Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church: Yeah, She's Pretty Important


¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!

Or, 'long live Our Lady of Guadalupe!'1

I'll get back to Our Lady of Guadalupe later, in another post.

Mary and Catholics

Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church, is a pretty big deal for many Catholics: myself included.

But we don't worship her.

She wouldn't like it.

And she's one lady I don't intend to cross.

"Do Whatever He Tells You."

Someone described Jesus as "a nice Jewish boy who obeyed his mother, grew up, and went into his father's business." Informal tone aside, that's a fairly accurate description.

The second chapter in the Gospel of John starts out with Jesus and his mother at a wedding party in Cana. Then, as now, drinks were being served. And Mary noticed that the supply of wine was giving out.

After a bit of discussion with Jesus, Mary turned to people who were serving and said: "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)

Six stone jars, some water, and a miracle2 later, they had, if I've got the numbers right, between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. John doesn't say, but I'd think that would have been enough to keep the party going for a while.3 The whole Cana account is in John 2: 1-11. There's a short discussion of it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1613.

Whether someone insists that the Cana incident was strictly, purely, completely spiritual - having nothing whatsoever to do with demon rum and related substances - or the reader is willing to take the words at face value, what we've got here is Mary pointing out to Jesus that there's something to be done. Then, getting an at-best equivocal response, she confronts the staff and directs them to: "Do whatever he tells you."

Mary, Queen of Angels

The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary lists one of Mary's titles as "queen of angels."

Governments and occupations have changed a little in the last two thousand years, so I've found it helpful, when thinking about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit4, to occasionally use contemporary equivalents for the titles and occupations.

"Queen of angels" doesn't take that much work. "Queen" means ruler - or, without too much stretching, leader or administrator.

The angels are servants of God, and one of God's titles is "Lord of hosts." I don't think it's so much of a stretch to think of the angels as a military outfit.

Which would make Mary the ruler or administrator of a military outfit.

European tradition has generally shown angels as having wings. That would make them an airborne military outfit. Sort of like the United States Air Force, but with substantially more firepower.

The head of the U. S. Air Force has the rank of general.

So, among other things, Mary is the general of a seriously-powerful military outfit.


The first chapter of Luke, starting with verse 26, tells about a conversation between Gabriel and Mary. Her response was: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."

Yes, that's meek and mild. It also took a lot of guts. Given what's recorded in our Old Testament, she must have known that these special assignments tended to be somewhere between rough and fatal.

So, Mary is a woman who accepted without flinching an assignment that she knew would be a rough one, who was up to telling the Son of God (she knew, better than most, just who Jesus was) to perform his first sign, who stuck it out with her son under the cross, and who is now, in contemporary terms, a very powerful general.

No, I do not want to cross her.

Mary, Mother of the Church

I can see how people who don't know all that much about the Catholic church could get the idea that we worship Mary. We call her "Mother of God," have statues representing her, and quite a number of prayers that involve her. Yeah: that looks like worship. Sort of.

About that "Mother of God" title: That doesn't, as far as I know, imply that she's superior to God. She, is, however, the mother of Jesus. Jesus is part of the Trinity. For practical purposes, Jesus is God. Calling Mary "Mother of God" isn't all that crazy, looking at it that way. At least, not for me.

"Mother of the Church" is the fifth title of Mary in The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, between "Mother of Christ" and "Mother of divine grace."

By the way: Article 9, Paragraph 6 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses "Mary-Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church". I'd recommend reading it. Quite a few things that 'everybody knows' just ain't so - among Catholics as well as everybody else.

What many Catholics have is a devotion to the Virgin Mary. That sort of devotion is not worship. (Catechism, 971) When we look at Mary, we find her pointing at Jesus, still saying: "Do whatever he tells you."

Good advice, I think.

Vaguely related posts: In the news:
Hats off to thecatholicsun, on Twitter, for the heads-up on their article.

1 (I know: "viva" is the imperative form of vivir, and a literal translation would be "live!" - but since saying "live! Our Lady of Guadalupe!" would sound like a line out a particularly weird remake of Frankenstein, I decided to use a contextually-appropriate, nearly-equivalent phrase from American English.)

2 Someone jokingly suggested that the miracle of getting wine from water and stone jars wasn't that big a deal. People interested in wine-making put their vineyards on stony soil: I understand it's chiefly the minerals that give wine its various tastes. The ingredients for wine were already there: water and stone. 'All' Jesus did was get the process over with in record time: without grapevines, sunlight, and fermentation.

3 The literal translation of how much those stone jars held is "two or three measures" - and the Attic liquid measure was 39.39 liters. That translates, a bit freely, as 20 or 30 gallons per jar. (New American Bible, John, Chapter 2, footnote 5)

4 No, Christians are not polytheists - the Trinity is one God, three persons. If you find that a bit confusing, you're not alone.

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