Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why do Catholics crown images of Mary?

Since the Council of Nicaea in 787 the church has allowed for the veneration of images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints. Pope Pius XI in a papal letter noted that the practice of crowning of images of the Blessed Virgin Mary can be traced to the late 16thc and has become a common practice in the West. Scripturally Catholics understand Mary to be the woman of Revelation (12:1-2)-" A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." If Mary is Queen of Heaven, as Catholics believe, then certainly it is fitting that we honor her in her month. In our parish the children will present a bouquet of roses on a statue of Mary. It is a beautiful custom and a fitting way to honor our Heavenly Mother. Scott Hah, a convert to the Catholic faith, has written a wonderful book titled "Hail Holy Queen." In this book he speaks about his own misgivings about Mary as he came into the faith. Her are his words: " Some non-Catholic charge that all these Marian dogmas add up to Mary worship-idolatry pure and simple. There was a time in my life when I thought so. As a young evangelical, I even passed out tracts identifying mary with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, whose worship is described by the prophet Jeremiah (7:18;44:15-17). Marian devotion, I believed, was nothing more than goddess worship smuggled into Christianity by long-ago pagans who feigned conversion. I was wrong, of course-first of all, in my belief that catholics 'worship' Mary. In truth, the church gives her honor and veneration as the greatest of saints, whild reserving adoration and worship for God alone. Indeed, the early Christians who were most vigorous in their Marian devotion were equally vigorous in denouncing any local remnants of goddess worship. I was wrong, too, in condemning the title 'queen of heaven'just because it was once applied to a pagan goddess. Anti-Christians use this very argument to discredit the claims of Jesus Christ. Call it the comparative-religions approach. It runs like this: many ancient pagan myths told of a 'son of a god' born of a virgin who came to earth, died, and rose from the dead; therefore the 'Jesus myth' is nothing but a late and very successful copycat. On the contrary! From great Christians like C S Lewis I learned that such parallels between Christianity and paganism are best understood as a preparation for the gospel-God's way of giving even the gentiles a hint (Lewis called these premonitions strange dreams) of a glorious future that would one day be theirs." Catholics who pray the rosary will quickly make the identification between the fifth glorious mystery (the coronation of mary) and the tradition of the May crowning. It still may be troubling to non-Catholics. A scripture passage often cited is also in the book of Revelation when the beloved disciple bows to the angel and the angel reprimands him. Revelation 19:10 says this: " I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'Don't! I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brothers who bear witness to Jesus. Worship God. Witness to Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." Sounds a little like Jesus saying to the Samaritan woman " true worshippers worship in spirit and in truth" right? For those who wish to explore the subject further Catholic Convert Orestes Brownson does a wonderful detailed analysis of an understanding of the word worship. In fact his book is titled, provocativelly, saint worship. It is a good read. To summarize his thought we need to understand that since the Protestant Reformation took away any understanding of the mass as sacrifice, Christian denominations do not have a sacrifice and hence, technically speaking do not have what Catholics understand to be worship. This is where the confusion comes in. For instance, all of the liturgical prayers of the mass are directed to God, the Father. We have churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, we have votive masses where we commemorate the blessed virgin mary and the saints, but in each and every mass (eucharistic celebration) the prayers are directed to God the Father through the Son (the priest). A priest is one who offers sacrifice. The mass is a sacrifice ( an unbloody sacramental re-presentation of what took place on Calvary) and hence is our worship. If one does not have a sacrifice to offer than any form of prayer can be interpreted as worship, hence the misunderstanding. So prayers to a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary are not worship, they are just that, prayers. Honoring the Queen of Heaven through a coronation ceremony is a wonderful way to put "flesh" on what we believe. We are fulfilling the commandment of God who tells us to honor our mother and father. Should we not also honor our heavenly Father and our heavenly Mother? Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for the unity of Christians. Pray to your son, Our Lord and King, that we may restore you to your rightful place in the lives of Christians.

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