Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Anglican Asks: Do Catholics Go Overboard with Mary?

Last week I asked EPG, an Anglican reader of this blog, to pose some questions for Catholics, to provide a forum for discussion. I gather that these questions represent reasons why he, and others, are not (yet) Catholic. His first question concerns what may be the biggest stumbling block: the role of Mary in Catholic worship. Listen carefully, answer respectfully. I will put in my two cents after citing his question verbatim:

I have some concerns about the extent of Marian devotion. I can understand devotion to Mary in the context of the communion of saints. Asking Mary (or any of the saints) to intercede would be analogous to asking a good friend, an older brother, or one’s mother for prayers on one’s behalf. I am perfectly comfortable with the respect and even veneration for Mary arising from her actions, from her first assent at the Annunciation, and from that time on. I have no issue with the titles “Theotokos,” or “Mother of God.”

But there does seem to be a point at which the partisans of Mary go overboard, and attempt to direct our attention to her, in place of Christ. For example, I find myself deeply uncomfortable with the thought of considering Mary as co-Redemptrix. See, for example, this blog.  The author is a former Episcopal priest, who has apparently been accepted into the Catholic priesthood. Is he an exception, or in the Catholic mainstream?

And there is a radio program (played on our local Catholic station, and syndicated widely) that seems to go overboard in its emphasis on Mary.

So how do all of you respond to Mary in your lives as Catholics? Are there areas in which you see excesses in Marian devotion. (I could throw out that fine old epithet “Mariolatry.”) Or, coming from an Anglican Protestant background, am I missing something? If so, what?

EPG, I can’t give you formal Catholic apologetics on this one. But I’ll pass this post on to Ferde, because I know he can.

What I can give you is my experience. Among Catholics I know, I do not see an extreme emphasis on Mary, and I never hear talk of her as co-Redemptrix. (Oh, there was some rumbling about it in our men’s group one day, but we rumble about everything.) But just as I was drawn to the Catholic Church by the example of the saints, who were never reverenced or even referenced in the Episcopal parish of my youth, I have friends, including Mitch, who say they were brought to the Catholic Church by the Blessed Mother.

When I first started coming to daily Mass, I didn’t have much feeling for Jesus. Who was he exactly? I thought only of God—like a good Unitarian, I suppose! But now, through readings, Father Barnes’s homilies, daily reception of the Eucharist, Eucharistic Adoration, and, notably, I think, my participation in Communion and Liberation, I recognize Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and I seek a deeper relationship with him.

Mary? Except during Lent, Saturday morning Masses at our church are usually dedicated to the Blessed Virgin (as the church itself is dedicated to Mary in one of her many roles, “Star of the Sea”). Two candles are lit on Mary’s altar at the front left of the nave; Father Barnes says a couple of extra prayers; and as a recessional he leads us in “Salve Regina” or another Marian hymn. That’s it. (“Our” Mary illustrates this post.)

Now, it’s my understanding that Father Barnes is a doctrinaire Catholic priest, in the best sense of the term. He is true to the teaching of the Church and faithfully communicates it to us. (Let me tell you: If he weren’t that way, Ferde would be all over him!) So, by association, I suspect that this level of reverence—one day a week, say, along with the Marian Feast Days like the Assumption—is pretty much the norm.

One more point: While I have tried warming to Mary, as explained here and here, I haven’t fully succeeded. I don’t feel any less a Catholic for that. My devotion, if I have one, is to St. Joseph, who was also a favorite of one of our great female saints, Teresa of Jesus (of Avila). I recently bought one of Ann Burt’s lovely retablos of St. Joseph. I have it hanging in the “prayer corner” of my private office at home with a candle under it. I light the candle every morning and say a prayer to St. Joseph. And I am trying to learn more about him, especially now during Lent.

I do not think my devotion to St. Joseph gets between me and Christ. Joseph and Mary were Jesus’s earthly parents, who sheltered Him and educated Him, and to whom He was obedient. I trust that whatever may be my level of devotion to either of these unique parents, they will only bring me closer to Christ.

But I’ve taken too much space here! Readers, respond please! Not only with doctrine, which I need help with, but especially with your personal experience. Do you think the Church goes overboard with Mary? What about the blog and radio program cited by EPG? Are they typical?