On Mary: A Conversation with Father Brendan Walsh

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WeLoveDexter Religion Writer Doug Marrin explores the many views of The Virgin Mary with Father Brendan Walsh.

She is known by many names, roles and titles: Mary, The Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Blessed Mother, Mary and Joseph, and St. Mary. The Qu’ran calls her, among other titles, Ma’suma – “She who never sinned” and Mustafia – “She who is chosen.” In Hebrew and Aramaic she is known simply as Miriam.

And regardless of their differences in other ways, one thing the three Abrahamic Faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam agree on is her best known title, Mary the Mother of Jesus.

In Christianity, Protestants have an appreciation and respect for Mary, but her place is mostly limited to the Advent season leading up to Christmas. The Catholic faith, however, incorporates Mary the Mother of Jesus into a much larger role in their liturgy and doctrine. This has puzzled Protestants for many years.

Looking to possibly bridge some of that disconnect, WeLoveDexter.com had a chance to ask Father Brendan Walsh and Marinell High, Director of Adult Faith Formation, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church here in Dexter for some insight into the Catholic beliefs regarding Mary.

Doug: How would you introduce Mary to someone who perhaps was unfamiliar with the Christmas Story?

Father Brendan: In the Catholic tradition the Four Weeks Prior to the Birth of Jesus at Christmas is called Advent. It is a time of prayer and preparation for the coming Prince of Peace. We are called during this time to repent, to prepare, to anticipate, and to rejoice in the coming of our Savior.

A central figure in this sacred story of anticipation is Mary the mother of Jesus. In the Catholic tradition we believe she was immaculately conceived (born without sin) in anticipation that one day God would ask her to be the mother of Jesus. On the 8th day of the month of December we celebrate Mary’s conception and then celebrate her birth on September 8th each year.

DM: Does the Catholic Church worship Mary?

FB: The Catholic Church does not worship Mary. In the Catholic tradition Mary is given a place above all other Saints because of her unique relationship to Jesus the son of God. The Catholic tradition venerates her – holds her and honors her because she said yes to God’s call to be the mother of Jesus our Savior.

DM: Explain how Mary’s status in the Catholic Church is different from the Protestant church.

FB: Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has promulgated Four Dogmas (official teachings) on Mary’s place in our practices of faith. These are Mary’s: Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception and Assumption into Heaven.

Divine Motherhood is a title was given at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the council of Chalcedon in 451. At these gatherings the church defined Mary as the Holy Mother of God.

DM: The virgin birth of Jesus to Mary seems to be something Catholics and Protestants agree on. This is the Immaculate Conception, correct?

FB: No. The Immaculate Conception is about Mary, not Jesus.

DM: So The Immaculate Conception refers to the birth of Mary and not Jesus?

FB: Correct. The Immaculate Conception is a teaching Dogma promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854 which stated Mary had Dignity and holiness in the eyes of God from the moment of her conception.

Mary was conceived to her parents, Joachim and Ann, without Original Sin – the Original Sin which all human beings are born with because of the sin of Adam and Eve. It was God’s divine plan to send his son, but before he could send his son to the world as a human person, he had to have the right, holy pure person to be the mother of his son.

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Father Brendan Walsh (left) at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Dexter with Marinell High, Director of Adult Faith Formation.

DM: Please explain the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.

FB: Perpetual Virginity is a title given at the Council of Lateran in 649. It explained that Jesus was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was purest of pure. The second Vatican Council which concluded in 1965 stated Jesus’ birth did not diminish Mary’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.

DM: So Mary remained a virgin even after the birth of Jesus. But aren’t there verses in the New Testament that refer to Jesus’ brothers?

FB: The original Greek words translated as “brother(s)” in the New Testament have a broader meaning than a specific biological brother. The Greek word translated “brother(s)” includes extended biological family such as cousins or even a spiritual “brother.” It means community like a “band of brothers” or “fraternity.”

DM: What is The Assumption of Mary?

FB: The Assumption is a Dogma promulgated by Pope Pius the XII in 1950. This teaching stated Mary after finishing her course of life on earth was taken body and soul to Heaven. A holy gift and blessing to Mary for her faithful and holy yes for her life of love and service as the mother of Jesus.

DM: Why do Catholics pray to Mary?

FB: From these sacred understandings of the place of Mary in the faith many other traditions, prayers and spiritual exercises are connected to her place in the Catholic tradition. In simple the Church believes prayers to Mary help us because we remember her very human and faithful yes to the call of God. We believe when we pray to Mary she will speak on our behalf to Jesus, to God, to the Holy Spirit who will send grace and help to us and to help the World.

DM: Why do you think there is so much misconception about the Catholic tradition in regards to Mary?

FB: Misconceptions on how the Catholic Church looks at Mary come from our traditional practices which do not get public explanation. We know the symbol of the crèche and the cross; they remind us of the birth and death of Jesus. In the Catholic tradition, statues of Mary and the other Saints serve the important role of helping us focus, helping us remember the Holy people who said yes to the call of God to serve, to sacrifice, to give of one’s self.

DM: Sightings of the Virgin Mary are something most of us have heard about. What are a few of the more prominent ones in the Catholic Church?

FB: In the Catholic tradition we believe that Mary has appeared many times with nine major approved appearances. Three of these are well known by much of the world:

The Apparitions at Lourdes, France — Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, aged 14, a total of eighteen times at Lourdes in southern France, at the Grotto of Massabielle. She asked for penance and prayer for the conversion of sinners, and described herself as the "the Immaculate Conception." Lourdes is most famous for the miraculous spring which has been responsible for many cures accepted by the Church.

The Apparitions at Fatima, Portugal — Three children, Lucia de Santos, aged 10, and her two cousins, Francisco Marto, aged 9, and Jacinta Marto, aged 7, saw Mary six times between May and October 1917. She described herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary," while urging prayer, and particularly the rosary, as well as penance for the conversion of sinners, and the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart.

The Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadelupe in Mexico — Mary appeared four times to Juan Diego in 1531 at Tepeyac hill near Mexico City. She proclaimed herself the spiritual mother of all mankind and left her miraculous image on Juan Diego's outer garment, his tilma. To this day Mexicans have a great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal are sites that many people travel to for healing.

A fourth site is not as well-known but the medal that is associated with that site, the Miraculous Medal, is familiar to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

If you are interested in knowing more you can google the phrase “Marian Apparitions” and find a considerable amount of information.

DM: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with us on Mary?

FB: The season of Advent ends with the Joy of the Birth of Jesus on Christ. As Catholic Christians we rejoice and give thanks for the Yes of Mary when asked to be the mother of Jesus. We give thanks for Joseph who accepted his role to be the foster father of Jesus, to help raise Jesus the Son of God.

We pray in thanksgiving on Christmas for the gift of life and love, Jesus, who comes to teach us how to be people of mercy and compassion, who comes to teach us how to give and forgive, who comes to be our light, our direction, our inspiration.

This sacred day we celebrate over and over and over to remind ourselves our life goal is to embrace Jesus’ message, his example, his sacrifice and his love.

Let us use these sacred days to embrace the time of anticipation, to ready our minds and hearts for Jesus who comes once again to lead us to holiness, to goodness and to peace.

If there are events or concerns within the Dexter religious community that you would like us to consider covering, you can reach WeLoveDexter.com Religion Writer Doug Marrin at dmarrin@sbcglobal.net and to reach Content and Community Sean Dalton send an email to seandalton@welovedexter.com.

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