Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
I’m writing with the hope that you can help me reconcile some issues I’ve had ever since I read St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. I read and enjoyed your Mary, Mother of the Son trilogy, and while I know you’re very busy I’m hopeful that my concerns are really just silliness, easily resolved by someone with your background.
Short Background: I’m a Catholic convert, who was originally an atheist—one of those really ignorant but angry atheists. I consider myself Catholic before all else, including political party or nationality. I have absolutely no problem with any of the formal Marian dogmas such as the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception. I like to read a lot about my faith, but I’m an electrical engineer, so I do get a little confused when what I read doesn’t have a lot of math in it!
Having said all of that, I felt really uncomfortable by some of the things I read in True Devotion. Here are some examples. In all cases, the emphasis is mine.
1. It was through the Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus came into the world, and it is also through her that he must reign in the world.
Really? Jesus can’t reign in the world without Mary? He’s God. Can’t He do anything he wills?
Yes. And what he willed was to reign in the world by entering it through the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s precisely because God, in his sovereign will, chose to be Son of Mary as well as Son of God that we are saved and that he reigns in the world as the Son of Man.
3. In answer to her prayers to remain hidden, poor and lowly, God was pleased to conceal her from nearly every other human creature in her conception, her birth, her life, her mysteries, her resurrection and assumption. Her own parents did not really know her; and the angels would often ask one another, “Who can she possibly be?”, for God had hidden her from them, or if he did reveal anything to them, it was nothing compared with what he withheld.
There are a lot of cases in this book where it appears to me that St. Louis makes a lot of presumptions. How does he know what the angels would often ask one another? How does he know what God revealed to the angels? How does he know that Mary’s parents didn’t really know her? Is any of this part of capital-T Tradition?
None of this is dogmatic, but it is in accord with the implications of the Tradition. If Jesus was not fully known as the Son of God, if even Mary did not fully grasp the truth about him till the Resurrection and Pentecost, then it rather naturally follows that Mary was also not fully understood by her family and peers. As Peter said, these are “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).
14. With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, “I am he who is”. Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them.
This was very comforting to read, but it’s very short and he continues to say things that just seem kind of weird—heretical sounding to a simple guy like me.
39. Secondly, we must conclude that, being necessary to God by a necessity which is called “hypothetical”, (that is, because God so willed it), the Blessed Virgin is all the more necessary for men to attain their final end. Consequently we must not place devotion to her on the same level as devotion to the other saints as if it were merely something optional.
The key phrase here is “because God so willed it”. Once again, it comes back to the fact of the Incarnation. No Mary, no incarnation. No incarnation, no human nature for the Son to assume. No human nature for the Son, no death on the cross. No death on the cross, no resurrection. No resurrection, no justification. No justification, no salvation. Hence, no Mary, no salvation. So yes, Mary is necessary for us to attain our final end. The Incarnation necessarily means that God the Son has chosen to enter into relationship with us through her.
43. If devotion to the Blessed Virgin is necessary for all men simply to work out their salvation, it is even more necessary for those who are called to a special perfection. I do not believe that anyone can acquire intimate union with our Lord and perfect fidelity to the Holy Spirit without a very close union with the most Blessed Virgin and an absolute dependence on her support.
Because God the Son has chosen to be the Son of Mary, and we are his brothers and sisters, it logically follows that we are, in the words of Mother Teresa, to “Love Jesus as Mary loves Jesus, and love Mary as Jesus loves Mary.” This is why Jesus gives her to us as his last gift before departing this life with the words, “Behold your mother.” Those words are not meant just for John, but for all of us. That’s why John includes them in his gospel. If you have a friend who loves his mother, but you don’t love her, then your friendship is not really complete. When that friend is Jesus, who loves perfectly, and salvation *means* coming to love perfectly as Jesus does, then it logically follows that perfect love for Jesus entails perfect love for his Mother.
86. All this is taken from St. Bernard and St. Bonaventure. According to them, we have three steps to take in order to reach God. The first, nearest to us and most suited to our capacity, is Mary; the second is Jesus Christ; the third is God the Father. To go to Jesus, we should go to Mary, our mediatrix of intercession. To go to God the Father, we must go to Jesus, our Mediator of redemption. This order is perfectly observed in the devotion I shall speak about further on.
The understanding of Mary as Mediatrix is, as is always the case with Mary, really aimed at saying something about Jesus and his Church. For, of course, the whole point of the Incarnation is that God has chosen to reveal himself in a human way and to make us participants in his work. So it isn’t just Mary who is a co-mediator of the grace of God. All of us are. That’s why we are commanded to pray for one another instead of leaving everything in Jesus’ hands. Mary is the archetypal co-Mediator because she is a type of the Church. But her mediation of the grace of God is only the most obvious example of what all Christians do since all of us mediate the grace of God to the world in some way or other. Indeed, Mary can properly be called Mediatrix of all grace for a very simple reason: Jesus *is* all grace and it was through her “yes” and her subsequent pregnancy that he came into the world. Now it is through you and me and our prayers and acts of faith, hope, and love that he is mediated to the people around us. As the old saying goes, “You are the only Jesus some people will ever meet.”
Maybe (okay, definitely) my RCIA class was lacking a little bit, but I was never taught that a devotion to the Blessed Virgin or any saint was necessary for my salvation. Nowhere else in any of my reading have I come across a bold statement like this. I’m having trouble just figuring out how to grow closer to Christ, which was why I read this book. Imagine my surprise to find out that I’m doing it all wrong. I have to go to Mary to get to Jesus. Is this really what is formally taught by the Church? If not, how does it get the seal of approval from the Church?
I wouldn’t quite think of it as “having to go to Mary to get to Jesus” (as though she is a secretary to a busy executive who wants her to screen his calls). Rather, the idea is that Incarnation means that to be a brother or sister of Jesus is necessarily to be a child of Mary as well as a child of God. She is not an obstacle, but a friend and our Mother, rooting for us as the greatest member of the great “cloud of witnesses” Hebrews 12 speaks of.
I don’t mind being obedient to the Church. It makes things easier, really. But I’m having trouble reconciling what I’ve read in this book with all the other things I’ve read. Because of this, a tiny little seed of doubt has been planted and I’d sure appreciate it if you could help me figure out how to spray some Roundup on it.
Hope that helps!