A question was asked about the importance of Mary in the spiritual life of Catholics and the misconception that Mary can appear equal to Jesus.
Recently I was asked to please pray for someone because “Father, I know you’ve got a direct line to the Big Guy upstairs.” It is natural to ask others for prayers and it’s not uncommon to think those who have dedicated their life to God have more impact with their prayers of intercession. With Mary this is certainly true. She is unique in her holiness and unique in her role as Mother of God. I told the gentlemen that I would pray for his intention but implored him to put Mary “on the team.” She’s the real all-star when it comes to intercession.
We honor our Lady because she is unique in the order of grace. Mary is the Mother of God. No other creature can state that she bore the Redeemer of the World. At the wedding feast in Cana, Mary instructed the servants to, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary’s holiness and dedication to the will of God surpassed all others and she continues to guide us gently to her Son. When we honor Mary in our prayers and liturgical feasts we are honoring the power of God and His generosity in giving us so loving a mother. When we venerate Mary and ask her intercession we give glory to God.
The teachings of the Church have always explicitly stated that Mary is in no way equal to Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm explains the importance of our Lady in paragraphs 963-975 and clearly states her unique role which finds it’s source in Christ Himself. Here are a few important excerpts from the Catechism which explain the Church’s devotion to Mary and her powerful intercession:
969 “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.
970 “Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.”
971 “All generations will call me blessed”: “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.” The Church rightly honors “the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.” The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an “epitome of the whole Gospel,” express this devotion to the Virgin Mary.
The Archdiocese of Washington enjoys a rich diversity of parishes, many with a cultural distinctiveness. Among God’s gifts to this Archdiocese is a vibrant African-American Catholic heritage. Just over a dozen of our parishes are predominantly African-American in membership. In terms of liturgy and parish life, this most often means that the liturgies feature significant amounts of Gospel Music, vibrant preaching, and celebratory worship. My own Parish, Holy Comforter–St. Cyprian, traces its roots back to 1893 when former slaves founded a parish (with Cardinal Gibbons’ permission) to serve the needs of African Americans. The parish remains to this day a place where the Catholic Faith is celebrated with great vitality. If I do say so myself, we have one of the best choirs in the Archdiocese! And the preaching isn’t bad either :-).
I will also say that, among African-American Catholics, there exists a variety of tastes regarding Church life. Some of our parishioners love the vibrant Gospel Music, others prefer the quieter more traditional liturgies in our parish. Bible studies flourish alongside traditional novenas. Incense and rosaries are just as present as the joyful praise and hand-clapping of the Gospel Mass. Our choir can sing from the Vivaldi Gloria just as from one of the great old Gospel Hymns.
Many of our parishes with predominantly African-American membership are served by our own diocesan priests. Some of the parishes however are served by priests of the Josephite Order, an order traditionally dedicated to serving the needs of African-American Catholics. The following video, produced by the order, gives something of a sense of the flavor of African-American parishes.
Spread the word about the diversity of our Catholic Church. We have one faith, but a beautiful tapestry of expression. In future posts I hope we can show you other diverse expressions of the one and true faith we all share.
Catholics get a lot of questions about Confession, and Catholics themselves have a lot of questions about this Sacrament. The usual discussion centers around, “Why should I have to tell my sins to some priest? Can’t I just talk directly to God?”
The fundamental answer to these questions is that the Lord Jesus himself set up the Sacrament of Confession for us. There are many biblical roots to this Sacrament detailed in the paragraphs below.
Shortly after his resurrection from dead, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23). In the first place, we should note that this passage does not make a lot of sense if it is always sufficient for us merely to confess all our sins privately to Jesus in prayer. Why would Jesus give the Apostles the astonishing power to forgive sins unless he expected people to come to them and benefit from this ministry? And how could they exercise this ministry if they did not “hear” confessions? Hence, the Bible does not teach us that all we must do is tell our sins privately to Jesus in prayer. Rather, since Jesus gave the power to forgive or retain sin to the apostles, it is implicitly clear that he expected people to speak openly of their sins to the Apostles.
There are other passages indicating that the practice of the early Church was open declaration of sin. Many also of those who were now believers came, [to Paul] confessing and divulging their practices(Acts 19:18). So it is evident that Scripture attests to the practice of the early Christians of going to the apostles (the first priests) to confess their sins. Here is another example from the Letter of James: Is anyone among you sick? Let him summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (James 5:14-16). Thus the general biblical teaching, while not excluding personal confession of sins to God in prayer, emphasizes that we also must regularly confess our sins one to another, and more specifically to the “presbyters” (priests) “of the Church.”
Hence Confession is a biblical sacrament and to be a “Bible-believing Christian” is to accept the place of Confession in the life of the Church and the life of the individual.
I have included these reflections and developed them more fully in a two page flyer that you can view HERE.
There is also an interesting post, and a discussion on confession, on Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s site. After reading a brief discussion of the Sacrament and its beauty, you get the chance to “vote” by recording the frequency with which you receive the Sacrament. The full thread, including the voting results, is HERE.
Some folks who have been away for a while have questions and concerns to express. (Even Catholics who have never been away have many questions!) Please feel free to use the comments section of this blog to ask questions and state concerns. All of us who contribute to this blog are pleased to answer questions and address your concerns. Your questions will help this blog to get its wings and really fly. Ask and ye shall be answered!
A friend of mine recently challenged me and the other authors of this blog to set forth 40 reasons for coming home to the Catholic Church. Since there are forty days for Lent, we should set forth a new reason each day. Well, since Lent is seven days underway as of tomorrow you can see we have some catching up to do! So, to begin here are seven reasons briefly stated and described:
No one can take your place.T his may seem an odd place to begin but the simple fact is that God has summoned you for your own sake. No one can pray like you do. No one can praise God like you. No one has the same combination of gifts, talent and personality. You are an unrepeatable, irreplaceable member of God’s family and all of us are impoverished by your absence. God misses you personally when you are not present at the the Mass and are absent from the life of his Body, the Church.
You need to eat. Jesus says that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. He also says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53) Simply put you and I starve if we do not regularly receive Holy Communion.
Guidance– the Catholic Church offers over 2000 years of experience and wisdom to us. For these two millennia members of the Church have meditated on God’s Word, lived through life’s joys and difficulties, and, through it all, recorded a rich tradition and teaching that helps us navigate life’s unpredictable paths. There is a rich tradition of teaching, the examples of the saints, the catechism and the steady proclamation God’s word that are here to guide you and me on our journey.
Stability – St. Paul told Timothy to preach the Word, in season and out of season, whether popular or unpopular. The Catholic Church is sometimes criticized for being “out of step” with modern times. But in a way, this is a great compliment since it indicates that the Church is willing to preach God’s Word in terms of what we need not merely what we want. We don’t always want to hear that we should turn away from sin but we need to hear this. Individual members of the Church may not always live perfectly the teachings of Christ, but the Church has never failed to announce Jesus Christ and his teachings even at great cost. The Church is often hated today for insisting on God’s Moral Truth and the dignity of human life.
Mercy – At the heart of Catholic practice is the “difficult” Sacrament, Confession. It is difficult because most of us struggle to really like going to confession. But truly there is great peace in hearing the Lord encourage us and absolve us through the words of the priest, “I absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Great peace is experienced in those words and Confession well prepared and celebrated is a wondrous experience of mercy.
Rich diversity – The Catholic Church extends not only back in time two thousand years, but also to every land, language and culture. The Church exists on every Continent and currently has more than 1 Billion members. This gives the Catholic Church a rich diversity. In this Archdiocese Mass is celebrated in 11 different languages. Latinos, Africans, African Americans, Asian and Europeans and many others of diverse background enrich this Archdiocese with rich liturgical experiences and a beautiful tapestry of Catholic life. United in one faith but diverse in the cultural expression of that faith your Catholic Home is filled with many and varied gifts.
All Seven Sacraments. The Catholic Church celebrates all seven Sacraments of the Christian Tradition. Strangely, the majority of the Protestant denominations dropped many of the Sacraments such as Confirmation, Confession, Communion, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders etc. These sacraments were dropped by them despite the fact that they are well attested to in Scripture. The Catholic Church, (along with the Orthodox Churches), continue to celebrate all seven Sacraments. Maybe a way to think of this reason is that God has given us certain medicines to heal us. If I am going to the doctor I want to be sure that the Doctor makes use of all the helpful medicines necessary for my healing. The Catholic Church, like a good doctor and a good mother makes sure we get all our medicines. Life is much better, more spiritually healthy with all seven sacraments and this a very good reason to come home.
Please feel free to comment on these first seven reasons for coming home. You may have doubts, concerns, questions or even rebuttals to what I have written. Please feel free to weigh in!
I am going to be bold and claim that I can “prove” to you that God exists, and that our desires and longings are that very proof! Think about it: your desires and longings are infinite aren’t they? When was the last time you were ever completely satisfied and needed absolutely nothing? If we’re really honest, we have to admit that our desires and longings are infinite—without any limit. But wait a minute! The world in which we live is finite; it has limits. How can a limited, finite world give us unlimited and infinite desire? The answer is that it cannot. There is an old saying in Latin: Nemo dat quod non habet (no one can give what he does not have). So we must have received these infinite, unlimited longings from that which is also unlimited and infinite. This unlimited and infinite One we call God. Have I proved my case? Let me know what you think. The world couldn’t give you these deepest longings! Only the infinite God could have done that! He exists and he has written his name on our hearts. All these desires and longings we have are ultimately pointing us to God. Consider reading the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, where Jesus meets the Woman of Samaria at the well. She comes to the well of world to satisfy her thirst. But Jesus reminds her that “everyone who drinks from this well will be thirsty again.” He goes on to teach her that He is really the only one who can give her water that will truly satisfy her longings. In effect he says to her, “What are you longing for? Maybe it’s God!”
Welcome to the Maybe It’s God blog, launched by the Archdiocese of Washington in Lent 2009 as a place to learn more and ask questions about the Catholic faith. If you have drifted away from our Catholic faith, check out this invitation from Archbishop Wuerl: Longing for something? Maybe it’s God.