The Blessed Virgin Mary
By David Goldstein,
Taken from his book "What say you?" p. 146 - 187
Worship of Mary - "Do Catholics worship Mary?"
Adoration of Mary - "You evaded my question. I know we worship heroes, but not like Catholics worship Mary. They adore her and pray to her. Can't we pray to Jesus directly instead of asking Mary to pray for us?"
Prayer Without Mary - "Why does the Catholic Church insist upon prayers to Mary? Other churches get along without that."
Consolation of Mary - "I wish I could get the consolation Catholics seem to obtain from prayers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, but I cannot. Perhaps because I am a Jew. Would you say that is the reason?"
Mary, Mother of God - "Mary is a human being, then how in the name of common sense can she be the mother of God? Can a finite being be the mother of an infinite Being?"
Christ and His Mother - "If Christ wanted us to give special honor to His mother Mary, then why did He rebuke her at the marriage feast of Cana, by saying - "Woman, what have I to do with thee?'"
Immaculate Conception - "Mr. Speaker, tell me, can the Immaculate Conception be demonstrated physiologically?"
Mary and Other Mothers - "By saying that Mary was born without original sin, do you mean that other mothers were born sinful?"
Virgin Birth - "How is it possible for any one with common sense to believe in the Virgin Birth of Mary?"
Almah - Virgin - "The Jews hold that Chapter 7, verse 14 of Isaiah says 'a woman,' and not a 'virgin shall conceive and bear a son.' What is the answer to that claim?"
Jeremiah and the Virgin Birth - "Since the Jews hold that the word almah in Isaiah means a woman, instead of a virgin, was to conceive, is there any other text in the Old Testament to prove that Christ was to be born of a virgin?"
Alma Mater - "When people speak of their Alma Mater, do they refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary?"
Brethren of the Lord - "How can Mary of Nazareth be called a perpetual virgin when the Bible statement about the 'brethren of the Lord' proves her to have had other children besides Jesus?"
Mary's "Firstborn" - "Why insist upon the perpetual virginity of Mary, when Matthew's Gospel says 'he knew her not till she brought forth her first born son'? Does that not imply that Mary had more than one child? I am sustained in this by dozens of authors. The Jew, Sholem Asch, in 'The Nazarene'; Mary Borden, Protestant, in 'Mary of Nazareth' are two of the latest date."
Mary's Espousal - "I can't understand this: Mary was espoused to Joseph, that means she was engaged to him, therefore not married when she conceived. Is that not wrong? Just one more question. If our Lord was to come from a virgin, why should Joseph come into the picture?"
Rosary - "Will you please explain the Rosary?"
Rosary Mechanical - "Why must Catholics say the Rosary? Would it not be better to let their hearts go out to Jesus instead of indulging in a mechanical process of making vain repetitions?"
Vain Repetitions - "Did not Christ say 'Use not vain repetitions, as do the heathens'? Then how can you justify saying, 'Hail Mary, Hail Mary' ten times and more?"
The Angelus - "Will you explain the Angelus for the benefit of this audience? I, as a Catholic, cannot understand why Protestants do not join in such a lovely practice and prayer."
Bells - "Your statement about the Angelus bell prompts me to ask if it is true that the Catholic Church is the mother of bells?"
Angels - "Is it not childish for a man to believe in angels?
Mary is the Immaculate Conception, having been conceived without the stain of original sin upon her soul.
Mary is the Second Eve, whose "soul did magnify the Lord," whereas the First Eve demagnified God through disobedience of His command.
Mary is the "virgin" Isaiah said would conceive the "Emmanual, God with us" (7:14): That this prophecy included the virginal birth, as well as the virginal conception of Jesus the Messiah.
Mary, being the mother of Jesus, "the Son of the Most High" (
Mary is the spiritual mother of mankind: "Behold thy mother" (
Mary is the mother who is ever ready to carry their petitions to her Divine Son.
Mary is the mother who knows the yearnings in the hearts of mankind, having been the ideal maiden, wife, mother and widow.
Mary is the Saint of Saints, our Mediatrix, whose intercessory influence with her Divine Son is first and foremost in heaven.
Catholics are proud to be of those "generations" that Mary said would "call" her "blessed" (
WORSHIP OF MARY
"Do not Catholics worship Mary?"
If by "worship" you mean, as you no doubt do, that Catholics consider Mary to be a Goddess; that they imagine her to have powers of a Divine nature, and that therefore Catholics bestow upon her honors such as heathens bestow upon their female divinities, the answer is emphatically, NO. That would be a violation of the law of God.
If, by "worship" you mean honor, respect, reverence, such as is given when we address His Worship, the magistrate or others of rank and station, the answer is emphatically, YES, though venerate is a less misleading term.
We worship other heroes; we bestow worshipful honors upon the mothers of presidents and kings, then what reasonable objection can be raised against worshipfully honoring the mother of the King of Kings? We venerate Mary as a heroine who gave us a Son whom we love more than we love all the sons of men. To her Son we give Divine worship, because He is our Lord and our God.
Catholics cannot help but question the consistency of Protestants giving praise of the highest to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Deborah, Ruth, and others, while virtually ignoring Mary. Surely she towers far above them. Is it because Catholics are profuse in their love and praise of Mary? It seems so. Once in a while some Protestant minister realizes the enormity of it, and frankly says so. Rev. A. E. Whitman of
"I am ashamed to confess that only once in my whole ministry have I preached a sermon in praise of Mary, whose supernal office in mothering Jesus we, in our devout imagination, dwell upon in the first days of the New Year."
"In Free Church thought and affection she has never been given her due place. Alexander Whyte, the Free Church minister of
"For she did feed the lips that spake as man never spake, with her own milk. She did shadow with her divinely maiden self the Light of Life when it was frailer than smoking flax. She held with the girdle of her mothering this Holy Child in his untried ways, Him who was to bind the world with golden chains of love about the feet of God. She caught Him in His tiny falls -Him who was to catch the world in its plunge into night and roll back into paths of light."
Mr. Whitman then explains that in the position of Our Lady arises from her vocation as described in the New Testament, a vocation which "gives her a supreme place among the daughters of Eve." Proceeding to sketch the history of devotion to Her, he shows certain misconceptions entertained outside the Catholic Church. All the same, he says,
"We may fully recognize, as do all intelligent historians, the cultural values in an through the dark ages of those courtesies and chivalries of the court of Heaven, where she reigned as Queen, casting the mantle of her comely sweetness and purity over a barbaric world as the blue sky canopies the earth. One may rejoice, if there be any poetry and humanity in us, at the ebullition of love and devotion through the twelfth century, that built eighty Cathedrals and five hundred churches of cathedral size to the honor of Mary; and we may read with simple delight the golden legendry that gathered about her name."
Ruskin, the English author and art critic, noting the holy and cultural effect of the "worship" of Mary (using the term "worship" in the secondary sense) said:
"I am persuaded that the worship of the Madonna has been one of the noblest and most vital graces of Catholicism, and has never been otherwise than productive of true holiness and of life and purity of character... There has probably not been an innocent cottage house throughout the length and breadth of Europe in which the imagined presence of the Madonna has not give sanctity to the humblest duties and comfort to the sorest trials of the lives of women" ("Fors Clavegera," 41st letter).
Though the devotion Catholics extend to Mary be called "worship" in the wrong sense of the term, they will continue, with the Angels, to call her "blessed among women." No honor is too great for this heroine of heroines. She is all that is humble, modest and pure among women, and above all, she is the mother of Jesus, who is our Lord and our God.
"You evaded my question. I know we worship heroes, but not like Catholics worship Mary. They adore her and pray to her. Can’t we pray to Jesus directly instead of asking Mary to pray for us?"
There is no warrant whatsoever, dear lady, for calling a direct answer to your question, an evasion. Catholics are exact in the use of language dealing with matters that are doctrinally religious. You were told in plain language, and in a courteous manner, that Catholics do not give Divine worship to Mary, for that belongs to God alone. Also that when Catholics say they worship Mary it is meant in the human sense of the term, as we worship other heroes.
Now you say that Catholics "adore Mary," which they do not, in the way you infer. There is a sense in which we Catholics do adore her, as you no doubt adore your own mother. But that is not Divine adoration, which may only be given to God. Giving Divine adoration to Mary was condemned in the Catholic Church, through Epiphanius, in the fourth century as heretical. He said:
"We do not adore the saints. Let Mary be honored: it is well. She is indeed a choice and excellent vessel: – but let the Father, Son and Holy Ghost be adored." (Epip. Heres, 79).
There is no confusion of thought in the Catholic Church; her doctrines, definitions and dogmas are as intellectually sound and as structural as is the multiplication table. Ever since the days of
You can go "to Jesus directly," as you say, but why not go to Mary as well? One does not exclude the other. Is not Mary the Mother of Jesus? Is not such a pure and devoted Mother more influential than we are with her sublime and devoted Son? Does not your Protestant Bible say that David asked the saints to give thanks to God for him? Then why not ask Mary, the Saint of Saints, to take your paeans of praise and petitions to her Son?
"Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness." (Ps. 29:5)
No doubt many Protestants go to Jesus prayerfully; yet their relationship with Jesus is not so intimate as is that of faithful Catholics. Catholics go to Jesus directly through prayer, and also by prayerfully participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the worship that is above all worship in the Catholic Church. It is a continuation, in an unbloody manner, of the bloody sacrifice Christ made on
By prayer, Catholics go to Jesus, in humility, through His Blessed Mother Mary. They believe that the prayers of the saints in heaven are more influential than their own. Revelation 8:3 tells us that saints do pray: "the prayers of all the saints (offered) upon the golden altar which was before the throne" of God. Saints are the heavenly friends of God, the foremost of them being the Mother of our Lord, the Saint of Saints. Devout Protestants pray for the conversion of sinners, why exclude the intercessory prayers of the saints, to Mary in particular, to keep us true and pure?
Catholics consider Mary to be their spiritual Mother, the second Eve, who gave the world the Second Adam, to whom they are indebted for their redemption and regeneration. In her they see all, and more, of the good, beautiful and pure that was prefigured in Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Judith, Esther, and Deborah. They love her for herself, because she was the virgin vessel from which Jesus came. Hence Catholics lovingly ask her intercession.
They are confident that anything Mary asks of her Divine Son will be as readily granted as was the favor she asked of Him at the wedding feast in Cana.
Strange, indeed, is it for Protestants to refuse to go to the Lord through the prayers of others as well as their own, when their Bible shows that Jeremiah asked the prophets to do so:
"If they be prophets, and if the word of the Lord be with them, let them now make intercession to the Lord of hosts, that the vessels of the
If the prayers of man for his fellow men are of value, why not the prayers of souls in heaven that once lived among men?
Longfellow, in the "Golden Legend," Kipling in the "Hymn Before Action," and other famous poets not of the Catholic faith, encompassed the beauty and soundness of the intercessory aid of Mary. Kipling’s prayer is –
"Oh Mary, pierced with sorrow,
Remember, reach and save
the soul that comes tomorrow
Before the God that gave!
Since each was born of woman,
For at each at utter need
True comrade and true foreman
"Why does the Catholic Church insist upon prayers to Mary? Other churches get along without that."
Because the Mother whom Jesus listened to in the Crib and at the wedding feast in
First and foremost of the prayers that the Catholic Church insists upon is the prayer Mary’s Son gave us, the "Our Father." Then comes the prayer to Mary, made up largely of heavenly salutations, the "Hail Mary" predominating. Catholics are taught lovingly to hail her for the sublime Gift of Gifts she gave us, her Divine Son, and then for her own loveliness as the Lily of Israel.
the prayer to Mary is for her assistance, for she above all others has entree to our dear Lord. The Catholic appeal to the Virgin Mary is always for her motherly intercession with the Child of her heart. Brian O’Higgins set it forth beautifully in his
"Remember, remember, O Virgin mary!
And list to a voice that is weak and faith;
I have strayed far out on the sinful ocean
With its waves of passion beyond restraint;
And now with a heart that is robed in anguish,
O Mother of Pity, to thee I come.
My eyes are dim with the ceaseless weeping,
My feet are weary, my hands are numb.
"Remember, remember, O Virgin Mary
Through the deepening shadows I send my plea;
Guide of the wanderer, Hope of the mourning,
Pray to the Child of thy heart for me,
That His tender grace may calm the waters,
And pierce the gloom of the gathering night,
And lead me back to that port of beauty
Where His mercy shines with a fadeless light."
If you only knew the Blessed Virgin Mary as Catholics know her; if you only knew the heavenly favors she obtains for them, you would never protest against the honor paid to her. The heartfelt sympathy of Catholics goes out to a woman who makes such a protest as you have presented, for no personage in human history, outside of Jesus Himself, has done more to dignify the girlhood, womanhood, wifehood, motherhood, and widowhood than the Blessed Mother of Jesus. The Catholic Church holds her aloft as the ideal standard of human excellence, for men as well as for women. "Loving her," said Joyce Kilmer, "we love all her attributes."
If it were not for your sincerity, as well as the seriousness of the issue you raise, I would be moved to laugh at the idea of the Catholic Church getting along without anything that other churches discard. Why, some of them "get along without" Jesus as God, as well as Mary, His Virgin Mother. Some without baptism; without a Sacrifice; without the Supersubstantial Bread; without Sunday as the Sabbath; without prohibitions against divorce, birth control, etc.
The Catholic Church has existed for over nineteen centuries with Mary held close to her bosom and she will so continue on to the end of time with her occupying the place in prayer second only to the prayer that is sent directly to the throne of God. St. Luke makes especial mention of the fact that "Mary the mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14) was present at the first assembly of the
"I wish I could get the consolation Catholics seem to obtain from prayers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, but I cannot. Perhaps because I am a Jew. Would say that is the reason?"
Very likely; for while Mary is honored by Catholics for her own personal virtues, her greatness lies primarily in her selection by God, the Father, as the Mother of His divine Son. Hence so long as you do not accept Jesus as the Messiah for whom our fathers of old in
If not spiritually consoled by love of Mary, as are Catholics, you ought to feel elated on account of the honor Catholics bestow upon Israel by holding one of her daughters to be their Heavenly Virgin Mother, lovingly hailing her, as did Cardinal O’Connell,
Oh Mary, we hail Thee
Thou Virgin most mild
Fair Spouse of Jehovah
Whose Son is thy Child.
The angels of heaven
Thy glory proclaim,
And all generations
Of earth bless thy name.
We wander adrift
On life’s turbulent sea
In storm and in tempest
We call upon Thee.
Bright star in the heavens,
Thy radiant light
Illumines our pathways
And banishes the night.
Oh Mother of God
Thy Son’s holy love
Protect us and guide us
To His throne above.
When life’s weary journey
Is over and past
Oh lead us to Jesus
In Heaven at last.
The love of Catholics for this lily of
"Once upon a time – hundreds and hundreds of years ago – there dwelt in the untroubled
"First he would spread out his shabby rug, a legacy from the old juggler to whom, as a lad, he had been apprenticed. Then he would set out the dishes and knives and balls that were his stock in trade, all the time tossing off the poor little jokes which, word for word, had also been left him by the old juggler. As he turned a few cartwheels, and spun some plates in the air, the crowd would gather. When, as a climax, he stood on his hands and juggled six balls with his feet, the sous would shower round him, but never enough to keep him in food and shelter through the winter.
"It was a perfectly weak little juggler who was found one cold day, half-starved in a ditch beside a road – found by a kindly monk who, in his arms, carried him to a nearby monastery. There throughout the long winter he was nursed back to health. When spring came down the road he was almost himself again.
"But by then the monks had no time for the likes of him, everyone was busy night and day, preparing for the month that is dedicated to the special glory of the Virgin. Each was at work on some gift for Our Lady. Here was one modeling a delicate statue. Others worked far into the night on lovely illuminations for the vellum pages of a missal. Another wrote Latin verses in Mary’s honor and others fitted the final pieces of stained glass for a new rose window in Her chapel – a breastpin for Her to wear. When the sunlight streamed through, it would glow with myriad fires.
"Among these happy workers the little juggler moved disconsolate. In his heart he felt he loved the Mother of Jesus more than any of them could lover Her. So beautiful She was. So mild. So understanding. Often the thought of Her had warmed him when he was cold, given him courage when he was frightened. How could these sheltered monks love the Blessed Virgin when they’d never known fear or cold? If only he, too, could do something to please Her. But he could neither write nor paint nor carve. Of such were his thoughts as the month of May drew near and he, his strength regained, would soon again be taking to the road.
"On the last night of April, a monk, passing by the chapel on his way to the refectory, heard from the open doorway sounds which puzzled him. He tiptoed over to investigate. By the light of candles burning before the figure of Mary, he saw the little juggler. Spread out on the stone flagging of the chapel floor was the gaudy old rug. On the edges of the rug, the knives and balls and dishes waited for him. The juggler was telling the Blessed Virgin an old, old joke and next he turned a cartwheel. Desecration!
"The horrified monk ran to the refectory. In another moment the abbot, with all the brothers following after, was striding toward the chapel. They pressed at his heels as he led the way in. There they paused aghast. On the floor before the statue of the Virgin, the little juggler was doing the best of all the tricks he knew – standing on his hands and, with his feet, keeping all six balls in the air at once. So intent was he on this, his masterpiece, that he never heard, never noticed, the gasps and shuffling of the monks. They formed a shuddering semicircle in the dusk beyond the candlelight – all waiting for the abbot who, with upraised hand, was just about the call down the wrath of Heaven upon this blasphemy, when something happened.
"You know what happened? Oh, yes, yes. The figure of Mary bent forward as if in benediction upon the little juggler. With his gift to her that day She seemed well pleased. And all the monks fell on their knees when, with their own wondering eyes, they saw Her smile upon him."
"Mary-love is Catholic. Jesus and Mary, Mother and Son, the crib and the cross are inseparable," says "The Man Who Got Even With God." The author (M. Raymond, O.C.S.O., Milwaukee, 1941) proceeds to say in his admirable book, that
"If we Catholics did not have Mary as our Mother, Christ would be untrue to His Word and we would be orphans; but we have Mary. Without Mary our religion would be psychologically incomplete. The child in us must have a mother, the man in us must have a lady, and the knight in us must have a queen. In Mary the child, man, and knight find their mother, maid, and queen, their lover and beloved."
Sorrow enters the Catholic heart on account of the failure of Jews and Protestants to share in the consolations Mary is ever ready to bestow upon them.
"Mary is a human being, then how in the name of common sense can she be the mother of God? Can finite being be the mother of an Infinite Being?"
You are a man, being composed of a body animated by a soul made by God in His own image. Your mother calls you her son, as Mary called Jesus her Son. Your mother claims to be the mother not only of your body, but of your soul as well, despite the fact that your soul came directly from God, and is here for the purpose of going back to God. Following the logic of your query, the question might be asked: "How, in the name of common sense, can Mrs. So-and-So claim to be your mother? Can a finite being be the mother of your indestructible soul, which is of Infinite origin?"
That is somewhat analogous to Mary being the Mother of God. Mary is the Mother of Jesus, for she gave to Him all that your mother gave you. But Jesus is God, "the Word made flesh," who came into the world to dwell amongst us (
It would be lacking in common sense to say that Mrs. So-and-So is the mother of your body and not your soul. Being the mother of a person, she is the mother of your soul and body, the two-in-one. So with Mary. You cannot say she is the mother of the man Jesus and not of God, for he is a Person, human and Divine, the Two-in-One, the God-Man.
This is a great mystery. For our knowledge of it, we must depend upon revelation and the authority of an infallible Church. Yet reason tells us that the incarnation is within the power of an Infinite God. Besides, we have the foretelling of its occurrence, and substantial evidence of it having taken place. Isaiah foretold the coming of a virgin who would bring forth the "Emmanuel, God with us" (7:14); "God the Mighty, – the prince of Peace" (9:6). The Angel Gabriel, sent by God, announced to Mary that "the Holy One that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (
The question you raise is not new. It was dealt with over fifteen hundred years ago, in the Council of Ephesus (431), when Nestorius was condemned for teaching that Mary is the Mother of Christ, the human person, but on the Mother of God the Son, the Divine person. It was at this Council that Mary was officially given the name "Theotokos," "Mother of God," which she still holds lovingly in the hearts of Catholics.
From the heart of Edgar Allen Poe, filled with afflictions and the tragedies of a wayward life, came the cry to the "Mother of God" –, who is the Refuge of Sinners and Comforter of the Afflicted,
"At morn, at noon, at twilight dim,
Maria, thou hast heard my hymn;
in joy and woe, in good and ill,
Mother of God, be with me still."
"If Christ wanted us to give special honor to His mother Mary, then why did He rebuke her at the marriage feast of Cana, by saying – ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’"
If we were to speak those words to our mothers, with the emphasis you place upon them, we would violate the Commandment – "honor thy... mother." Do you think that Christ, the Perfect Son, ever spoke that way to His mother? If so, you offend Christ. The translation in the Catholic Bible is considered more correct 00 "What wouldst thou have me do, woman?" Yet both translations of that idiom, peculiar to the Hebrew, when they pass from Greek and Latin into English, give us the words at the expense of their original signification. Translated literally, the sense of the idiom, say the leading Biblical philologists, is, "what to me and to thee," for, as Jesus continues, "My hour has not yet come" (St. John 2:1-5), meaning the hour for the performance of His miracles, His public ministry.
The spirit in which the words were spoken play a great part in determining whether they were offensive or friendly your emphasis would mean "attend to your own affairs." But when said smilingly, the words would mean "Do not worry: all will be well." All was well, for Christ responded generously to His mother’s request, by giving the host and guests the wine Mary requested that was need for their joy. That Mary understood the Words of her Son to mean that He had granted her request, is seen in Mary immediately saying to the attendants, "Do whatever He tells you" (St. John 2:1-5), thus avoiding the possibility that the attendants might not obey the request of a guest.
In English, the word "woman," addressed by a son to his mother, would naturally impress us as a rebuke, just as would the word Madam, especially if said in a bad spirit. But not so with the word woman in the Hebrew and Greek languages, in which it is a term of respect. That was plainly apparent during Christ’s suffering and dying hours, when, with His mind centered upon the care of His mother, Christ, looking at Mary and John, said – "Woman, behold thy son" (St. John 19:27).
Special honor is due to Mary on account of the Son she gave to the world. Every worthy son loves those who love his mother, do you imagine that Christ was the exception?
"Near, so near to Christ,
Nearer I cannot be;
For in the person of Mother Mary
I am as near as she."
"Mr. Speaker, tell me, can the Immaculate Conception be demonstrated physiologically?"
Friend, Catholics are too intelligent to believe such a thing physiologically demonstrable. Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception upon the authority of their Church, which is protected by God from error in defining matters of faith and morals. I regret to say that 99 out of every 100 persons outside the Catholic Church, whom I have heard speak of the Immaculate Conception, do not know what it is. Tell this audience, therefore, what you mean by the Immaculate Conception?
"I mean the coming into existence of a human being without contact."
Friend, you belong to the 99. You confuse the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth. One means that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother Ann without the stain of original sin upon her soul; the other means that Christ was begotten, not made, as we human beings are made.
Do you believe in original sin?
"Certainly not, I’m not Catholic."
Too bad, perhaps you will become Catholic when you know what it means.
If you do not believe in original sin, then why ask for a physiological demonstration of the Immaculate Conception? You yourself must be an immaculate conception, if your mother conceived of your without the stain of original sin upon your soul. The difference between you and Catholics is this, that you believe everybody is immaculately conceived, while Catholics believe that only one person was granted that gift by God, that was Mary. You cannot demonstrate the Immaculate Conception nor the Virgin Birth in a test tube, that thing occurred once and it will never take place again.
"By saying that Mary was born without original sin, do you mean that other mothers were born sinful?"
Catholics use doctrinal terms with exactness. Hence they say that Mary was immaculately conceived, when referring to the Immaculate Conception, and not "born" without original sin. It was a unique privilege conferred upon her by God, for she was what the Fathers of the Church called "the tabernacle exempt from defilement and corruption," from the instance of conception.
"Why is that distinction made? Was Mary not born without original sin, if she was conceived without it?"
Mary was born without that stain, but so were others, Jeremias and John the Baptist, for instance. But she was the only person conceived without the taint, and then born.
"Mother! Whose virgin bosom was uncrossed
With the least shade of thought to sin allied
Woman! Above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature’s solitary boast." (Wordsworth)
to hold Mary to have been conceived, or to be, as Catholics call her, the Immaculate Conception, does not mean that other mothers are sinful because they were not conceived as she was. While Mary responded gloriously to the grace bestowed upon her by God, she was no more the cause of being conceived with the effect of Adam’s sin upon their souls. In the Immaculate Conception God honored motherhood, as did Mary herself by the modesty, domesticity, and the holiness of her life.
The soul of Mary came immaculate from God, hence the conception of it free from stain was in no way due to her parents. Writing of this inward condition or superadded quality of grace in Mary’s soul, Cardinal Newman put this query – "If Eve had this supernatural grace given her from the first moment of her personal existence, is it possible to deny that Mary had this gift from the first moment of her personal existence?"
The first Eve was immaculate in soul at the first period of her existence, and fell from grace; the second Eve, Mary, was immaculate in soul at the moment she was conceived, and kept that soul free form actual sin throughout her existence. She was predicted to come, and did come, to give the world the "seed," the Second Adam, to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).
"Virgin and mother of our dear Redeemer!
All hearts are touched and softened at her name;
Alike the bandit with the bloody hand,
The priest, the prince, the scholar and the peasant,
The man of deeds, the visionary dreamer
Pay homage to her as one ever present!" (Longfellow)
"How is it possible for any one with common sense to believe in the Virgin Birth of Mary?"
You mean the Virgin Birth of Jesus, for Mary was born in the natural way that all human beings are born.
If by "common sense" you mean the average intelligence of reasonable men; men who look at Catholic belief with minds that are unimpaired by anti-God, or anti-papal predisposition, it is possible.
But such sense is so uncommon among persons who deny the Virgin Birth of our Lord, that one is led to question the existence of such a thing as "common sense," despite our common use of the phrase. Nothing will satisfy them but some present-day demonstration of virginity prior, during, and after the birth of a child, before believing the Virgin Birth to be a possibility. Therefore, they remain as they are, skeptical, for it is impossible to demonstrate a miracle that occurred once, and is never expected to occur again.
Sense, be it common or uncommon, calls for clear-headedness, a recognition of the reasonableness of belief in God, a realization of His power to do whatsoever He wills to do. It calls for five conditions, all of them necessary to an understanding and acceptance of belief in the Virgin Birth. – 1st. Belief in the existence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; 2nd. That God is the Creator of man; 3rd. That God made Adam, Eve, and the natural way for them and their posterity to procreate; 4th. That God is not limited to the natural processes of operation; 5th. That God never abrogated His power and right to create directly instead of through man, as He did Adam and Eve.
Having accepted this fivefold requisite to an understanding of the possibility of the Virgin Birth, an examination of what is is in order. It is not the birth of a forceful, accomplished, powerful human being of a high moral order, a superman; it is an extraordinary birth. It is not the coming into existence of a new being; it is an already existing Being coming into the world. It is the Second Person of the Triune God, who existed during all eternity, coming to earth as foretold; taking on a human nature through a Divinely selected woman, Mary, who was fecundated by the Holy Ghost and delivered of child by God without the sacrifice of her maidenhood.
Belief in the Virgin Birth is basic to Christianity; so much so, that a denial of it places a person outside the pale of Apostolic Christianity. Catholics profess belief in it every time they say the Apostles Creed – "I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,..." This means, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says (Vol. 15, p. 448), that the matter which composed the body of Jesus Christ came from Mary; that Mary co-operated in its formation as every other mother does in the formation of the body of her child; that Jesus was born of Mary as Eve is said to have been formed of Adam, by direct action of God instead of by the seed of man; that the germ that developed into the Infant Jesus was fecundated by Divine power, the Holy Spirit; "that the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit extended to the birth of Jesus Christ, not merely preserving Mary’s integrity, but also causing Christ’s birth or external generation to reflect his eternal birth from the Father in this, that ‘the Light from Light’ proceeded from his mother’s womb as a light shed on the world that the ‘power of the Most High’ passed through the barriers of nature without injuring them; that ‘the body of the Word formed by the Holy Spirit’ penetrated another body after the manner of spirits."
To deny the possibility of this, is to deny the infinite power of God. To question the power of God to pass through the barriers of nature to form a child, as Jesus was formed in the womb of Mary, and to deliver it without injuring those natural barriers, as Jesus passed through closed doors and stood in the midst of His disciples (St. John 20), is a glaring denial of the Christian God. This is especially so today, when discovery has been made of the God-created law in nature which enables voices, plays, pictures, etc. to be broadcasted into our homes, unimpaired, after passing through the barriers of earth, air, fire and water.
Catholics are blest with something more than what you call "common sense." They have faith; faith in God the Son, Jesus Christ; faith in the Church that Christ established in which He promised to abide forever, which the Holy Spirit protects from doctrinal error. It is upon the authority of this infallible Church that Catholics accept belief in the Virgin Birth. Yet aside from this faith, Catholics have sense enough to realize that it would be more of a miracle for God to come into the world in the ordinary way, to be generated by a man, than by the direct action of God the Holy Spirit, through the vessel of a virgin.
Catholics are sustained in their faith by Holy Writ. It tells them that God made Adam and Even in a supranatural way, by His mere fiat. It tells them of Abraham and Sarah who laughed at the possibility of a miraculous birth, as do persons who deny the possibility of the Virgin Birth. Abraham said:
"Shall a son be born of him that is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old bear?" Sarah laughed when told of this, for "it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women." "The Lord said to Abraham, wherefore did Sarah laugh? ... Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" (Gen. 17; 18).
Nothing being "too hard for the Lord," the child came forth from the barren Sarah, who was named Isaac, which means laughing.
If God could cause an old barren woman to give birth to a son, could not that same God cause His Divine Son to take His human body from an inviolated virgin? Isaac was conceived supernaturally in a dead womb; Jesus was conceived supernaturally in the living womb of a virgin. But Jesus was "begotten," as David prophesied He would be, and not made as we were naturally made. Over nine hundred years before the Virgin Birth, David said –
"Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Ps. 2:7)
The Virgin Birth was implied by God soon after the fall of Adam, in the promise Moses recorded in Gen. 3:15, that the "seed" of a woman would bring forth the Messiah (Christ) to crush the serpent’s head. It is the only instance in Holy Writ wherein the seed of a woman instead of a man was said to generate.
About seven hundred years before the Virgin Birth Isaiah foretold that
"The Lord himself would give a sign,"
an indication that something unusual was to take place. What?
"Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son..."
Who is this son promised?
".... His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace."
"His empire shall be multiplied, – he shall sit upon the throne of David..." (Chapters 7; 9)
Surely it is possible for a person, with what you call "common sense," to believe in the truth of a thing, in this instance the Virgin Birth, when it is claimed in Holy Writ and Tradition to have materialized, after being foretold by three distinct persons, during three widely separate periods, who were of the highest moral and intellectual standing in the days before Christ – Moses, David and Isaiah.
That the prophecies of a virgin conceiving and bringing forth the Son of God, materialized, is vouched for in St. Luke’s Gospel, in the simplest, unmistakable language. Tehrein we read (Chapter 1):
"Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to the town of Galilee, called Nazareth.
"To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
"And when the Angel had come to her, he said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women.’
"And when she had seen him she was troubled at his word, and kept pondering what manner of greeting this might be.
"And the angel said to her: Do not be afraid Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.
"Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.
"He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father; and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever.
"And of his kingdom there shall be no end."
Mary was amazed, not realizing in what manner this could take place, for she knew not man, and, as tradition says, she had taken a vow of perpetual virginity. The humble Virgin –
"Mary said to the angel: How shall this happen since I know not man?
"And the angel answered and said to her: ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God."
The greatest moral personages of the Christian ages have found belief in the Virgin Birth sound in principle and in fact. They believed it within the power of God to choose the mother of His only Begotten Son. In so doing, He selected a virgin of the highest order and kept her physically and morally as unsullied as He Himself was while in the flesh. So today, men and women with Christian sense find it possible to believe in the Virgin Birth. From their hearts there goes forth to heaven in spirit, if not always in the words of the offertory of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin:
"Blessed be thou, O Virgin Mary, who didst bear the Creator of all things: Thou didst bring forth Him who made thee, and remainest a virgin forever."
"The Jews hold that Chapter 7, verse 14, of Isaiah says ‘a woman,’ and not ‘a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.’ What is the answer to that claim?"
It is an unsound thousandth-time refuted claim that is motivated, on the part of Orthodox Jews, by hostility towards the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, which logically leads them to reject the Virgin Birth. There is an additional reasons for the opposition of the Reform Rabbis. They reject belief in miracles, without which Judaism is as far from being a religion of God as is Dr. Felix Adler’s Society of Ethical Culture.
The claim is a denial of Isaiah’s prophecy, in which Christians have believed since the infancy of Christianity, that "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son." The Jews translate that text from the Hebrew to read:
"Therefore will the Lord himself give you a sign: behold the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-el, God with us" (Italics mine).
In a note regarding this text, which is quoted from the "Holy Scriptures carefully translated according to the Masoretic text (made between the 6th and 9th centuries of the Christian era), by Isaac Lesser, Block Pub. Co., N. Y., 1901" the Jewish translator says that the Hebrew word "Almah" (to anglicize it) "does not necessarily signify a virgin (which is the equivalent of Bethulah), but a marriageable woman in general."
The fact is that the world almah means, literally, hidden. In the East unmarried women did not uncover their faces save before relatives; they were considered to be virgins. From the standpoint of Hebrew grammar, Almah is strictly rendered a maiden. If Almah signified merely "a marriageable woman in general" (though Jewish maidens of those days were virgins), it would not have been used in the Torah to specifically designate a virgin. In the Book of Genesis, Moses tells of the servant of Abraham, Rebecca, expected at the well, who was to become the wife of Isaac. It says (to quote the Jewish translation):
"And the maiden was of a very handsome appearance, a virgin (almah) neither had any man known her; and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up" (Gen. 24:16).
The reason given for the use of the Hebrew word almah by Isaiah, instead of bethulah, is that it is more elastic in meaning. It can be used to refer to a virgin and yet not exclude the thought of child-bearing, as does the world bethulah. St. Matthew understood Isaiah to mean a virgin, and said so (St. Matt. 1:18-25) centuries before the jews questioned his interpretation of the text.
In studying such Jewish texts (in the Hebrew, or translation thereof) it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that the Jewish canon of 24 books (also used by Protestants), the Masoretic, Hebrew text, including the use of vowels, are of post and not ante-primitive Christian origin. They came into existence and use during those centuries when the foremost Hebraists were bent upon repudiating all strictly Christian doctrinal claims, including the birth of the Son of David from a virgin.
No better evidence is needed to repudiate this claim of the Jews, regarding the virgin birth, than the undisputed fact that, in the days before the Christian era, the Septuagint version of the old Testament contained a translation of Isaiah 7:14 exactly in accord with the Christian version. The Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew text into Greek by authorized Jews of the highest Hebraic learning, as most of the Jews had ceased to speak the Hebrew tongue. That was in the second century before the Christian era. Its authenticity was not questioned by the Jews in the days when they were still God’s chosen keepers and interpreters of the Law; when they had a priesthood, sacrifice and temple. In it the word almah was translated into the Greek word parthenos, the undisputed Greek equivalent for an inviolate virgin. This statement about the Judaic standing of the Septuagint text is vouched for by the "Jewish Encyclopedia" of 1938 (Shapiro, Vallentine & Co., London, Eng., p. 593). It frankly says:
"The appearance of the Septuagint was greeted with great enthusiasm by the Jews everywhere, but with the rise of the Christian sect and its adoption of this version of the Bible, the Jews began to denounce it vehemently, accusing the Christians of falsifying the Greek text here and there."
For an additional answer to the claim of the Jews which you present, look at the Jewish translation quoted a few moments ago. It says that "the Lord Himself" will "give you a sign." What was that "sign" to be? The text answers – "behold this young woman" (Christians say "a virgin") "shall conceive, and bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel, God with us."
Is a "young woman" conceiving a "sign," an unusual characteristic? Certainly not. But "a virgin" conceiving is an unusual, a miraculous "sign," one that Isaiah said would occur, and did, in the Blessed Virgin Mary bearing "the Immanuel, the God with us," Jesus Christ.
The Book of Isaiah, which is largely prophetically messianic, foretold (738 B.C.) the birth of the Messiah, His office, characteristics, Kingdom, and sufferings, which accord with the office, life and death of Jesus and of Him alone. Not only did the author foretell the unusual birth, the "sign," a virgin bringing forth the "Immanuel, God with us," but to quote the Jewish translation, though it minimizes the Christian wording:
"For a child is born unto us, a son hath been given unto us, and the government is placed on his shoulders; and his name is called Wonderful, counsellor of the mighty God, of the everlasting Father, the prince of peace, – (he is to sit) upon the throne of David – to support it through justice and righteousness, from henceforth and unto eternity." (Italics mine).
The Virgin-born child came, as Isaiah foretold. The Child is Jesus. He ascended the "throne of David" over 1900 years ago, as Israel’s last and greatest King, to occupy it "unto eternity."
If still further "answer to that claim" is desired, look at Genesis 3:15 of the same Jewish Bible quoted. There we have God telling, through Moses, that the "seed" of a woman,, and not a man, was to crush the serpent’s, Satan’s, head. That "seed" was to be the Messiah, the Second Adam, to come through the Second Eve, to undo the injury inflicted by the seduction of the serpent through Eve and Adam. In other words the Promised One was to come from a Virgin, for in every other instance in the Bible where generation is referred to as coming from the "seed," it is the "seed" of a man, and never a woman. It was the Blessed Virgin Mary whose "seed" fructified through the power of the Holy Spirit, for she knew not man. Mary stands forth in history as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, the Catholic-Christian interpretation thereof.
This answer is appropriately given on the feast day of St. Stephen, the anniversary of the day when the Jews "stopped their ears" so as not to give hee to the words of the first Christian martyr, whose "wisdom and spirit" they resisted, for it meant the acceptance of the Virgin-born Son of David. The declaration of the Messiah (read on St. Stephen’s day), that "their house shall be left desolate," has been a reality ever since "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (St. John 1). Unfortunately, the Jews persist in "stopping their ears"; they will not listen to the prophecy of their own great prophet, which was fulfilled, as the acceptation of the Virgin Birth leads from the Synagogue to the Church.
"Since the Jews hold that the word almah in Isaiah means a woman, instead of a virgin, was to conceive, is there any other text in the Old Testament to prove that Christ was to be born of a virgin?"
Jeremiah, chapter 31, verse 22, says – "How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter? (Protestant Bible says backsliding daughter) for the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth: A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN."
Jeremiah was a prophet and priest, a special figure of Christ in the Old Law. He, like John the Baptist, had the distinction of being born without the stain of original sin upon his soul. He foretold the coming of the Christ and the perpetuity of the Christian priesthood. His prophecy of a "new thing" is like Isaiah’s prophecy of "a sign," in that something was to take place that never occurred before, "a woman" was to "compass a man," a "virgin was to conceive," which came to pass in the birth of Jesus.
As this text has been disputed by some conservative Protestant commentators, I would suggest a study of page 464D, 15th Volume of the Catholic Encyclopedia for further information to sustain the belief that it refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
"When people speak of their Alma Mater, do they refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary?"
No, not to my knowledge. It is a Latin term that means (literally) the nourishing, fostering, or beautiful mother. It is used to personify the college or university where one has studied; where the higher power of his mind and heart had been fostered.
Yet the term, Alma Mater, could be applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as she nourishes and fosters our spiritual life. And as for beauty, judging by her purity, she must have been the most beautiful mother that ever lived. In fact the term, Alma Mater, was inspired by love of her. Its use has been traced back to the University of Bonn (Rhineland) where a beautiful statue of Mary, known as Alma Mater, is in a prominent place above the main entrance of that world-famous institution of learning.
"How can Mary of Nazareth be called a perpetual virgin when the Bible statement about the ‘brethren of the Lord’ proves her to have had other children besides Jesus?"
That would be true if it were proper to use the term brethren in the narrow sense in which you use it. But brethren in the Bible has a very wide significance, which you ignore. For instance, in Genesis 29:15, we read:
"And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, should thou therefore serve me for nought?"
According to your limited use of the term, Jacob must have been a blood-brother of Laban, when he was only a nephew. In Genesis 13:8, Abram says to Lot, we are "brethren," when Lot was Abram’s kinsman. In the Bible we learn that tribesmen were called brethren (Lev. 21:16); also men belonging to the same nation (Ex. 2:11).
The word brethren also has an extensive meaning in our own language and times. Friends concluding a covenant; members of the same lodge, club or union; fellows of the same God the Father, are called brethren. Preachers of the Word of God address their congregations as brethren when none of the listeners are blood relatives, and often nearly all of them are women. Thus you see that the word "brethren" has a wider significance than sons of the same mother.
The question as to who are the "brethren" to whom you refer, is not absolutely certain. The claim made that they were children of Joseph by an earlier marriage has been dismissed as untenable. Being older than Jesus, as they would have to be, our Lord could not be the "first-born," heir to the throne of David, as He is listed in the genealogies, if he had brothers through Joseph, according to Jewish Law. It is generally believed that James (afterwards Bishop of Jerusalem), Joseph, Simon and Jude were cousins of Jesus. They are held to be the sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas (also called Alpheus), who was the Blessed Virgin’s cousin. They could not be called cousins, for there is no such word in the Hebrew or Aramaic language, hence the word cousin is not in any part of the Old Testament. The writers of Holy Writ were compelled to use the wordAh to describe kinsmen, which translated literally is brother. Calvin, the father of Protestant theology, in refuting Helvidius, who maintained that "brethren" referred to uterine brothers, said: "We have already stated that according to the Hebrews all relatives are called brothers."
One thing is certain, it would not have been within the province of Jesus on the Cross to place His mother in the care of St. John if He had brothers (St. John 19:26, 27). Again, Jesus, and He alone, is called in the Bible "the Son of Mary" (St. Mark, 6:3).
Weak, indeed, is the argument against the perpetual virginity of Mary when opponents of Catholic Christian belief, in order to sustain their contention, find it necessary to hark back to a narrow interpretation of the word "brethren" that has been refuted times without number ever since the Catholic Church translated the Bible into Latin, fifteen centuries ago. St. Jerome answered that false concept in the fourth century, in writing on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.
That question is settled for Catholics, not merely by their study of the matter, but by the infallible authority of their Church, expressed in its definition of the Virgin Birth, at the 5th General Council of Constantinople (553 A.D.), and the Lateran Council at Rome (640 A.D.).
"Why insist upon the perpetual virginity of Mary, when Matthew’s Gospel says, ‘he knew her not till she brought forth her first born son’? Does that not imply that Mary had more than one child? I am sustained in this by dozens of authors. The Jew, Sholem Asch, in ‘The Nazarene’; Mary Borden, Protestant, in ‘Mary of Nazareth’ are two of the latest date."
Your query substantiates the fact that "there is nothing new under the sun," when it comes to attempting to refute Catholic teachings. St. Jerome answered your query over fifteen hundred years ago, and God alone knows how many other Catholics have answered it since that time.
As far as the opinion of Sholem Asch is concerned, it may be dismissed, as no credence is to be given the opinion of a "Jew" regarding things Christian, when he believes that "primitive man was apelike (instead of Adamic) in form"; that "Socartes (who took the fatal hemlock) died like a god,(while) Jesus (whose love of man caused Him to bear the Cross to the death inflicted by the Jews and Romans) died like a weak man" ("What I – Sholem Asch – Believe," N. Y., 1941). No credence is to be given the viewpoint of a "Jew" who inflicted upon the world an "historic novel" ("The Nazarene") that perverted Gospel history; who holds that the only convinced believer in Christ’s mission, during the days of Christ, to have been Pan Viadomsky, a rabid fanatical Polish anti-Semite; and that Mary was a sinful woman, the mother of many children.
Your misconception is "sustained" by Mary Borden, as you say, but why accept her say-so in preference to the declaration of Saint Jerome, one of the most learned doctors in the Christian Church, who said in answer to Helvidius,
"A firstborn son is not only one after whom others were born, but one before whom no other was born. Every son is also a firstborn son; but not every firstborn is the only son" ("Adversus Helvidium")
I wrote to Mary Borden about that misconception upon the appearance of her "Mary of Nazareth" in 1934, proving, though not to her satisfaction, that the Mary who lived in Nazareth is not to be found in the 300 pages of her attempt to belittle the status of the Mother of Jesus. Her reply was (using the words you quote from St. Matthew) that "first born means the eldest of several."
This misunderstanding of Catholic teachings is due in great part to failure to look at terms as the author of them intended their use. It reminds me of the woman who entered a London hospital with her sick boy, saying – "It’s his head, nurse. He’s had it off and on ever sine he was born." If that statement were taken as you and Mary Boren take the statement of St. Matthew, there would be a great increase of persons in Londontown who would be clamoring for an opportunity to see the strange phenomenon. To conclude from the statement that the boy had his head off and on again and again would be as incorrect as that Mary had several children, because St. Matthew tells of her firstborn. And why? Because the term "firstborn" must be considered according to its intended meaning in the Mosaic Law.
St. Matthew, writing in Hebrew for Hebrews, used the term in the Hebrew idiomatic sense in referring to Mary, a Hebrew, who brought forth a male child. Being her first child, it had to be offered to the Lord, as required according to Exodus 13:13; 22:29; 34:19-20; Numbers 3:13; 8:15-17,
"The firstborn of thy (the children of Israel) sons thou shalt give to Me" (Numbers 18).
"The firstborn of man" had to be redeemed at the sanctuary (Num. 18:15-16). Mary fulfilled this requirement of the Mosaic Law, called Pidyon ha-Ben, "the ceremony of redeeming – a first born male child," as it says in Exodus 3:2,
"Sanctify every firstborn that openeth the womb among the children of Israel."
This Mary did "when the days of her purification were fulfilled according to the Law of Moses" (St. Luke 2:22), when she availed herself of the liberty of the Law allowed to the poor, who instead of giving five shekels as redemption money, offered the inferior burnt-offering, two turtle doves (Lev. 12:8).
The Jewish evidence that the "firstborn" does not necessarily refer to subsequent children, to the "eldest of several," is seen in the explanation of Pidyon ha-Ben, in The Jewish Encyclopedia (Valentine’s, London 1938):
"The ceremony of redeeming the first-born male child on the 31st day after birth, is based on Ex. XIII, 13 and Numbers XVIII, 16. The spirit of the ceremony is that the first-born should be dedicated to God’s service in gratitude for blessings. In order to free him from this service (donations are made)."
Then follows a concluding sentence which makes it very clear that "first-born" does not necessarily mean the first of several, for if a premature birth results from a woman’s first conception, she never can have a "first-born" even if she has a dozen children. It reads – "The child born after a previous miscarriage is not considered a first-born" (pp. 525-526).
In regard to the word "till" in St. Matthew’s Gospel (1:25) – "He knew her not till she brought forth her first-born son" –, it will suffice to quote in reply the footnote in the Douay Bible,
"From these words Helvidius and other heretics most impiously inferred that the Blessed Virgin Mary had other children besides Christ: but St. Jerome shows, by divers examples, that this expression of the Evangelist was a manner of speaking usual among the Hebrews, to denote by the word until, only what is done, without any regard to the future. Thus it is said, Gen. 8:6-7, that Noah ‘sent forth a raven, which went forth, and did not return TILL the waters were dried up on the earth.’ That is, did not return any more. Also Isaiah 46:4. God says: ‘I am TILL you grow old.’ Who dare infer that God should then cease to be? Also in the first book of Machabees 5:54. ‘And they went up to Mount Sion with joy and gladness, and offered holocausts, because not one of them was slain TILL they had returned in peace.’ That is, not one was slain before or after they had returned. God said to His Divine Son: ‘Sit on my right hand TILL I make thy enemies My footstool.’ Shall He sit no longer after His enemies are subdued? Yea and for all eternity –."
Catholics insist upon the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, because they know her to be the stainless glory of Israel, whom God, the Father, selected as the mother of His one and only Begotten Son, the Brother of all humans, and not the brother of any children of His Blessed Mother. Catholics in our 20th century echo, with love, the words St. Ambrose, the Catholic Bishop of Milan, uttered in the 4th century,
"Let the virginity and life of the Blessed Mary be drawn before you as if in a picture, from whom, as in a mirror, is reflected the face of Chastity, and Virtue’s figure... In learning, the prime stimulus is to be found in the nobleness of the teacher. Now what has more nobleness than God’s mother? What brighter than she whom Brightness selected? What chaster than she who, without contact of a body, gave birth to a body?" (lib. ii, De Virg.).
"What I can’t understand is this: Mary was espoused to Joseph, that means she was engaged to him, therefore not married, when she conceived. Is that not wrong? Just one more question. If our Lord was to come from a virgin, why should Joseph come into the picture? Thanks."
Your perplexity is due to not having read or heard what the exegetes, the learned interpreters of the Bible, and students of the customs of the Jews, have to say in answer to the things about which you inquire. They show that Mary was something more than a maiden engaged to be married, she was the "espoused wife" of Joseph, at the time she was with child, as St. Luke says (2:4-5). The term "espoused wife" was used to emphasize the fact that, though married, Mary was still a virgin, for Jewish maidens, who were merely espoused, were all considered to be virgins.
Being espoused, that is engaged to be married, was a truly sacred ceremony among Jews. It rendered the union of the couple unbreakable, save by divorce or death. If the groom should die, the espoused bride lamented the loss of a husband; and if guilty of relation with another man she would be subject to the charge of being an adulteress.
The Jewish espoused bride was really a wife, though not in the sense of marriage having been consummated. That took place after the groom and bride met together after the chuppah (canopy), which symbolized the transfer of the bride from the house of her father to that of her husband.
Considering that a virgin was to conceive and bring forth the Messiah, as Isaiah told the world nearly seven centuries before Mary was born, God could have kept Joseph from "coming into the picture" when He fulfilled that Divine Prophecy. But Mary would have been subject to reproach were she, as an unmarried woman, to have had a child, an offense punishable by stoning to death. God protected Mary from this reproach, as HE did from Joseph’s doubt, by informing Joseph that the conception of His spouse was of the Holy Ghost (St. Matt. 1:20).
Besides, the marriage to Joseph enabled Mary (who belonged to the house of David), and her child, to be recorded as descended from the house of David, in which the Messiah was prophesied to be born, as Jewish descent was recorded through the male line. We read of Joseph (and not Mary) going
"Up to the City of David, which was called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David.
"To be enrolled with Mary (who accompanied Joseph) his espoused wife who was with child" (St. Luke, 2:4-5).
There is an added reason that may possibly have prompted God to have Joseph in the "picture," – that Mary and the Infant Jesus might have the protection that only a devoted husband and loving father can give.
No, there is nothing wrong. On the contrary, everything in the relationship of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus was Divinely right.
"Will you please explain the Rosary?"
Willingly, for Catholics have a great affection for that form of prayer. It is, in the spiritual sense, what its Latin name – "rosarium" – signifies, a garden of roses, a wreath of symbolic flowers.
It is attributed to St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, popularly called the Dominican Order. He was commissioned by Pope Innocent III to work for the conversion of the Albigenses, a sect that denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ, condemned marriage, advocated annihilation through starvation, and other heretical and sinful teachings. Dominic’s eloquence and ardent work made very little headway, until, as is claimed, miraculously instructed by the Blessed Virgin Mother of Our Lord, he aroused the people to the recitation of the Rosary she suggested. It was through the instrumentality of this prayer that love of Christ and His Blessed Mother was instilled into the hearts of the Albigenses, virtually wiping that pernicious sect out of existence during the lifetime of St. Dominic.
The Rosary (sometimes called "the beads") is a string or chain of beads that have been blessed. It is made up of fifteen decades (tens) for Angelic salutations, that is, Hail Marys, equal in number to the 150 Psalms. A large bead precedes each of the fifteen decades of smaller beads, which is used while saying the Our Father. The Apostles Creed is generally said before saying the beads, and also some concluding prayer, though they are not a part of the Rosary proper – the 15 Our Fathers and 150 Hail Marys.
Each decade of beads is dedicated to and said in honor of some one of fifteen holy mysteries, that is some holy event in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ or His Blessed Mother Mary. The practice is to say a series of five decades of beads daily, in honor of the Joyful, Sorrowful or Glorious Mysteries. Here they are:
The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin.
Visitation of the Blessed Virgin to St. Elizabeth.
Birth of Jesus at Bethlehem.
Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple.
The Agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Scourging of Jesus at the pillar.
Crowning of Jesus with thorns.
Carrying of the Cross by Jesus to Mount Calvary.
Crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary.
The Resurrection of Jesus.
Ascension of Jesus.
Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven.
Crowning of the Blessed Virgin in Heaven.
The Rosary is of educational as well as devotional value. It satisfies the mind as well as the heart of the unlettered and most learned of persons, though, as we hear in Henry IV (presenting it in the plural) –
All their minds are bent to holiness,
To number Ave-Marias on their beads.
The Rosary is sometimes called the "Poor Man’s Bible," perhaps on account of its low cost (given to the poor free of charge); its educational as well as devotional value to the poorly educated; and the consolation it gives the poor in spirit.
To know the rosary is to love it. Ignorance of its blessedness has caused Catholics to be scoffed at for carrying a Rosary. An answer to one of those scoffers is worth repeating.
"I was riding in a subway last Thursday as two Nuns left the train their Rosaries made a clinking noise. A man, thinking to make a joke, said to his companion that the beads sounded like skid chains. Both laughed.
"A woman sitting at the side of these men quickly spoke up and said: ‘You are right, they are skid chains, which keep all who wear them from skidding down the slippery paths of life into hell and damnation, and each link on the chain binds them to Heaven and God. Would that more would use them, we would have less moral degenerates" (John. J. O’Brien, "Tablet," Brooklyn, N. Y.).
"Why must Catholics say a Rosary? Would it not be better to let their hearts go out to Jesus instead of indulging in a mechanical process of making vain repetitions?"
Catholics are encouraged to say the Rosary, and never told that they "must" say it. It is a voluntary, mental as well as vocal prayer. Through it Catholics let their minds as well as their hearts go out to Jesus and to His Blessed Mother Mary in a contemplative, meditative and soul-satisfying way:
"When holy and devout religious men
Are at their beads, ‘tis hard to draw them thence;
So sweet is zealous contemplative" (Richard III).
Saying the Rosary is not a mere mechanical operation, thought it may so become through thoughtlessness and habit. But even so, a prayer habit is a good habit.
Saying the beads is not "indulging in vain repetitions," for those 15 Our Fathers and 150 Hail Marys are like the salutary repetitions of the angels in Heaven, before the throne of God, singing eternally "Holy," "Holy," "Holy," – to the satisfaction of our Heavenly Father. It is a rosary of holy thoughts and not a mere "rosary of words," or "of beads," such as were suggested for the Unitarian Church by Rev. Dilworth Lupton at a meeting of the Unitarian Ministerial Union in Boston. He said:
"The rosary is a device used by Roman Catholics for the culture of the ‘world within.’ I suggest a like device for protestants, but a rosary of words rather than of beads. These words may do for the Protestant what beads accomplish for the Catholic – they provide a means of concentration, and also centers of thought around which ideas and feelings may gather. But they offer this advantage; they permit more flexibility, more spontaneity. In our times of solitude, meditation and prayer, I suggest the following rosary of key words or word beads, self – other, God, health, truth, goodness, beauty."
Once a man like you, who wants "hearts to go out to Jesus," learns the real significance o the Rosary, there is a likelihood that his views will change, as did those of Rev. James A. Beebe, dean of the School of Theology of Boston University. In an article entitled, "A Protestant Rosary," he said:
"Not for a long time did I know that the beads stood for something to think about rather than something to say. They are arranged in fifteen groups of ten each, each group standing for a ‘mystery.’
".... The vocal petitions are only a kind of musical accompaniment to the thoughts of the worshiper, as his imagination plays around certain great religious themes."
The blessings and consolation of the Rosary are inestimable. It helped to sustain Marshal Foch in his most trying times during World War No. I; Pasteur, the world’s great bacteriologist, always recited the Rosary before beginning his day’s work, and died with one in his hand and a crucifix in the other; Daniel O’Connell was often seen saying the Rosary in between sessions of Parliament during his battle for the restoration of Irish liberties; Mozart, one of the greatest musicians and composers, wrote to his sister after one of his musical successes:
"I went home immediately after the production of my symphony at the Palais Royal, with the greatest gladness in my heart, and recited the Rosary."
Joseph Haydn, another celebrated musician, upon the completion of his marvelous work, "The Creation," said:
"When it became difficult for me to compose, I got up from my desk and knelt in my room, rosary in hand, to say a few ‘Hail Marys’ and immediately the necessary inspiration came to me again."
It is not necessary to say the Rosary in order that "hearts may go out to Jesus" but it is a great instrumental means to that laudable end. It not only helps to concentrate the mind and heart on Jesus and Mary, but it also brings many indulgences, blessings, from the Church through the merits of Jesus.
G. P. R. James, the English novelist and historian, noting the love of Jesus in "The Monks of Old," said:
"I envy them, those monks of old;
Their books they read, and their beads they told."
"Did not Christ say ‘use not vain repetitions, as the heathens’? Then how can you justify saying ‘Hail Mary,’ ‘Hail Mary’ ten times and more?"
"Vain repetitions," or anything that is vain, is objectionable. But is it vain to honor the other of Christ? Is it vain to greet Mary as the Angel Gabriel sent by God greeted her? – "Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women." You will find those words in Saint Luke’s Gospel, chapter 1, verse 28. Is it vain to ask Mary to be our intercessor in heaven? No, not at all. Rather it is a grave neglect on the part of Protestants to deliberately refuse to honor the mother of the Divine Sone they claim to love.
The words "vain repetitions" in your Protestant Bible are not considered to be a correct translation of St. Matthew, 6:7. More exact are the words in the Douay Bible, "speak not much, as do the heathens," or the Westminster Version, "and in your prayers babble not as do the gentiles"; or the latest, American, translation (1941) "but in praying, to not multiply words as the Gentiles do." These Catholics translations are in harmony with the last words in the Protestant text, "for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking."
Christ did not forbid much praying, but "much speaking," said St. Augustine in the fourth century. What was condemned is dependence upon mere quantitative heathenish prayers, such as those uttered by the silversmiths, who, "all with one voice, for the space of two hours, cried out: Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:34). But quantitative honoring of Christ through His Blessed Mother Mary, when intentionally religious in quality, is no doubt as pleasing to Christ as is the continual "Holy, holy, holy..." of the angels before the throne of God, is to God.
You may oppose repetition of prayers, but no t so in the name of Christ, for, as St. Matthew says (26:44), Chrsit "prayed for the third time, saying the self same word" in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Catholics consider Mary their Spiritual Mother, Jesus their Brother. Catholics express their appreciation of her with repetitions of love that are no doubt as pleasing to her loving Son, Jesus, as they are to Mary. A little closer examination will show you that they are not opposed to "repetitions," but rather repetitions of love for Mary. If you ever get to know the love that is in the hearts of Catholics for the Blessed Virgin Mary; if you are ever given the grace to join in the greetings to her, you would never look up on the repeated expression of that love as "vain repetitions."
"Will you explain the Angelus for the benefit of this audience? I, as a Catholic, cannot understand why Protestants do not join in such a lovely practice and prayer."
The Angelus is a devotion that is Catholic in origin and practice. It is a three-part prayer, said three times a day, usually at 6 A.M., at noon, and at 6 P.M. It is preceded by the ringing of the Church bells before each division of the Angelus and at its conclusion.
The Angelus is said in honor of the Incarnation and in veneration of Mary as the Mother of Jesus, our Lord and our God. The name is taken from the opening Latin word of the prayer Angelus (the Angel...). The Angelus, made up almost entirely of words and suggestions in the first chapters of St. Luke’s and St. John’s Gospels, is as follows:
Salutation – "The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary."
Response – "And she conceived of the Holy Ghost."
Prayer – "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
Salutation – "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."
Response – "May it be done unto me according to Thy word."
Prayer – "Hail Mary, etc."
Salutation – "And the Word was made flesh."
Response – "And dwelt among us."
Prayer – "Hail Mary, etc."
Let us pray – "Pour forth we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy Grace into our hearts that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may, by His Passion and Cross, be brought to the glory of the resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."
Protestants do not join in prayers to Mary, for they do not believe in the intercession of Mary and the other saints in heaven. Catholics believe that just as we can (as St. Paul urged) offer "petitions, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings... on behalf of all men" (I Tim. 2:1), so can we ask God’s friends in heaven to carry our petitions, etc., to God. We believe that among the friends of Christ in heaven, Mary stands first; that anything she asks of her Son will be granted as readily as He granted her request at the marriage feast of Cana. With Sister Rita Agnes, Catholics say:
"Dear Madonna, you are risen and with
queenly grace you stand;
Life, we pray, absolving fingers of
Your gracious Baby’s hand.
They will bless at your command."
Protestants do not join in the Angelus because they think that prayers addressed to Mary detract from the honor due to her Divine Son, Jesus Christ. While Catholics have a deep affection for Mary, nine-tenths of it is based on their love of Jesus. Mary is address as a creature, Jesus as God. Catholics venerate Mary, they worship Jesus.
This Catholic practice was music to the ears of Longfellow, who tells us in Evangeline, of hearing "sweetly over the village the bell of the Angelus." Not so with Edwin Markham in his Socialist days. His distorted concept of "The Angelus" of Millet, the peasant painter, "inspired" "The Man with the Hoe." The humble peasant in the field, stopping in the midst of his work, hat in hand, with head bowed in reverence, responding to the Angelus bell of the distant Church, suggested to Markham a brutalized instead of a contented saintly man. To him, the peasant, Christianized by the centuries of Catholicity in his blood, was a man bowed down in misery by the weight of centuries, a brother to the ox, instead of a brother of Jesus Christ, a spiritual Son of the Virgin Mother.
"It is related that when Millet’s famous painting, "The Angelus," was on exhibition, to men stood long apart from the crowd admiring its simple beauty. Then, as if interpreting each other’s thoughts, one asked: ‘What would that picture be, after all, without the Angelus? Just two peasants in a potato field.’ ‘What would the world be without the Angelus?’ replied the other. ‘Just a spinning globe, with countless toilers crawling on it.’"
"Your statement about the Angelus bell prompts me to ask if it is true that the Catholic Church is the mother of bells?"
Yes, when it comes to their use on church buildings. So popular did the Catholic Church cause them to become, that Longfellow would say "bells are the voice of the Church."
The first religious use of bells was by the Jews, in the days of Moses, when the people were informed that "a golden bell and a pomegranate, and again another –" (Exod. 28) were on the hem of the robe of Aaron, the first High Priest, in order that "his sound shall be heard when he goeth into the holy place before the Lord." The alternate bells, with pomegranate-like knobs, were on the lower part of the priest’s blue robe of his ephod (vestment).
Bells were found by Sir Austen Henry Layard at Nimrod, near the site of Ninevah. The Greeks and Romans used bells in camps, markets, on chariots, and to express gratitude to the gods for success in battles.
The introduction of large bells in churches, for Christian religious services, originated in Italy, being introduced there by Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, about the year 400 A.D. The Venerable Bede (673-735) mentions their use in England toward the end of the seventh century. They were formed at first out of the cymbals and small tinkling bells used in religious services in honor of pagan gods. The Catholic Church uses bells to call the people to Mass, to prayer, at marriage, death, but especially for the Angelus. It was not until the sixth century that bells were suspended on the roof of churches. The hours of the day were first ordered to be struck by Pope Sabinianus in 604 A.D., to announce to the people the time for prayer and singing. The ceremony of the Church for the blessing of bells is beautiful and impressive. Bells are often engraved in honor of saints. Some with verse, for instance this, on the bell of an old English church –
"Men’s death I tell by doleful knell;
Lighting and thunder I break asunder;
On Sabbath all to church I call;
The sleepy head I rouse from bed;
The tempest’s rage I do assuage;
When cometh harm, I sound alarm."
Many are romantic tales the iron tongues of bells could tell, were they to speak. One tale is of a senorita in old Spain, that is related to San Gabriel Franciscan Mission in California. Upon learning that her lover died while in service, at Alta, California, the senorita threw all her silver and gold ornaments into the pot of molten metal in which a bell was being cast. The finished bell was sent oversea, finally reaching San Gabriel, where its beautiful tones were heard, and are still being heard up and down the Camino Real (King’s Highway) due to the amount of silver in it and the prayers of the Spanish girl for her dead lover:
"And every note of every bell
Sang ‘Gabriel’! Rang ‘Gabriel’!
In the tower that is left the tale to tell
Of Gabriel, the Archangel." (Marie T. Walsh)
Some bells are of massive size. The bell of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, cast in 1709, weighs 17,470 lbs.; the Big Ben, of Westminster, cast in 1858, weighs 30,324 lbs.; the Kremlin, Moscow, bell recast in 1733, weighs 432,000 lbs. This extra heavy bell, which fell during a fire, was excavated and used as a dome for a chapel. The bell of Amarapoova in Burma, weighs 260,000 lbs.; one at Peking weighs 130,000. The largest church bell on this side of the Atlantic (weight 30,000 lbs.) is in the Notre Dame Church, Montreal.
"Is it not childish for a man to believe in angels? Of course, they are picturesque."
It is wise for men to believe in the existence of those spiritual beings the child in its innocence and purity sees. The child listens to the charming, picturesque, reverent stories about angels, because it sense the fact that there are intelligent beings different and superior to itself.
In manhood, the considerate, faithful and admiring husband unconsciously expresses belief in such beings, when he calls his wife an angel. The same thing occurs when the wife calls her husband an angel, though somehow or other many persons in their maturity as well as childhood relate angels to femininity. This recalls to mind an innocent inquiry of a child:
"Mama, are there any man angels?"
"Yes, my dear, why do you ask?"
"Well, Mama, I never see any pictures of angels in heaven with whiskers."
"Oh! That’s because men only get in by a close shave."
Angels are spiritual beings superior to man in intelligence and power. Their number is held to be beyond human computation. Only three of them are known by name – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Angels, whose character is holy, are ardently devoted to the worship and service of God, Who employs them as His heavenly messengers. They were created by God to serve Him in heaven, and to visit, as well as help His people on earth.
Instead of being childish, it is the height of wisdom to believe in the existence of angels considering that they are seriously referred to about two hundred times in the Old and New Testaments. Poets, realizing their reality, have sung of them in words immortal; and the world’s greatest artists have depicted them on canvasses that are beyond price, for the glory of God and the salvation of man.
Angels are our guardians and consolation. St. Paul tell of their ministration:
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?" (Hebr. 1:14).
Read of their consoling power in the holy story of the Angel Raphael talking to the elder Tobias:
"When thou didst pray with tears, I offered thy prayer to the Lord" (Tob. 12:12).
Christ tells us not to despise those little ones (whose faith in spiritual beings you deem it wise to reject in manhood), for they have powerful angelic friends and protectors in heaven:
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of My Father in heaven" (St. Matt. 18:10).
The many texts in Scripture telling of guardian angels and the reasonableness of them, caused St. Jerome to say: "Great is the dignity of souls, that each one of them should have from birth an angel delegated to guard it."
"Flitting, flitting, ever near thee,
Sitting, sitting by thy side,
Like your shadow all unwary,
Angel beings guard and guide."
Angels are with men and women as well as children. They waited on Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elias, the Apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a multitude of other great personages. When our Infant Lord was "wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger" – there was a "multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and singing: ‘Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will’" (St. Luke 2:12-14). The angels comforted Jesus when He was tempted; and while in the Garden of Gethsemane. More than twelve legions of them were at His call during His trial; they watched over His tomb; bore messages to His disciples, etc.
Angels have intelligence and free will, hence they could disobey and did disobey God. Scripture tells us of many angels falling through pride from pristine purity, who were cast out of heaven by God. They were transformed in character, using all their power for the purpose of doing evil instead of good.
"And the angels who kept not their principality (the dignity of the state in which they were created), but forsook their own habitation, he hath reserved under darkness in everlasting chains, unto the judgment of the great day" (St. Jude 1:6).
WISE TO BE A CHILD
While on the one hand these evil angels lead men into temptation, on the other hand there are angels who find "joy before God upon one sinner doing penance" (St. Luke 15:10).
It is wise to be like a child, humble, realizing that your understanding and mine is infinitesimal when it comes to the knowledge of the intelligence, wisdom and goodness of God. These qualities are mirrored in God’s creation of angels, pure and spiritual beings who are not hampered as we are by imprisonment in a body with a wounded human nature.
Angels are picturesque, yet they are real.