“Catholics seek Mary’s intercession under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to pray.”
~ Father Daniel J. Mahan
by Reverend Daniel J. Mahan,
Executive Director of the O’Meara Ferguson Center for Catholic Stewardship
Marian University, Indianapolis, Indiana
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent each year, the Scriptures draw our attention to the young woman from Nazareth named Mary. 86
Today’s account of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth is but one of a number of places in the Gospels where Mary is mentioned. Each Scriptural account of Mary is always in connection with Jesus at the most significant moments of His life: the Annunciation, the Nativity, His first miracle at Cana, His crucifixion.
Mary was with Jesus every step of the way, most notably today, on the occasion of Jesus’ first meeting with his cousin, John the Baptist. Though both Jesus and John were still in their mothers’ wombs, the encounter was significant, for when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb!” 87
A young man whose parents emigrated from Mexico entered college this past August. The crucifix around his neck and his Hispanic surname made him an obvious target for those on campus who sought to convince him that his Catholic faith would lead him to eternal damnation. “You are not a Christian,” he was told, “because Catholics are idolaters, worshipping Mary as a goddess. You need to renounce your Catholic faith and be baptized a Christian if you truly want to follow Jesus and get to heaven.”
Tony’s faith was strong, but he was disappointed in himself that he didn’t have an articulate response to give to those who challenged his faith. Later that day, at the prompting of his Catholic roommate, Tony logged on to the Catholic Answers web site.88 There he found good responses to a number of challenges to his Catholic faith, helping him to put into words what he knew in his heart to be true.
Tony knew, for example, that we Catholics do not worship Mary, for worship is due to God alone: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He learned that the word for the great respect that we show for the Blessed Mother is “veneration,”89 and Tony learned that we show the Blessed Mother the highest respect and honor for several reasons:
1. In imitation of God, who in choosing her to be the mother of our Savior honored her more highly than we ever could. Such an honor is not to be taken lightly. Nor is the command of Jesus from the cross to His beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother.”90 From the cross, Jesus entrusts the care of His mother to His beloved disciple, who represents the Lord’s beloved Church. To honor Mary is to honor our mother which, of course, is to keep the fourth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” 91
…worship is due to God alone: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2. Catholics honor or venerate Mary in keeping with the long and consistent practice of the people of God. Mary was with the apostles on the day of Pentecost.92 The Church of the early centuries approached Mary in prayer, asking her intercession. Artwork in the catacombs in Rome is evidence of the great respect paid to Mary in the early years of the Church. Early Christian writers such as St. Irenaeus, who lived in the second century, saw Mary as the “new Eve,” for just as Eve’s disobedience to God brought death into the world, Mary’s “Yes” to God would bring new and eternal life into the world. “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”93
From the very first days of the Church, Christians have honored the Blessed Mother,94 seeing in her a model of discipleship and a faithful woman of prayer who never stops interceding for her children. For she, too, was given a command from the cross: “Woman, behold, your son!”94 From that moment on, the Scriptures tell us, the beloved disciple “took her to his own home,”95 a striking image for the affection and devotion Catholics have for the Blessed Mother to this very day.
3. Catholics seek Mary’s intercession under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to pray.96 The Holy Spirit directs us to pray to God not simply as individuals, but in communion with the Church, the Body of Christ. Even in our personal, silent prayer we do not pray alone. We pray in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the communion of the Church.97 Is it any wonder that the Holy Spirit, who draws us together into that communion, would in the process draw us close to the Blessed Mother? Yes, we pray to her, for when we do, we pray with her and she with us. Just as we do not hesitate to ask our friends and fellow parishioners to pray for us in time of need, neither do we hesitate to ask the Blessed Mother for her intercession, her prayers.
Tony was not able to convince the campus proselytizers of his convictions, but he went to bed that night more assured of his beliefs and more convinced of the wisdom of the Catholic faith that had been passed on to him by his parents and grandparents, the faith he professes personally and proudly. Tony slept easily that night, but not before saying a prayer for those who waver in their faith and for those who are misguided in their zeal for the Lord, that they will one day come to appreciate and cherish the fullness of truth that is to be found in the Catholic faith. He asked the intercession of Mary, Mother of our Savior, Mother of God.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, may we be mindful of those who are away from the Church or at odds with her. Striving to be good stewards of the gift of faith, may we seek the intercession of Mary our Mother, praying, “Hail Mary …”
86 Luke 1:39-45
87 Luke 1:42; if one combines that verse with Luke 1:28, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” one can see that the first half of the beloved “Hail Mary” prayer is taken directly from Scripture
89 “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.” (Pope Paul VI, Marialis cultus, 56.) This devotion is not laetria (worship), but hyperdulia (the highest veneration or honor).
90 John 19:27
91 Exodus 20:12
92 Cf. Acts 1:14
93 St. Irenaeus, Adverus Haereses 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959 A; quoted in CCC 494
94 John 19:26
95 John 19:27
96 Cf. CCC 2672
97 Cf. CCC 2664-2672
From More than Silver or Gold: Homilies of a Stewardship Priest By Reverend Daniel J. Mahan. Digitally reprinted here with permission from Father Mahan and Saint Catherine of Siena Press. Copyright © 2005 by Saint Catherine of Siena Press. All rights reserved.
Father Mahan has authored several books, including More than Silver or Gold—Homilies of a Stewardship Priest.
For more information about Father Mahan and his books, please visit www.saintcatherineofsienapress.com/fathermahan.html
We are profoundly grateful to Father Mahan, Jean Zander, and Saint Catherine of Siena Press for allowing us to provide this beautiful homily to you.