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September 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mary, Mother of God


Who is Mary, Mother of Jesus (who is God the Son)? For Catholics, she is the ultimate model of Christian Faith, the First of All apostles, the First to believe in her Son and her Savior. Mary is mother to Jesus and eventually to His disciples. At the foot of the cross, Mary received her "second Annunciation".

But who is Mary to non-Catholics? Present-day Protestants criticize Catholics for their "adoration" of Mary, calling it idolatrous. It would be interesting though how the Founders of Protestantism, from Martin Luther to John Calvin, look at Mary. Present-day Protestants would be surprised.

Martin Luther said Mary is "the highest woman," that "we can never honour her enough," that "the veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart" and that we should "wish that everyone know and respect her." John Calvin said, "It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor." Zwingli said, "I esteem immensely the Mother of God," and, "The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow."

Most Reformers rejected the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary, but some affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary and all accepted the Virgin Birth.

Since the Reformation, Protestants have tended to pay little attention to Mary, primarily in reaction against the excessive level of adoration they believe is relegated to her in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. But this may be beginning to change. In the summer of 2004, Christian History & Biography magazine (affiliated with the Protestant Christianity Today) dedicated an entire issue to Mary. Included were articles suggesting the value of making a larger place for her in Protestantism.

Islamic theology accepts that Jesus was the result of a virgin birth. The Quran tells the story of Maryam, who is Mary, in two places, 3:35-47 and 19:16-34, but provides much less detail than the New Testament. It says Maryam was dedicated to God's service by her mother while still in the womb (Quran 3:35), that she was cared for by Zakariya (Zecharias) (3:36), and that in her childhood God provided for her to help her grow strong and pious (3:37). God then sent an angel to announce that she could shortly expect to bear a son, specifying that "O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee - chosen thee above the women of all nations." (Qur'an 3:42). It specifies that she conceived Jesus despite being a virgin: "She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, 'Be,' and it is!" (3:47).

As a Catholic Christian, I am honored to be given an opportunity to recognize a woman so blessed, so venerated, and yet so humble and unassuming. She never relished in her position as the Mother of Jesus, but even her own Son obeyed her whispered requests ("They have no more wine"). Mary is God's gift to mankind, a good example of what women should be: creatures possessing quiet strength, a force which need not be violent yet can change the world.






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