Objections to the Hail Mary (Leo XIII, the Rosary, and Christian Unity, part 5 of 10)Oct 15th, 2014 | By Beth Turner | Category: Blog Posts, Catholic Life and Devotion
This is the fifth in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey.
“Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!” (Luke 1:42)
The apparently excessive number of Hail Marys prayed in the Rosary sometimes poses a stumbling block for Protestants. Even converts to the Catholic faith sometimes puzzle, in faith, over this point. If it is really such a Christocentric prayer, with the life of Christ presented in the mysteries, why do we keep calling on Mary?
We firstly draw confidence from the fact that the praises of the Hail Mary come from Scripture itself. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” is how Gabriel greets Mary, and “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” is how St. Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist greets her (Luke 1). These Scriptural praises tell us, at the very least, that Mary’s blessed life is worth gazing upon.
Pope Leo XIII also anticipates and responds to some of these objections. In the first place, he writes about how it is that we can say that any person – Mary or otherwise – stands between us and the blessings of Christ. Don’t we go to Him directly, as the one Mediator? Leo writes, “Undoubtedly the name and attributes of the absolute Mediator belong to no other than to Christ, for being one person, and yet both man and God, He restored the human race to the favor of the Heavenly Father… And yet, as the Angelic Doctor teaches, ‘there is no reason why certain others should not be called in a certain way mediators between God and man, that is to say, insofar as they cooperate by predisposing and ministering in the union of man with God’ (Summa, p. III, q. xxvi., articles 1, 2)” (Fidentem piumque animum 3). According to this definition by St. Thomas, it seems that every Christian could be considered a mediator between God and man. We are all called to evangelize, and we act in this capacity as God’s messengers to the world. And what is a messenger except a mediator between the sender and the recipient of the message? We mediate between God and the world by proclaiming His message. Mary’s mediation brought us close to God first by giving flesh to His Son, and she brings us close now by her prayers.
Responding to a similar objection about whether we give too much honor to Mary or treat her like God by calling on her name, Pope Leo explains, “So far from derogating in any way from the honor due to God, as though it indicated that we placed greater confidence in Mary’s patronage than in God’s power, it is rather [Mary’s patronage] which especially moves God, and wins His mercy for us. We are taught by the Catholic faith that we may pray not only to God himself, but also to the Blessed in heaven, though in different manner; because we ask from God as from the Source of all good, but from the Saints as from intercessors” (Augustissimae Virginis Mariae 9). Prayer to Mary is not the same as prayer to God. She stands between God and us not as an obstacle, but as a helper. Mary sends our prayers on to God and the sweetness with which she delivers them moves Him to have compassion on us. Furthermore, honoring Mary does not make God jealous. When people compliment my children, I don’t throw a fit if they fail to compliment me, too. In fact, it rather pleases me when someone compliments my children. It’s not hard to imagine that our praising Mary pleases God in a similar fashion, as she is a preeminent daughter of His.
Pope Leo also addresses a potential objections about the sheer number of Hail Marys in the Rosary. Following Saint Bernardine of Siena, he writes that all graces are communicated to us by three degrees: from God to Christ, from Christ to Mary, through Mary to us: “And we… do linger longest… upon the last and lowest of these steps [the Hail Mary]… so that we may thence attain to the higher degrees–that is, may rise, by means of Christ, to the Divine Father. For if thus we again and again greet Mary, it is precisely that our failing and defective prayers may be strengthened…” (Iucunda Semper Expectatione 5). We linger upon petitions to the human Mother of God, the lowest of the degrees, because we are lowly human creatures.
Our greatest confidence in Mary’s intercession, however, comes from her last recorded words: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). This was her word to the servants at Cana, and this is her word to us. She recognizes when we are out of wine, she asks Jesus to give us more, and then she directs our attention back to the work He has for us. Do not be afraid to call upon Mary in the Holy Rosary!
Part 4 of this series is available here.