Mary & Roman Catholicism
“Emma” has been the most popular girl name for the last three years. However, that streak pales in comparison to “Mary,” which held the top spot for 30 consecutive years from 1917-1946. It had another streak of 9 years from 1953-1961. That means “Mary” has been the most popular name for baby girls 39 of the last 100 years. According to the Social Security Administration, 3,455,228 females have been named “Mary” during that time. Many of them were named after the mother of Jesus.
We are first introduced to Mary when she was a betrothed virgin living in Nazareth. An angel named Gabriel visited Mary and announced that she would give birth to the promised Messiah. This would fulfill prophecy, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Mary gave birth to Jesus nine months later in Bethlehem. God had providentially brought her to that small peasant village just in time to deliver the Messiah so that another prophecy could be fulfilled, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” brought forth the Bread of Life (John 6). How fitting! Mary and her new family eventually settled in Nazareth, the fulfillment of yet another prophecy (Matthew 2:23).
After the Lord started His public ministry, there is not much said about Mary. She was present at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), she came to speak with Jesus in Capernaum (Matthew 12:46-50), and she stood near the cross when Jesus was crucified (John 19:25). The last mention of Mary is in the upper room following the Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:14).
Mary & Roman Catholicism
One does not have to be raised in the Roman Catholic Church (as I was) to know that it puts a great deal of emphasis on Mary. She is called "Mother of God," "Queen of Heaven," "Refuge of Sinners," and more. There are also special feasts, shrines, and prayers in her honor. In Catholic tradition, few are mentioned more than Mary.
Though Mary was a special woman who certainly deserves our respect, the Catholic Church has exalted her above measure. She has been given an exaggerated position that goes far beyond Scripture. For instance, Catholics pray to Mary, bow before statues of Mary, and see Mary as active in dispensing God's grace. As Monsignor J.D. Conway wrote, "It is the common and explicit teaching of the Church today that every grace given to men comes to them through Mary" (What the Church Teaches, p. 211).
The Catholic view of Mary is perhaps best seen in the highly regarded book, The Glories of Mary, which bears the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur (official declarations that the book has no doctrinal or moral error). Here are some quotes:
P. 17 — “Mary so loved us that she gave her only-begotten son.”
(They substituted Mary’s name in place of God, John 3:16)
P. 18 — “No one besides Mary has loved us so much as to give an only-begotten and well-beloved Son for us.”
(What about God the Father?)
P. 34 — “That pledge is Mary, whom he has given them as a champion or advocate.”
(Jesus is our advocate, 1 John 2:1)
P. 44 — “If Mary is for us, who is against us?”
(They substituted Mary’s name in place of God, Romans 8:31)
P. 52 — “Mary is the mother and dispenser of every good.”
(They substituted Mary’s name in place of God, James 1:17)
P. 57 — “She is the city of refuge, the only hope of sinners.”
(What about Christ?)
P. 59 — “She restrains her son’s hand and withholds him from punishing.”
(A mere mortal restraining the hand of God?)
P. 72 — “Mary conquered and bound the devil.”
(Jesus destroyed the devil, Hebrews 2:14)
P. 74 — “At the name of Mary every knee bows.”
(They substituted Mary’s name in place of Jesus, Philippians 2:10)
P. 78 — “Mary’s intercession is necessary for salvation.”
(Man’s salvation depends on a mere mortal?)
P. 87 — “Mary… no one is saved, except through you.”
(They substituted Mary in place of Jesus, John 14:6)
P. 95 — “At the command of Mary, everybody obeys, even God.”
P. 96 — “Jesus, who is omnipotent, has also made Mary omnipotent.”
(They have attributed a divine characteristic to Mary)
Surely one can see that the above quotes are way over the top. They insert Mary's name in place of God and Jesus, attribute to her divine power, and portray her as an essential component of salvation. That is far more than Scripture permits.
The last recorded words of Mary appear at the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry (John 2:5), and the last mention of Mary by name is in the upper room at Jerusalem (Acts 1:14), which was before the church's establishment. Her name does not appear in the letters of Paul, Peter, James, John, or Jude. This is not said to disparage Mary, but to put our view of her in the proper perspective. She was not the iconic focal point that Catholicism makes her out to be.
A passage that drives home this point is Luke 11:27-28. In that text, a woman yelled out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” This would have been the ideal time for Jesus to give Mary an exalted position, if that were His desire. However, He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Mary was among the greatest women to ever live. She truly had a heart for God. When one considers her age at the time of Gabriel’s visit, the likelihood that she lost her husband with at least seven kids to raise, and the heartache she endured seeing her oldest son executed, they cannot help but be impressed. Her example is worthy imitation by all. However, Mary is not honored by creating fanciful traditions that give her positions of power and influence unknown to Scripture. She faithfully fulfilled her role in the divine plan and then faded into the background. I hope this helps.