Alright, so we are continuing our journey in looking at common questions about the Catholic faith. We’re looking for answers to those common questions about the Catholic faith. And one of the most common questions that I've experienced in my life as a Catholic are about the Blessed Virgin Mary. In my experience this is one of the things that, in particular non-Catholic Christians, especially from Protestant traditions, have the greatest difficulty with. I mean sometimes I've even met Christians who say I believe in the real presence of Jesus in the eucharist; I even accepted that Jesus instituted the church and the papacy, but man, Mary — that’s just tough.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is an Anglican and he was really interested in the Catholic Church, and he had actually even been attending a Catholic mass because that was the church closest to his home — he moved into a new place. And he said to me I like everything I'm hearing and seeing and reading about the Catholic Church but when I go to the Catholic Church and I hear you all sing to Mary and hear you pray to Mary, he said it just feels like idolatry. And he was being honest; he wasn't attacking or anything; he was just telling me what his feelings were. And I think you'll see those feelings reflected in the questions that we get from a lot of people.
So in this presentation what we’re going to do is look at the biblical roots of Catholic devotion to Mary in particular. Because I think that's the stumbling block for a lot of people: Why do we venerate her? Why do we ask for her prayers? Why do we pray to her? What is all that about? Now before we begin I want to start with a few key principles from the teaching of the church, just to make sure we’re clear before we look at the biblical roots. So three key points here from the Catechism. In paragraph 487 the catechism says this about Catholic teaching on Mary:
What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.
Okay, that’s the first point and it’s really critical. Everything that the church says about Mary, everything we believe about Mary, is based on what we believe about Jesus. And you’re going to see this when it comes to devotion in a very powerful way in just a minute but keep that principle in mind. We don't believe things about Mary in contrast to or in opposition to our beliefs about Jesus. Our beliefs about Mary and our practices for Mary flow out of what we believe about who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish. That’s the first point.
…Now that really matters because in an ancient Jewish setting if your son was a king then you were a queen. This is so important. In other words, Mary is the Queen Mother of the kingdom of God.
Now you might be thinking well hold on a second. I’ve never heard of this Queen Mother, what are you talking about? Well it's because we got to go back to the Old Testament. Just like Peter's office in Matthew's gospel was from the Old Testament figure of the Prime Minister, so too Mary in a sense has an office and it goes back to the Old Testament office of the Queen Mother. If you look there at point two on your outline the Queen Mother was a very widely known figure and very important in the Old Testament. In Old Testament times, unlike today, if you wanted to know who the queen was you did not look at the king's wife. The king's wife, or wives right because sometimes they had more than one, were not the queen, the queen would be the king's mother. So in the Old Testament, you know those genealogies those list of names nobody wants to read because they’re so boring, whenever they give the king's name they don't give his wife's name because she’s not the queen. They’ll give the king's name and then his mama's name, his mother's name, because she is the Queen Mother. The Hebrew there for Queen Mother is Gebirah which literally means great lady in Hebrew. It’s interesting because what do we call Mary Our Lady. Yeah, why do we call her Our Lady? Well because it's an archaic English expression referring to her royal status, right, her Queen-ship.
So this great lady, this Gebirah, the Queen Mother, was a very important figure in the kingdom of Israel from around 1000 BC all the way down to the sixth century before Jesus. So for hundreds of years whenever there was a king the queen was his mother, and there were many, many different ones of this. Now how would you know who the Queen Mother is if you saw her on the street? Well she’d have certain signs and symbols of her office. First, Jeremiah 13:18 tells us that the Queen Mother wore a crown, right. That's one way to spot a queen, look for the lady with a crown. Second, the Book of Kings also tells us that she sat on a throne. Wow. And guess where that throne was, it was at the right hand of the king. So I mean that clearly shows she has a serious position in the kingdom if she’s sitting at the right hand of the king. Also, too, in the Old Testament the Queen Mother would be honored by the king himself. So King Solomon for example honors his mother, Queen Bathsheba, even though we know she wasn't a flawless lady either. Why? Because she was the queen; she was the Queen Mother. Finally, the Queen Mother was a powerful, this is important, a powerful intercessor in the kingdom. So if you wanted to get the king to do something, right, a great idea was to ask his mother to ask him. Why? Because he can't refuse his mother, right.
And I’m not making all this up. I’m actually getting this from the Bible itself. I know you might be thinking ooh, where’s all that.
…In the first Book of Kings, chapter 2, verse 19, we have a story about what has happened after David has died. So David has died, King David, and now King Solomon is his successor, okay, so he's become the king. And because Solomon is now king, his mother, who is Bathsheba, is now the queen, and watch what happens with this lady. Verse 19:
So Bathshe'ba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adoni'jah.
That was one of Solomon’s brothers. He was trying to get her to do something for him.
And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king's mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, "I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me." And the king said to her, "Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you."
Alright, pause there. Notice a couple of things. She sits on, I know the RSV, the translation I’m using here says, she has a seat brought in for her but in Hebrew it’s the same word as throne. The translators didn’t want to say throne for her because they were like how can she have a throne when the king has a throne. And the answer is just say throne because it’s both thrones. She is the queen, he is the king. So she sits on a throne, she's at his right hand. When she comes into the room, what does Solomon do? He bows before her, honors her. Why would he do that? Well there's a little commandment right, it’s the fourth one, what does it say? Honor your father and your mother, right. So especially since she's the queen he honors her even though he is the king himself. And then finally she asks him to do her a favor, and what's his response? I can't refuse you, make your requests. So we see her intercessory power being given in this passage.
Now any First Century Jew who knew his Old Testament Scriptures would know the office of the Queen Mother. Now fast-forward to the New Testament and when Mary becomes the mother of Jesus the King, what does that make her? Obviously the new Queen Mother. She’s the Queen Mother not of the earthly kingdom of David but of the heavenly kingdom of God. Now that is striking. And again you don’t have to take my word for it. The Bible tells us this in the story of the Annunciation and the Magnificat, two key passages here.
…This is the famous story of the Annunciation, and I know you know this story but let's look at it with the eyes of the queen and the king in your mind. Listen to what it says:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
Pause there. Notice Joseph is from the house of David. What does that mean in a Jewish setting? That means that Joseph is royalty. It’s like the royal family gone underground literally right, because the Romans are in power now, Herod’s in power, but he's part of the royal family. And so let’s keep going:
And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Now pause there. Why does that passage matter? Why does is matter that the angel Gabriel says that Jesus will be given the throne of David? Well it's because we just saw Solomon sitting on the throne of David. And what did that mean for Bathsheba? It meant that she was elevated to the office of queen. So Gabriel's annunciation to Mary not only has implications for who Jesus is, it has implications for who Mary is. She's being made a queen, and she would've known it. In fact she does know it and she tells us that in the Magnificat.
…In the Magnificat Mary says these words:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And she goes on to praise him over and over again in the next few verses, but one in particular stands out. Verse 52 Mary says:
he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;
Hmm, somebody got knocked off a throne and then somebody got exalted to a throne, right. Notice it’s more than one. He’s exalted those of low degree. Well who just heard words about a throne in the previous verses? Mary from Gabriel. Jesus will be given the throne of his father David and who has been exalted also to a throne as Queen Mother? Mary herself. And she praises God for it. She praises the Lord for it.
So when we think about Mary we need to realize she's not just a humble virgin, little girl from Nazareth, she's all those things but she's more. She is royalty. She is a queen. Now that’s really hard for us especially if you grew up as an American to get your brain around around, right. Because we don’t live in a monarchy, right, we live in a Republic. So we’re used to Presidents and cabinets and congresses and not kings and queens. But if you dabble in English gossip, right, if you like looking at all these things about the Royal Family, you kind of get an idea of what that means right. The Royal Family, the idea of a monarchy, is something that’s passed down from generation to generation to generation. And that's what it was like in Jesus' time. The kind of kingdom established by God had both a King and a Queen Mother and the kingdom of God, that Jesus is coming to inaugurate, is the same way. Now you might say, those are nice but it’s kind of subtle Dr. Pitre, is there any other evidence in the New Testament that she's a queen? And of course I wouldn’t ask it unless there were. Alright, so there is…