Monday, October 25, 2004

Hail Mary, Full of Grace 

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

Our chapter in RCIA tonight is Chapter 10: The Communion of Saints and the Blessed Mother. I had always thought, as a Methodist, that the term "Immaculate Conception" was about the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary. Instead, it turns out the Immaculate Conception is the conception of Mary. The Catholic Church teaches that the Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin. From the first moment of her existence, Mary was full of grace, free of any alienation from God. In 1950, Pope Piux XII finally proclaimed that Mary was taken up into heaven, body and soul, and was preserved from the decay of death (The Assumption).

Many people outside the Catholic faith believe that Catholics worship Mary and, to a lesser extent, the Saints. All through RCIA we have been taught we only worship God in his three aspects of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not worship Mary, nor do we worship the Saints. The Rosary prayer is taken from the Bible, Luke 1:28 (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee) and Luke 1:42 (Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus). And the end of the prayer is a request for intercession: "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."). Nowhere does the Rosary or the Catholic church worship Mary.

Some religions dislike the Catholic faith because of the statues of and the prayers to the Saints. Catholics believe that all Christians, living and dead (the communion of the saints), are brothers and sisters. I don't think most Christians would have a problem with praying for one of their family members or asking other family members to pray for them. Just like in the Rosary where Mary is asked to pray for us sinners, so, too, Catholics may ask any saint to pray for us, to interceed for us. I see prayer lists all over other Christian churches. If you ask your church to pray for you in a time of sickness or stress, does that mean you are worshiping the other members of your church? No. And neither do Catholics worship anyone other than God.

And, of course, some religions will dislike the Catholic faith because of beliefs held that are not in the Bible. The Bible never says what happened to the Virgin Mary. But there is much that happened before the crucifixion, after the crucifixion when Jesus returned to his people, and after the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven that was never written down in the Bible. John says so in John 21:25 ("And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written."). There was a long, spoken word tradition of Mary's Immaculate Conception and her Assumption. These were finally proclaimed official doctrine of the church in 1950, but the concepts are ancient and strong in the life of the church.

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