Our Lord is seen as the ultimate paradigm of suffering.He is the suffering servant who unjustly but
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willfully allowed himself to grieve and suffer a most tortuous death for the salvation of man. Yet as Adam fell with Eve, so Christ rose with his own Eve. This New Eve is a title reserved for Mary. As Eve, she is not the primary reason for the fall or in Mary’s particular case the redemption, but as Eve she also plays a pivotal role aside her Adam, who is Jesus. Mary represents a suffering servant in concert with Christ who willingly sacrifices her son for the sake of mankind. She accepts the sufferings of Christ, shares in them with her son, watches him die and holds his sacred body in her trembling and grief stricken body. In this Mary does deserve thanks and patronage and also to be imitated and revered as a model of Christian suffering. Christian counselors can use her as an example to help others who experience suffering in their own lives.
As stated her whole life was a life of sacrifice and grief leading to the ultimate piercing of her heart at Calvary. She was not spared the pain simply of her title, “Mother of God”, but like the King of the Universe, this spiritual Queen set the same example while on earth and accepted the crosses of this temporal reality. It is thus prudent and wise to utilize the rich spirituality of Christianity regarding the meditations of Mary and her life. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to inter denominational cross fire between Christians and their perspectives on the role of Mary. I feel that such differences can be dogmatic at times but that a lot of the mistrust is a result of merely local customs.
Within the Protestant camp is an idea of Mary as Mother of God but after that, especially in more fundamental circles, her role diminishes. This is not to claim there is not a respect for Mary, or a desired imitation of her earthly virtues, but within less organized branches of Protestantism, there is definitely a reaction of less emphasis on Mary. This is primarily due to a conscious or at least subconscious reaction to the dogmas of Roman Catholicism.
Catholicism, as with the earliest traditions, has always pursued a deeper Marionology that exalts her as Queen of Creation. The devotions and prayers to the mother of God stem from the Scriptural reading of the Wedding Feast of Cana who through Mary’s persistence, Christ performed his first miracle. Early Church fathers also imprinted on the early church a need to include Mary as a role model and intercessor for the infant church. Contrary to misquoted or misled individuals, Catholicism never promoted worship within the cult to Mary. This alone has led to false ideas between the denominations and has halted good intentioned ecumenism between the branches of Christianity.
Instead of creating false images of Marian worship, it is better to acknowledge the true and existing differences between certain Protestant sects and the Catholic Church regarding Mary. In conclusion to this, we shall be able to answer with certainty the question, “Can Mary be utilized by all Christians as an everyday devotion and used as a model for Christian suffering?”
In investigating Marian theology, we will start from least to greatest differences. The least difference is the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin. The Catholic Church claims Mary never engaged in conjugal relations with Joseph after the virgin birth of Christ, while some within Protestantism attest that Jesus had brothers and sisters. I will refrain from my own personal opinion but emphasize that whether Mary engaged in sexual relations with Joseph after the birth of Christ is irrelevant in regards to her purity. In no way should this present a buffer between some Protestants and Catholics from partaking in mutual veneration and meditation upon Mary and her sufferings.
As we climb up the ladder of theological differences, one reaches a more pivotal doctrine. Within Catholic theology, Mary was conceived without sin. Protestant theology denounces this and proclaims only Christ was sinless. Many of the ideas concerning Mary’s sinless nature come from philosophical speculation that Mary was molded as to a perfect chalice or tabernacle to hold the Lord in her womb. Early Church teachings and tradition also held to such ideas, especially in regard to the Assumption of Mary. Mary as the new Eve, in dependence and complete obedience to Christ, served as a co-partner or helper with Christ in the redemption of mankind. She, however, was not the primary source or a necessity in the process, yet due to the invention and grace of the Holy Spirit was able to carry out her role in accordance with Christ. Flowing from this train of thought, the Catholic Church concluded that her Assumption and co-Redemptrix role with Christ was a logical conclusion to her sinless nature. In pointing these elements out, it is important first to recognize two things in the theology. First, her sinless nature was not to her own merit but a charism and special gift of the Holy Spirit and second, her role of co-Redemptrix in no way completed Christ’s sacrifice. Christ, alone, as priest and victim performed the perfect sacrifice but Mary’s side role as a sinless bystander and a grieving mother played a part in man’s redemption. Her active yes to the angel Gabrielle and her passive submission to the crucifixion of her son played important parts in man’s redemption process. Catholic theology does not equate a godlike status where she is perfect by her own making and actively redeeming mankind through her own merit and grace. On the contrary, her status is a gift and her special role in man’s redemption is that of a helper, preparing the sacrifice of her son. In that her position is unique in the process of man’s redemption.
Many Protestants without misconceptions on Catholic Marionolgy still would find this theology a hard pill to swallow. The idea of Mary as sinless presents a great deviation from their tradition since Luther and Calvin. Even with the term “full of grace” applied to Mary to possible infer her sinless nature, Catholics and Protestants have a hard time agreeing on an interpretation that can be postulated with universal agreement. This again leaves one with the question can a deeper Marian devotion exist universally across Christianity and can be Mary be a universal icon and mold for Christian suffering? I would contend that she can be.
First, the misconceptions and taboos that are associated with the cult of Mary must be removed in Protestant circles. No one is worshiping Mary. Mary is being only utilized as an example, and what an example she is; the mother of Jesus. As a suffering servant of Christ and her intimate connection to Jesus, one cannot find a better example or candidate to emulate during extreme cases of human suffering-especially the most traumatic grief of losing a child. Also within the Mary, we find a fellow creation that is not divine as Christ. True, Jesus was perfectly human but within his Hypostatic union with the divine, he was both God and man. Within Christian theology, it is easy sometimes to diagnose a certain function of Christ to his human nature and then some functions to his divine nature, but as the early Christological councils taught, Christ is one person. Unlike Christ, Mary is not divine. Mary in this way can be analogically even more comparable to our situation. Second, the agony of Mary and her role surrounding Christ’s death must be seen as secondary to Christ and like all Christian suffering throughout the ages be seen in union and concert with Christ’s death. Of course one cannot deny that Mary’s offering will always be superior to other Christians. She witnessed the death of her son and willingly endured Good Friday. Who can compare to that? In Catholic theology, she endured it as a sinless person by grace of the Holy Spirit, while in Protestant theology she endured it for her own redemption as well as mankind’s redemption. Both ideals are compatible within Christianity. There is no reason or charge to place against such a devotion to Mary as a model of Christian suffering. Nor should there be a protest to any special privilege or honor given to her for her extraordinary Christian virtue she displayed on that Good Friday.
In conclusion, Mary should be revered by all of Christendom as a model and paradigm of proper Christian suffering and her sacrifice on Good Friday should be respected and honored by all Christians. In not revering and utilizing the spirituality of Mary in one’s meditation and counseling, Christians are dismissing a valuable resource and stripping themselves of a rich Christian tradition. Christians should without fear, turn to her in their hours of grief and emulate her example and pray to her to go to her Son’s throne for them. Mary emulated Christ in her own sufferings better than any human person. We should mimic her heroic virtue and carry our cross as well she carried hers. To learn more about Christian Counseling and Christian Grief, click here.
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