BY Chuks Iloegbunam
On Wednesday August 15, 2018, Catholics the world over celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. It was glorious. The Feast of the Assumption celebrates the Catholic teaching that, at the end of her earthly life, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was assumed body and soul into heaven.
My wife and I attended mass that morning at the St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in my home town of Abatete in Anambra State. After the mass, I reflected on the sermon preached by Reverend Father Henry Obijiofor and, in fact, went further to do a mental reassessment of the place of Mother Mary in Christendom.
I started with Apocalypse 12: 1: “And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This, clearly, is a reference to the Virgin Mary and her place on a high pedestal in our faith. I have been a Catholic nearly seven decades.
Yet, not once have I read a book with a Catholic imprimatur that propagated the worship of Mary. Not once have I found myself in a Catholic congregation where Mary was accorded the status of divinity. Not once have I come across a cathecumen who said he or she was taught to see Christ’s mother as a god.
The Mother of Jesus never claimed divinity. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. Yes, from now onwards, all generations will call me blessed.” So prayed Mary in the Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-48.
There are people of faith, of the Christian faith especially, who rankle at the mention of Mother Mary. They charge that Catholics worship her. They claim she has no place in the journey of salvation. They are wrong on both scores. Their position is also baffling. Everywhere in Nigeria women of age and those that distinguish themselves are invariably addressed respectfully as Mother (Mama).
Why, then, should Christians who index their faith on the Holy Bible disdain the blessedness of the Virgin Mary? (Yes, from now onwards, all generations will call me blessed.) If people ever say the Blessed Virgin is not our mother, will they not be committing the profanity and sacrilege of calling Jesus, the Christ, a liar? Witness: “Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” John 19: 26-27. Did Christ not by this declaration from the pulpit of the Cross pronounce Mary’s motherhood over His followers?
The Catholic Church runs on three authorities: The Magisterium. Tradition. The Scriptures. On the strength of these authorities, the Catholic Church instituted the Feast of the Assumption for every August 15. People who reject this teaching because they cannot find it anywhere in the Bible are yet to look at all sides of everything. If no word may be said of faith or worship that is not in the Holy Book, it attaches heresy to those that pray to fly in an aircraft or buy a car because neither the airplane nor the automobile is mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
We must invite the example of Elijah in consolidation of this point. 2 Kings 2:9 says: “Now as they walked on (Elijah and Elisha), talking as they went, a chariot of fire appeared and horses of fire coming between the two of them; and Elijah went up to heaven in the whirlwind.” If the adamantine holders of the words of the Bible as unimpeachable believe that the Prophet Elijah went to heaven in a chariot of fire, why should it be so difficult to understand that the God who made it possible for Elijah could equally have done it for the Virgin Mary who, for nine months, was inextricably one flesh with Jesus, the Christ?
Going further on the Bible, let’s consider the final verse of St. John’s Gospel 21:25: “There was much else that Jesus did; if it were written down in detail, I do not suppose the world itself would hold all the books that would be written.” Does this not tell us that Revelation is integral in God’s message? Look at old, pregnant Elizabeth in Luke 1: 39-44: “Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zachariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.” Was it not by revelation that Elizabeth proclaimed Mary the mother of her Lord, even before Jesus was born? If Elizabeth called Mary the Mother of our Lord, why should any Christian see no point in following suit?
Final points. The following are the very words of the Hail Mary prayer:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with you.
Blessed art you amongst women.
And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Nothing here suggests a worship of Mary. No one will ask an object of worship to pray for them! The short, efficacious prayer is in two segments: the first part mentions Mary’s attributes, all of them taken from the Bible. It was the Angel Gabriel that pronounced Mary full of grace and enjoying of God’s abidance (Luke 1:28). It was Elizabeth that called Mary blessed among women, and her yet-to-be-born son, blessed (Luke 1:42).
The title Holy Mary, Mother of God was given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431, and in affirmation of Christ’s divinity. If Christians believe in the Holy Trinity, they espouse God, the Father; God the Son (Jesus); and God, the Holy Spirit. At the mundane level it is a matter of syllogism. If Jesus is God, the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, why should his earthly mother not qualify for the title of Mother of God? But it is even more a matter of faith than it is of philosophy.
Thus, when in prayer we ask Mother Mary to plead our cause before our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we always bear in mind that she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit with a soul in affinity with the godhead; we bear in mind the wedding in Cana of Galilee where Mary’s “They have no wine”, a one-line prayer to the Lord, made Him to change water into wine. (John 2:3.)
Those who run off the handle whenever the Virgin Mary is mentioned may not know that none of the earliest proponents of Protestantism, Calvinism, Methodism, etc., exhibited such rabid antipathy. For instance this was Martin Luther preaching on the Feast of the Visitation on July 2, 1532: “She, the Lady above heaven and earth, must have a heart so humble that she might have no shame in washing the swaddling clothes or preparing a bath for St. John the Baptist, like a servant girl. What humility! It would surely have been more just to have arranged a golden coach, pulled by 4,000 horses, and to cry and proclaim as the carriage proceeded: ‘Here passes the woman who is raised far above all women, indeed above the whole human race.” Martin Luther did not thus extol the Virgin Mary as above when he was a Catholic monk but towards the end of his life!
May the Virgin Most Prudent, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, and of Angels and Saints, the Mother Most Faithful, continue to pray for us all. Amen.