Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden that the spices thereof may flow out.
– Song of Solomon 4:16 (KJV).
In November of 2015, I was well into my Catholic ordeal. Arenda’s parents had come to visit for a few days, and we were saying farewell when James came bounding into the room saying, “Look, Mom, I found a necklace!” He jumped onto the couch and showed us a circlet of beads with a cross dangling from the end. What on earth? I thought. That’s no necklace – that’s a rosary. I was taken aback by it, and as soon as my in-laws had left I asked James were he’d found it. He took me to the basement, to the small workshop room, and showed me the nail on the wall shelves where it had been hanging. We’d lived in that house for four years and gone into that room countless times, and I’d never seen a rosary hanging there. The previous homeowners had been Polish, so I assumed that they were Catholic and had forgotten the rosary there. But why, at that tender point in our lives, had we suddenly found a rosary hanging in plain sight that we’d never before seen? I didn’t know what to think of it. I was nowhere near becoming Catholic at that point, much less willing to pray to Mary, so I left it as just one of those things in life. But I did say to Arenda, “If we start finding more rosaries hanging about the house, I’m going to take it as a sign.”
The interior of Notre Dame, “Our Lady”, Cathedral in Paris, France.
We didn’t find any more rosaries. I did, however, return often to the question as to why we’d found it. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was everything. But the whole question about Mary remained one of the biggest obstacles in my acceptance of the Catholic faith. From what I know of other converts from Protestantism, this is often the case. There are usually two major objections: first, the Catholic teachings on Mary are not found in Scripture; and second, they obscure the work and glory of Jesus Christ. Even after I’d accepted that the Catholic Church was who she said she was, the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, I still found myself holding out against her Marian teachings. How could Catholics say the exalted things they said about Mary? And what was the point of it all, anyways?
Because of this, I turned a good chunk of my attention to studying those teachings. And I doubt I’m alone in having found that looking into their scriptural and theological foundations has been among the most rewarding parts of the journey to the Catholic faith. Mary is a living sermon about Christ and the sheer gratuitousness of His love. But since Rome’s claims about her are perhaps the primary obstacle to embracing the Catholic faith, I thought I’d respond to my former objections. In this post I’ll address the second of the above objections: that the Marian teachings detract from Christ’s work and glory; and in a future post I’ll address the scriptural foundations.
May as well dive right in with some of the Reformed-beard-sizzlers given to Mary by the Catholic Church: Queen of Heaven, Mother of Mercy, gracious Advocate, Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of all Graces. These offend Reformed ears because they appear to confer on Mary glory that belongs to Christ alone. Christ is our advocate [1Jn.2:1], the source of grace [Ep.4:7], the source of mercy [Ro.9:18], our Redeemer [Ep.1:7], and our royal Head [Ep.1:22]. These verses, and many others, proclaim these wonderful and rich truths about Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church, too, teaches those things about Christ, for she confesses every word of Scripture to be breathed out by God and binding for all men. But how on earth could she claim to uphold Scripture, honour Christ, and yet confer similar titles on Mary?
First of all, it’s important to be clear what is meant by these titles. Take “Mediatrix” for example. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy,
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all [1Ti.2:5,6 ESV].
How can the Catholic Church call Mary a mediator when Scripture says we have only one mediator? We can see in the above Scripture quotation what Paul meant by referring to Christ as our “one mediator”: He was the one “who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Christ stood in the middle, between God and man, as payment on behalf of man to God for the sins of the world. That’s not what the Catholic Church means in conferring on Mary the title, “Mediatrix.” She did not give her life as a ransom to God for our sins. Rather, what the title means is that Mary intercedes on our behalf to Christ. She brings our requests to her Son and by her intercession wins every grace that God is pleased to grant us. In fact, the very mediating work ascribed by Rome to Mary is commanded of us by Paul only a few verses earlier: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” [1Ti.2:1]. If Mary’s mediating work detracts from Christ’s work, then so do our intercessions.