Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Bible and The Mass, Part III: Mary, full of grace

Catholics from a very young age are taught the following 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.”

The first half of this prayer is direct from Scripture. Luke 1:28 records that when the angel came to Mary to announce that she was chosen to bear the Messiah, his words were “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (New King James Version) “Highly favored one” seems to bear only a slight relation to “full of grace”, but let’s unpack it a little. According to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, the word for “favored” is charitoo, which means "to grace, that is, indue with special honor:—make accepted, be highly favored." The root word is charis which is translated as “grace” 130 times in the King James Version (the one on which the Strong’s books are based). And the Greek word for “rejoice” in this verse is chairo, used in salutations as “hail.” So “Hail Mary, full of grace” isn’t an unacceptable translation of the passage. The next part can be found later on in Luke Chapter One:
Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Straight from Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary. The name Jesus doesn’t appear, as it does in the Hail Mary prayer, but we know that Mary was chosen to give birth to Jesus, so that part of the prayer shouldn’t be under dispute. What is under dispute, however, is the next line of the prayer: “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners.” Conveniently, the scriptural basis for this line comes in the very next sentence in Elizabeth’s greeting: “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

I’ve had this discussion with people before, so let me tell you how it goes. The non-Catholic person who is specifically anti-Catholic recoils at this line. “How can God have a mother?” he or she will ask. “Mary was the mother of Jesus’ human nature, not the divine nature.” And to that I would respond that Mary did not give birth to a nature, she gave birth to a person, a Person who was both divine and human. Jesus is God; Mary gave birth to Jesus; therefore it is not wrong to refer to Mary as the Mother of God. Elizabeth was just one of many.

“And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."

Overshadow- Greek word episkiazo, meaning “to throw a shadow upon, to envelop in a shadow, to overshadow.” This particular word is used four other times in the New Testament to describe an extraordinary occurrence:

Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:34- During the Transfiguration on the mountaintop- “While (Peter) was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’”

Acts 5:14-15- Peter healing multitudes of people- “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.”

Mary was not just bearing another child. The Litany of Mary refers to her as “The Ark of the Covenant”, and that isn’t inappropriate, because for nine months she had God Himself dwelling within her. In the Old Testament, if you touched the Ark of the Covenant and you had sin in your life, you died. They tied a rope around the priest when he went into the Holy of Holies once a year, because if he was in sin, he would die and they would have to drag him out. So it makes perfect sense to believe that Mary was preserved from sin by a special act of grace.

I’ve spent so much time on one line from one prayer of the Mass because I feel it’s important to lay a proper foundation for some things. For someone who isn’t Catholic, it isn’t enough just to say “The Church said it, I believe it and that settles it.” A Catholic can’t just mumble something about Sola Scriptura and not prooftexting and continue to wear a smug look on his/her face. Catholic beliefs most certainly do have a Scriptural basis; the non-Catholic person may disagree with the conclusions of the Church, but they should at least see that the Catholic Church didn’t just make it up as they went along.

I'll pick up the text of the liturgy again, next time.


Post a Comment

<< Home