The Virgin Mary plays a key role in the Christian’s relationship to God, though, for many non-Catholics, the Virgin’s role in their lives makes them uncomfortable. Over the years, as the deposit of faith has been studied, and reflected upon, more of the Truth has been understood. This Truth applies both to Christ, but also to his Blessed Mother, who is also our Blessed Mother. The Church has defined various dogmas surrounding the Virgin Mary, and many of the Christian faithful hold a special place in their hearts for this dear virgin who said ‘yes’ to an angel who announced that she would conceive the Son of God in her womb.
Mary, Mother of God
This is by far the oldest of all Marian dogmas, declared by the Council of Ephesus. It is the basis of all Marian dogma, but is also essential for all theology surrounding Jesus Christ. Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God, in the flesh. Logically that means that Mary is the Mother of God. If we deny her this rightful title, we deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, and all orthodox Christianity must be thrown out the window. This view of Mary is true, and is orthodox.
Perpetual Virginity of Mary
The dogma on the perpetual virginity of Mary states that Mary remained a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ. It is a testament that Mary neither had other children, nor had any sexual relations with St. Joseph after the birth of Christ. It is often disputed that the New Testament speaks of other brothers of Jesus Christ, that Mary did indeed have other children. However, the proper interpretation of the Greek words is not agreed upon by scholars. The Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Churches favor the view that these brothers, were cousins, or step brothers of our Lord. One great passage that really supports Mary’s perpetual virginity is the Annunciation. Mary asks the angel Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” This indicates that Mary had taken a vow of virginity. As the betrothed of St. Joseph, we would logically presume that she would understand that she would conceive through intercourse with St. Joseph, considering that at this point, Gabriel had made no mention of a miraculous conception. Mary’s response makes sense only in the light of a woman who has taken a lifelong vow of virginity. Another verse to consider is a prophecy of Ezekiel.
And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the LORD, the God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut.”
Mary is the gate through which God entered. This prophecy implies that he will be the only one, that this gate will remain shut. It’s not conclusive, but if we also thing of the virgin conception, we have another reason to believe that Mary remained a virgin. It was Mary’s submission and union with the Holy Spirit that enable Christ to be conceived. In this way, Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. It may sound weird or offensive, but truly it is not. There is a deep union between Mary and God in which Christ is conceived. Both Mary and the Holy Spirited exhibited full, free, fruitful and faithful love to each other, the marks of marital love. If Mary had had relations with Joseph, it would be a type of betrayal to this love.
The Immaculate Conception
Not to be confused with the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ, this is the dogma that states that Mary was free from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception, something that makes her unique from the rest of the human race. There are two main Scriptural references to this belief, the first being Gabriel’s greeting of “Hail, full of grace.” The phrase full of grace, implies that there is no lack of grace. This is indeed unique to Mary, because for us, we are lacking in grace, this lack of grace causes us to fall into sin. If Mary is full of grace, we can logically conclude that she has not fallen into sin. We also see in Genesis 3:15, that God says there will be enmity between the Woman and the Serpent (Satan). In order for there to be enmity, the woman cannot be under the command of the Satan. Therefore, we believe that Mary, being the woman, has complete enmity with Satan, and is guilty of no sin, including original sin.
This belief does not, however, state that Mary needs no Savior. Just like us, Mary is saved by Christ. Imagine a man walking down a road and there is a large pot hole. The man falls in and a short time later, another man comes and pulls him out of the pit. This man was saved. Another man comes along but is stopped before he falls into the pit. This man was also saved from the pit, but without having fallen in first. In the same way, Mary is also saved by Christ. In addition, Christ’s incarnation made him fully human. As human, he inherits his human nature from his parents. If Mary were to be sinful, she would pass this on to Christ. In order for Christ to avoid this, he would need to step in and save himself before his conception, but Christ needs no saving, so this is blasphemous. Therefore, it would make more sense to step in and save Mary instead. This belief is binding dogma on Christians.
The Assumption of Mary
This belief states that when Mary had completed the course of her earthly life, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. This was infallibly decreed as binding dogma by Pope Pius XII. Psalm 132:8 is often cited as evidence of this belief as it says, “Arise O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.” Because Mary is viewed as the Ark of the New Covenant, this prophecy is applied to her. Our understanding is that she was taken into heaven in the same manner as our Lord. Another passage is in regards to the woman clothed with the sun from Revelation 12. That particular passage also marks the next of the Marian Dogmas. One thing the Assumption dogma does not take a stand on is whether or not Mary was assumed after death or without dying. This is left up to the faithful, and neither stance makes one a heretic.
Mary, Queen of Heaven
In the Hebrew tradition, the mother of a king is the queen. Because we believe, as Catholics, that Jesus Christ is the King of Heaven, it follows, that Mary, who has already been assumed body and soul into Heaven, is therefore the Queen of Heaven. This dogma was also defined by Pius XII, but like the Assumption, the belief was held long before dogmatic proclamation. In fact, the Queenship of Mary is also believed among early reformers as an undisputable matter of faith. For us Catholics, Revelation 12:1-5 is highly suggestive of this truth:
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; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another sign appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them down to earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.
For Protestants, this verse is often seen as referring to Israel, but if we read the last few verses in chapter 11 for some context, the reference to the ark of the covenant (Mary), all but confirms the Catholic stance.
Veneration of the Virgin Mary
Because of the Virgin Mary’s unique role in our salvation, and the beautiful truths we know about her from the deposit of faith, we hold her in high regard. We do no worship her as we worship God, but give her the honor due to her as a unique creation of God, created stainless, the highest creature of all creation. We ask her for our prayers, for the righteous know how to pray as they ought and she is more righteous than any purely human creation. She is close to God and she loves us, as is evident through her fiat, her “yes” to bring Christ into the world for our salvation.