matter of course (p. 151). In other words, given Who Christ is, the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth make sense. Just as He preserved Her spiritually through the Immaculate Conception, so did He preserve her physically through the Virgin Birth.

But what of the Assumption?

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary refers to the fact that she was "assumed" into Heaven, body and soul at the moment of her passing into eternal life. (We don't say she "died," because death is a consequence of sin and she was without sin, original or otherwise.) For the rest of us, when we die, our bodies go to the ground (to be resurrected later) while our souls go to be judged. The two separated aspects of the human person will only be reunited later.

Unlike Mary's, our bodies are subject to decay because of sin. Mary, being free from Original Sin lacked the strong inclination to commit sin which we have, and never in fact did so, thus making her Assumption possible, the natural consequence of belief in the story of her life and that of her Son. The old saying "weighed down by his sins" describes the rest of us, not the Mother of God. This "sinless weightlessness," if you will, makes the image of the Holy Mother rising into the heavens one that we can embrace rather than doubt and cherish rather than scorn. The bodies of many saints have been found to be incorrupt years and years after their deaths. We Catholics view incorruptibility as a heavenly indicator of the person's holiness. But the privilege of the Assumption, again the consequence of absolute purity, is reserved to the Blessed Virgin.

The interconnectedness of the various dogmas of Catholicism and their inner logic was made clear by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Fulgens Corona. Fr. Hardon writes, "According to Pius (XII, ed.), the Assumption was a consequence of die Immaculate Conception, not merely in the superficial sense of something suitable, but in the logic of supernatural merit and providence.

These two singular privileges (her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption, -ed.) bestowed upon the Mother of God stand out in most splendid light as the beginning and the end of her earthly journey. For the greatest possible glorification of her virgin body is the complement, at once appropriate and marvelous, of the absolute innocence of her soul, which was free from all stain. Just as she took part in the struggle of her only-begotten Son with the serpent of hell, so also she shared in his glorious triumph over sin and its sad consequences." (p. 162)

So, my friend, the Catholic beliefs concerning Mary serve not only to protect the authentic, traditional view of Jesus Christ, they also are intimately related one to the other. The Immaculate Conception best satisfies what thought asks of us in considering the mystery of Christ's two natures, human and divine; the Virgin Birth extends to the physical realm the spiritual preservation of the Most Perfect Vessel through which God chose to be born; and the Assumption naturally follows from that spiritual and physical preservation.

Hail Mary, full of grace....

(J.M. McCarthy writes from western Massachusetts. He has authored A Catechism in Rhyme and The Wearing of the Glove, an adventure novel for young people available through House on the Moor Books. Visit www.houseonthemoor.com for ordering information.)

Related links:

http://www.catholic.com/library/mary_saints.asp

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/11/mary-blessed-virgin-index-page.html

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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