Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vatican II on Mary

Assumpta est Maria in caelum. gaudent Angeli, laudantes benedicunt Dominum. … Mary has been assumed into Heaven. The angels rejoice; they bless the Lord, praising Him.
Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We celebrate the day that the Virgin Mary was taken body and soul into Heaven by her Son, Jesus Christ, at the end of her earthly life. In the East, it is known as the “Dormition of Mary”, that is, her “falling asleep.”
It is appropriate then, as the blog gets officially underway, to begin with a look at what Vatican II says about Mary.
I have encountered many who fear that the role of Mary in salvation history has been diminished in the name of the ecumenism which sprung forth out of Vatican II. I have not experienced this personally, for most faithful Catholics I know who are devoted to Mary are also devoted to true ecumenism. It is the false spirit of ecumenism, which Vatican II is often wrongly blamed (or praised) for, which causes priests and others to tell us that it is wrong to pray for the conversion of non-Catholics (especially Jewish people), that has led us to deny that which is distinctly Catholic. So perhaps the role of Mary has been diminished on account of this false ecumenism. I am ignorant of the state of Marian devotion before Vatican II, but I have no difficulty imagining that it was much better than it is now.
There are no other dogma which have bothered Protestants more than those regarding Mary. But that being said, some Evangelicals are cautiously gaining a greater appreciation for Mary. Timothy George, a Baptist minister, writes in FIRST THINGS:
“If Catholics need to be called away from the excesses of Marian devotion to a stricter fidelity to the biblical witness, evangelicals should reexamine their negative attitudes toward Mary, many of which derive from anti-Catholic bias rather than sound biblical theology. “
Progress with Evangelicals is being made, with special thanks to those who have remained faithful to the council’s teachings on Mary and ecumenism.
Before I delve into the documents, I want to clarify, for any confused Protestants, the difference between “assumption” and “ascension.” Mary, Enoch, and Elijah were assumed into Heaven. They were not taken their by their own power, but by the power of God. Christ, however, being God, ascended into Heaven by His own power. That is what differentiates “assumption” from “ascension”: one is “assumed” by means of another, but one “ascends” by means of himself. For a more detailed explanation of the Assumption, I recommend these two tracts at Catholic Answers: Immaculate Conception and Assumption and Assumptions About Mary.
The most significant thing about the council’s statements on Mary is where it is located. Rather than placing this section in a document of its own, the council fathers decided to include it as chapter VIII of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Thus what is said about Mary is not as important Mary qua Mary, but Mary qua the Church. It follows then that if our understanding of the Church is based upon our understanding of Mary, then to diminish the importance of Marian doctrines is to diminish the teaching regarding the Church herself.
So that brings us to the text itself. The easiest thing to do is to paste the document here and make comments within the text. I might change this depending on reader’s reactions. For brevity’s sake (it is still long), I am cropping the least important portions. Furthermore, I have omitted some references. Emphasis is bolded; my comments are in red.(Read all of Lumen Gentium at the Vatican’s website.)
I. Introduction
52. Wishing in His supreme goodness and wisdom to effect the redemption of the world, “when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, ..that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). … This divine mystery of salvation is revealed to us and continued in the Church, which the Lord established as His body. Joined to Christ the Head and in the unity of fellowship with all His saints, the faithful must in the first place reverence the memory “of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ” (Roman Canon).
53. The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the RedeemerThe ancient title of “Theotokos” (Mother of God) was used at the Council of Ephesus in 431 against Nestorius who claimed that Mary gave birth only to the human nature of Jesus and thus it was only the human nature that died on the cross, though it was probably in use before then. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is “the mother of the members of Christ . . . having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head” (S. Augustine, De S. Virginitate. 6: PL 40, 399)… Mary was immaculately conceived, i.e., she was conceived without the stain of original sin, but this does not preclude the need for redemption, rather, her redemption occurred in a special manner.
…54. Wherefore this Holy Synod, in expounding the doctrine on the Church, in which the divine Redeemer works salvation, intends to describe with diligence both the role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body, and the duties of redeemed mankind toward the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men, particularly of the faithful. It does not, however, have it in mind to give a complete doctrine on Mary, nor does it wish to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified. Those opinions therefore may be lawfully retained which are propounded in Catholic schools concerning her, who occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and yet very close to us (Cfr. Paulus Pp. VI, allocutio in Concilio, die 4 dec. 1963: AAS 56 (1964) p. 37).
II. The Role of the Blessed Mother in the Economy of Salvation
55. The Sacred Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testament, as well as ancient Tradition show the role of the Mother of the Saviour in the economy of salvation in an ever clearer light and draw attention to it. The books of the Old Testament describe the history of salvation, by which the coming of Christ into the world was slowly prepared. These earliest documents, as they are read in the Church and are understood in the light of a further and full revelation, bring the figure of the woman, Mother of the Redeemer, into a gradually clearer light. When it is looked at in this way, she is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise of victory over the serpent which was given to our first parents after their fall into sin (Cf. Gen. 3:15). Likewise she is the Virgin who shall conceive and bear a son, whose name will be called Emmanuel (Cf Is 7, 14; cf. Mich. 5, 2-3; Mt. 1, 22-23). She stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from Him. With her the exalted Daughter of Sion, and after a long expectation of the promise, the times are fulfilled and the new Economy established, when the Son of God took a human nature from her, that He might in the mysteries of His flesh free man from sin.
56. The Father of mercies willed that the incarnation should be preceded by the acceptance of her who was predestined to be the mother of His Son, so that just as a woman contributed to death, so also a woman should contribute to life… I have heard it said that the Catholic Church and Christianity is inherently sexist because it sees women as the cause of all evil through Eve. There are several problems with that statement, not the least of which is that 1) Adam takes most of the blame in the New Testament, and 2) it ignores the basic theology of Mary as the “New Eve.” …It is no wonder therefore that the usage prevailed among the Fathers whereby they called the mother of God entirely holy and free from all stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creatureWe see here confirmed the teaching that Mary never sinned. Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness, the Virgin of Nazareth is greeted, on God’s command, by an angel messenger as “full of grace” (Cf. Lk. 1:28), and to the heavenly messenger she replies: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38). Thus Mary, a daughter of Adam, consenting to the divine Word, became the mother of Jesus, the one and only Mediator. Embracing God’s salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption. Rightly therefore the holy Fathers see her as used by God not merely in a passive way, but as freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience….All the praise that is given to Mary is because she acted freely out of love of God. Although she was given special graces, these graces, as no graces do, took away her free will. She was not forced to bear Christ. If she had been, the Holy Spirit would have been a rapist of sorts! For this reason Mary is often called “our hope”, because she stands above all the other saints in her devotion to her Son.
…58. In the public life of Jesus, Mary makes significant appearances. This is so even at the very beginning, when at the marriage feast of Cana, moved with pity, she brought about by her intercession the beginning of miracles of Jesus the Messiah (Cf. Jn. 2:1-11). This scripture is often implored by apologists in defense of prayers to Mary and her intercession for us, because we see her actually effecting the actions of Jesus. In the course of her Son’s preaching she received the words whereby in extolling a kingdom beyond the calculations and bonds of flesh and blood, He declared blessed (Cf. Mk. 3. 35; 27-28those who heard and kept the word of God, as she was faithfully doing (Cf. Lk. 2, 19, 51). Mary is not blessed just because she is his mother, but because she is faithful to God. After this manner the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan (Cf. Jn. 19:25), grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to His disciple with these words: “Woman, behold thy son” (Jn. 19:26-27).
59. … Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin (i.e. the Immaculate Conception), on the completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory (i.e. the Assumption), and exalted by the Lord asQueen of the universe, that she might be the more fully confimed [sic] to her Son, the Lord of lords and the conqueror of sin and death. The coronation of Mary is church doctrine, but it is not formally defined dogma. Many hoped the Pope John Paul II would formally define it much like Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption, however, that never came to be.
III. On the Blessed Virgin and the Church
60. There is but one Mediator as we know from the words of the apostle, “for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power.For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It 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. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ.
61. Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence…she is our mother in the order of grace.
62. This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until The eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator. The role of a Christian, including Mary, to help others does not stop at death. We still pray for the good and salvation of those on Earth in Heaven just as we did on Earth. Christ is the Mediator in that He makes it possible for us to pray for one another and even have access to God. But that does not mean that Mary, or any of us, cannot be “mediators” in the sense that we intercede and advocate for one another.
For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.
The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer. There is no worship of Mary allowed in the Catholic Church. Somewhere there are Catholics who, like Protestants, think that any prayers to Mary are equal to worship, so we must eschew those practices. These Catholics, in this regard, have abandoned Catholicism. There are probably Catholics who believe that devotion to Mary is a hang over from Mediterranean religions, or from the supposedly “angry Jesus” that developed in the middle ages. They may think that Vatican II discouraged Marian devotion, but that is clearly not the case. Mary is subordinate to Christ. There is no question about that. But, again, that does not mean that, as a servant of her Son, she cannot pray for others even while in Heaven.
63. By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God’s messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren (Rm. 8:29), namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.
We see here that Mary stands for the church. Mary, as mother, united herself to her Son by 1) accepting Him into her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, 2) literally bearing Him forth to the world, 3) uniting herself to His will and suffering by means of a shared life together. The Church, as bride, unites herself to Christ by means of 1) receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, 2) bearing Christ figuratively through missionary and charity work, and 3) uniting to His will through the Sacraments and to His suffering through persecution.
64. The Church indeed, contemplating her hidden sanctity, imitating her charity and faithfully fulfilling the Father’s will, by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By her preaching she brings forth to a new and immortal life the sons who are born to her in baptism, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God. She herself is a virgin, who keeps the faith given to her by her Spouse whole and entire. Imitating the mother of her Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, she keeps with virginal purity an entire faith, a firm hope and a sincere charity.
What are some of the characteristics of a good mother? She loves her children, so this makes her patient, yet stern, she seeks to educate her children in what is true rather than false, and she seeks to protect her children from harm. The church does each of these through 1) discipline (both in the sense of practices and punishments), 2) teachings of the Magisterium, and 3) the Sacraments, which give us grace to avoid sin.
Perhaps a departure from Mary is one reason for a disregard in fasting, the imporance of excommunications, the controversial teachings of the church, and proper respect for the Eucharist and the use of confession. In fact, it seems to me that, historically, the Protestants who have the most hangups about Mary are the ones least likely to practice fasting and excommunications, are unlikely to believe that the church is a “teaching” (rather than a “learning”) church, and are more likely to have “ordinances” rather than Sacraments.
65. But while in the most holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle, the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin (Eph. 5:27). And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues….Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her exalted Type, and continually progresses in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things….
Some might read only the first half of the bolded sentence above and laugh, for clearly the Church has not reached perfection, right? Yes and no. We individual members of the Church are often quite horrid sinners. Thankfully, the holiness of the Church is not dependent upon the holiness of the members. The Church is perfect in the sense that the teachings of the Magisterium are guided by the Holy Spirit, do not change, and cannot err, and the Sacraments are means of grace by with God helps the individual sinful members attain holiness. If the holiness of the members were a prerequisite to having valid Sacraments or having the authority to teach infallibly, we would be in a catch-22 situation. Thankfully, God is more merciful than that. That is what that sentence means. That is how the Church can be perfect, yet still increasing in holiness.
IV. The Cult of the Blessed Virgin in the Church
“Cult” is a technical term in religion meaning a body of devotions or rituals. It does not have the negative connotation that Americans usually associate with it.
67. This most Holy Synod deliberately teaches this Catholic doctrine and at the same time admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and the practices and exercises of piety, recommended by the magisterium of the Church toward her in the course of centuries be made of great moment, and those decrees, which have been given in the early days regarding the cult of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, be religiously observed. But it exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God. Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Holy Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always look to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and piety. …
Devotion to Mary is to be fostered, but measures must be taken to keep it from being too extreme; it must always be Christocentric. Of course, there are some who will take this latter portion to mean that devotion should be stifled. Rather, what the council had in mind is to prevent the excess of devotion that reportedly occurs in places like India, where Catholicism is said to be sometimes indistinguishable from Hinduism.
V. Mary the sign of created hope and solace to the wandering people of God
68. In the interim just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected is the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (Cf. 2 Pet. 3:10), as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth.
69. It gives great joy and comfort to this holy and general Synod that even among the separated brethren [Protestants and others] there are some who give due honor to the Mother of our Lord and Saviour, especially among the Orientals, who with devout mind and fervent impulse give honor to the Mother of God, ever virgin. The entire body of the faithful pours forth instant supplications to the Mother of God and Mother of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Saviour, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity.
Each and all these items which are set forth in this dogmatic Constitution have met with the approval of the Council Fathers. And We by the apostolic power given Us by Christ together with the Venerable Fathers in the Holy Spirit, approve, decree and establish it and command that what has thus been decided in the Council be promulgated for the glory of God.

Mary, you were Assumed into Heaven, pray for us!
May the Lord bless us and keep us, deliver us from evil, and bring us to life everlasting, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

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