Sunday, November 11, 2007

On Mary

I've been drawn to praying the rosary the last week or two, and I've come to a realization that feels a bit odd. I think I love Mary.

What I feel is a sense of connectedness to Mary, like we are a part of the same family. Her place in the family is different than mine, but instead of being removed from each other by thousands of years, a different language and culture, there is a sense of mutuality...that we are both about the same thing, worshipping Jesus. Instead of a simple biblical character, she is alive to me.

I had a similar feeling the first time I walked into Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles, a few years before I became Catholic. The sanctuary walls have these massive, awe-inspiring tapestries of the saints facing the altar in prayer, as if they are worshipping right there with us. (A taste of the view here.) I got a shiver looking at them, and something clicked in my head. The communion of saints. They're alive, they're here praising God. We're all participating in the same act of worshipping God. I'm here on earth, they are in heaven, but Christ unites us, and we are especially joined during Mass-- Mass touches heaven as we enter into the worship that is constant there.

Honoring the saints or even asking for their intercession doesn't seem wrong because I don't believe that death separates us spiritually. (And because I've studied the theological points of the communion of saints doctrine.) Thus, I'm willing to pray the rosary, saying the same words the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!." (Luke 1:28) And the words Elizabeth spoke to Mary "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"(1:42. These things that are not any less true now than they were then.

A Hail Mary consists of:
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.


Florida reader said...

The one thing that is different since Gabriel and Elizabeth spoke to Mary is that Mary was then a living, bodily person on earth. Since they spoke face to face with Mary they knew that she heard them. There is nothing Biblical that I can think of that supports the idea that saints in heaven can hear your prayers.

James says that Elijah was a person just like us who prayed earnestly. That being the case why not ask some living friends to pray for you? The power of prayers of saints on earth is mighty indeed, but seems sadly undervalued by the Catholic church.

Elissa said...

The Catholic Church does not just pull its teachings out of a hat. Like all doctrines, the communion of saints is Biblical, as well as based on oral apostolic teaching. There is much Biblical evidence to support that the saints are aware of what is happening on earth. Here is a tiny sampling: (from the RSV)

Dead saints intercede for the living:
Jeremiah 15:1"Then the Lord said to me, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people." Here is Jeremiah hearing God tell him that Moses and Samuel (who had been dead for centuries) have interceded for those on earth. (Interestingly, the NIV translates 'stood before me' as 'were to stand before me' -- but I'm not sure that this changes the dynamic. Would God say 'purely hypothetically speaking, if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me....??) From this passage, the dead are obviously aware of what is happening on earth, and are praying for us...would it not be logical to assume they can hear our prayers? In a similar thread:

Rev. 6:9-10 "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had bourne; they cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?"

The heavenly presentation of the prayers of the living to God:
Rev. 5:8 "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;" Someone - whether angel or glorified human-is acting as intermediary between men and God.

In addition, interaction between the living and the dead is not taboo in the Bible. For example, when Jesus died, many dead saints arose "and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." (Matt. 27:53).

I'd be curious to know why you think the Catholic Church undervalues the prayers of the living. Do you think asking the saints to pray for us takes away from asking the living to pray for us? That's like saying I don't value your prayers b/c my husband can pray for me. Catholics value the prayers of the living and the dead. The communion of saints is an acceptance that we are all one body in Christ- the living and the dead-and are not separated by death, over which Christ has the victory.

I mentioned apostolic tradition in the beginning b/c it would be incomplete not to. Catholics and Protestants are dealing with two underlying assumptions when it comes to doctrine. Sola Scriptura is the protestant belief that only scripture can teach us. Catholics refute this, because while the Bible is infallible and claims to be so, it does not say we can only believe what is written in it(where would that leave early Christians who did not have the new testament yet??) What the Bible says is "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter," (2 Thess. 2:15) Here is Paul speaking to the Thessalonians, telling them to imitate what they were taught by the apostles, even though all of it was not written down for them. Catholics do the same--the Church has continued apostolic tradition, which is not always easily spelled out in the Bible. This is NOT a liberal anything-goes attitude: nothing can be true that CONFLICTS with the infallible word of God!

I hope this clarifies, thanks for commenting. I think for the first time in my life I'm interesed in getting a degree in theology someday...

Florida Reader said...

First of all, I apologize for being so critical. On rereading my comment it sounds like "Catholic Bashing" and I'm sorry for that.

As to why I think Catholics devalue the prayers of early people I have two thoughts. First, it seems that if you thought YOUR prayers were of value why would you spend all that time asking Mary or another saint in heaven to pray for you? Why don't you just approach God yourself instead of asking the saint to do it?

Second, in my admittedly limited experience, I've only heard Catholics pray from a book. Maybe I've forgotten something but what I remember of any Mass I've been to is that all the prayers were read as opposed to what I would call "prayers of the heart". That would seem to give the hearers the impression that the only prayers worthy of God's attention were those with perfect grammer, beautiful phrases and quotes from a Saint. How would the average person be able to match that?

This isn't meant to be critical, but an honest question. Are Catholics taught how to pray from their heart, or do they always have to get out a book and read someone else's prayer or say a memorized prayer? In other words, do the priests, or whoever prays in public, ever NOT use a book, do they model prayers from the heart?

Thanks for the Bible references in response to my first comment. Offhand I don't agree with the interpretations but will sit down and take another look at them.

Elissa said...

I have responded to your comment in a new post 'Prayer in the Church" Dec. 4