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"Hail Mary"
Part Two
By Gary F. Zeolla

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

Part One of this three-part article discussed the first half of the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer. This second part will discuss the next line of the prayer.

Holy Mary

Is it appropriate to refer to Mary as “holy?” She was a believer in the one true God and was trusting in the promise of a coming Redeemer. And due to this faith, she would have been declared holy. But the same could be said of all believers in Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:4 was quoted in part one of this article. It states:

1:4 just as He chose us in Him before [the] laying of the foundation of the world [or, before beginning of the creation of the universe], so that we shall be holy and unblemished [fig., without fault] before Him, in love,

And Paul begins each of his epistles with something like the following:

1Cor 1:1 Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ by [the] will of God, and Sosthenes the brother,
1:2 To the assembly [or, church] of God, the one being in Corinth, to the ones having been sanctified [or, made holy] in Christ Jesus, called holy ones [or, saints], with all the ones calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both theirs and ours:

The word rendered “saints” in most Bible versions is a form of the Greek word that is render “holy” throughout the New Testament. To show this relationship of the words, I translated it as “holy ones” in my Analytical-Literal Translation.

Moreover, we “have been sanctified [or, made holy] in Christ Jesus.” So it would be just as appropriate to refer to “Holy Bill” or “Holy Susie” or “Holy Tom” as it is to refer to “Holy Mary.”

So as was seen throughout part one, there simply is nothing “special” being said about Mary, at least up to this point in the prayer. But that all changes with the next phrase.

Mother of God

We now come to the most controversial, misconstrued, and “unique” thing said about Mary in this prayer. She is called the “mother of God.” But what does this phrase mean?

The phrase is actually the translation of one Greek word, theotokos. The use of this word was popularized through its use in the Definition of Chalcedon, drafted at the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth ecumenical council, in 451 AD.

Below is the entire text of the Chalcedon Definition. I am quoting it in its entirety so the reader can see the context, as this is very important.

Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and also in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul and a body. He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days," for us and on behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer [theotokos] in respect of his humanness.

We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten -- in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function. The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the "properties" of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one "person" and in one reality {hypostasis}. They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word {Logos} of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers {the Nicene Creed} has handed down to us (Leith, pp.35,36).

It can be seen that the entire definition is about Jesus. Mary is only mentioned in passing. This parallels the New Testament, which again is about Jesus, not Mary. The use of the term theotokos was included in the definition to buttress the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ.

The translation used in this version of the definition should also be noted as well, “God-bearer” not “mother of God.” The former is actually a more accurate translation. And this difference is important.

The term “God-bearer” describes the situation perfectly. Jesus, from the moment of His conception, was full God and full man. And the point of the use of this term was to emphasize this point. Mary “bore” God; she carried God in her womb. Jesus did not lay aside His deity for His incarnation nor did He somehow attain to deity later in His life. He was and is God at all times. Moreover, the definition is clear that Mary in no contributed to Jesus’ deity. She “bore” the God-man and was Jesus’ mother only “in respect of his humanness.”

However, the term “mother of God” is often misconstrued as indicating that Mary somehow contributed to Jesus’ deity. Now the Catholic Church will clearly indicated in its official writings that this is not the case. But it is because of this term and misunderstanding that Mary has received undue adulation throughout the centuries, often to the point where she is seemingly being worshipped.

And in a way this makes sense. You have God, the Son of God, and the Mother of God. It can easily be seen how the less than fully informed would want to worship all three. Many examples could be given to demonstrate the lengths to which this adulation has gone. But I will let a Catholic authority describe the situation.

The following extended quote is taken from an old book I picked up at a used book sale some time ago. The book was published in 1956 and is called The Catholic Concise Encyclopedia. It was written by Robert C Broderick. I’m not sure who this is (or was), but the book received the Imprimatur of Francis Cardinal Spellman, the then Archbishop of New York.

For those who don’t know, “Imprimatur” means, “1. permission to print or publish a book, pamphlet, etc., granted by a bishop's authority after such work has received a censor's clearance. 2. sanction; approval” (Webster’s). So when it was published, this book had the sanction and approval of the Catholic Church.

Below are excerpts from the entry in this encyclopedia about Mary.

MARY, VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD. The central point of the theology of Mary is that she is the Mother of God. It is because of the fact that Mary has been foreordained by God from the beginning to her divine mothership that she was conceived “full of grace” and thus placed in the singular position of being the most perfect human being that an omnipotent God could create. She was immaculately conceived, as God’s Mother she co-operated in our redemption, she was our Lord’s most intimate associate while He was on earth, and upon her death she was assumed bodily into heaven where she is queen, reigning over heaven and earth….

From apostolic times, Tradition, the Church, and the faithful have accorded to Mary, the Mother of God, the second highest degree of honor, hyperdulia. She has been celebrated in feasts, throughout the year, in the Divine Office, in devotions as the Rosary, litany, her Immaculate Heart, etc., and by the title she has been hailed the patroness of many countries, and has been honored in hymns, songs, poetry, sculpture, painting and literature as no other creature. It is under her title of the Immaculate Conception that Mary was declared the Patroness of the United States, with the patronal feast day celebrated in Dec. 8. The name of Mary, because she is the Mother of God, is honored with multiple titles: she is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Co-Redemptrix; the Mediatrix of all Graces; the Blessed Mother, etc. (Broderick, pp. 233,234).

Some of the claims made in this entry were already covered in part one of this article, and I could write several additional articles reviewing each of the rest. And it should be noted that there is nothing in these paragraphs that is out of line with official Catholic theology and practice. Each of the above statements about Mary finds parallel in the section on Mary in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in the USA in 1996.

For sake of space, I will not quote from that source here. But the relevant section is Articles 963-975. The book is readily available from online bookstores and is even quoted in full on various Catholic websites.

But in critique of these claims about Mary, I will present several Scripture verses. I will try to keep my comments as short as possible.

Relevant Scripture Verses

Luke 1:43 the mother of my Lord
Acts 1:14 the mother of Jesus

I quote from these two verses simply to show how Mary is referred to in Scripture. Elizabeth calls her “the mother of my Lord,” and Luke refers to her as “the mother of Jesus.” Nowhere in Scripture is Mary referred to as “the mother of God.” So unlike the phrases in the first half of the “Hail Mary,” the phrase “mother of God” is not taken from Scripture.

Moreover, the context of the second verse is important.

Acts 1:13 And when they entered [Jerusalem], they went up into the upstairs room where they were staying: both Peter and James, and John and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James [the son] of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas [the son; or, the brother] of James.
1:14 These all were continuing with one mind in prayer and petition, together with [the] women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brothers.

No special attention is given to Mary’s presence in the upper room before Pentecost. She is simply listed as being there along with the apostles, Jesus’ brothers (yes, brothers), and other women.

Moreover, this is the last time in the New Testament that Mary is referred to by name. So unlike in Catholic history as demonstrated in the quote above, Mary did not have a prominent place in the Apostolic Church. She almost seems to have been forgotten after Pentecost. She is only referred to once more in the New Testament, by Paul in his epistle to the Galatians.

4:4 But when the fullness [or, completion] of the time came, God sent forth His Son, having been born of a woman, having been born under [the] Law,
4:5 so that He should redeem [or, set free] the [ones] under [the] Law, so that we shall receive the adoption [or, the formal and legal declaration that we are His children].

Like the Chalcedon Definition, Paul only refers to Mary in passing. And like the Chalcedon Definition, the point of referring to Mary is to emphasize a point about Jesus and what He did for us, not to exalt Mary. Paul doesn’t even show her the “respect” of referring to her by name. And that’s it. Mary is not referred to again in the New Testament.

Now Catholics will try to interpret the “woman’ of Revelation 12 as referring to Mary. I won’t quote that whole chapter here. But a careful reading will show that the “woman” cannot possibly be one person. Most Protestants believe the woman is being used to symbolize the nation Israel. But on to other relevant Scriptures that contradict statements in the above quote.

Luke 1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
1:47 and my spirit was very glad because of God my Savior.

Mary refers to God as her Savior. If she were sinless and “the most perfect human being that an omnipotent God could create,” she would not need a Savior.

Luke 8:19 Now His mother and brothers having come to Him, and they were not able to get near to Him because of the crowd.
8:20 And it was reported to Him, saying, “Your mother and Your brothers have stood outside wanting to see You.”
8:21 But answering, He said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these: the ones hearing the word of God and doing it.”

Rather than being “our Lord’s most intimate associate while He was on earth,” when Mary came to Jesus, He didn’t even show her the respect of going out to meet her. Moreover, Jesus places His relationship to Mary on the same level as all other believers.

Luke 11:27 Now it happened, while He [was] saying these [things], a certain woman from the crowd having raised [her] voice, said to Him, “Happy [is] the womb, the one having carried You, and [the] breasts [from] which You nursed!”
11:28 But He said, “But rather, happy [are] the ones hearing the word of God and keeping [fig., obeying] [it]!”

If in fact Jesus wanted Mary to receive the undue adulation (or “hyperdulia” as the above quote refers to it) that she has received by Catholics through the centuries, this would have been the perfect place for Jesus to have encouraged it. But not only does He not encourage the woman’s praise of Mary, but He rebuked her for it. Moreover, Jesus places Mary on the same level as anyone who has heard the word of God and kept it.

When the angel appeared to Mary and announced that she would give birth to the Savior, Mary said, “Look! The slave of [the] Lord! May it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). And yes, Mary is to be commended for obeying the word of God given through the angel. But so is any and every other believer to be commended who hears the calling of God upon them and obeys it.

Philippians 2:9 And so God highly exalted Him [or, put Him in the most important position] and gave to Him a Name, the [Name] above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of heavenly [ones] and of earthly [ones] and of [ones] under the earth,
2:11 and every tongue [fig., person] shall confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord to [the] glory of God [the] Father!

Mary is not “reigning over heaven and earth” as the above quote claimed, Jesus is.

Hebrews 1:1 In many parts [or, Bit by bit] and in various ways in time past, God having spoken to the fathers by the prophets, in these last days He spoke to us by [His] Son,
1:2 whom He appointed heir of all [things], through whom also He made the ages [fig., universe];
1:3 who being [the] outshining of His glory and [the] exact expression of His essence, and sustaining all the [things] by the word of His power, having Himself made by Himself a purification [or, purgation] of our sins, sat down at [the] right hand of the Majesty on high,
1:4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

Jesus “Himself ... by Himself” procured our redemption. Mary had nothing to do with it. So she did not “co-operated in our redemption” and is not the “Co-Redemptrix” as was claimed above.

Hebrews 4:14 Therefore, having a great High Priest [who] has passed through the heavens-Jesus, the Son of God-let us be holding fast our confession.
4:15 For we do not have a High Priest [who is] unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but [One] having been tried in all [respects] in the same way [we are, yet] without sin.
4:16 Therefore, let us be approaching with confidence [or, a joyful sense of freedom] to the throne of grace, so that we shall receive mercy and find grace for well-timed help.

Mary is not “the Mediatrix of all Graces” as was asserted in the quote above. There is no Scriptural support for such a claim. It is to Jesus, not Mary, that we are to come to “find grace for well-timed help.” But many do try to come to Mary for help. And the last part of the “Hail Mary” refers to this. But this second part of this article is already too long to discuss that issue here. So I will have to run this article to three parts to finish this discussion.

But to conclude this part, the term theotokos was originally used to buttress a Biblical doctrine about Jesus. But through the translation of “mother of God,” it has led to undue adulation being given to Mary and unbiblical claims and titles being given to her. But Mary was just a human being, and does not deserve any of this. She is to be commended for her faithfulness, but that is it.

Rather than all of this focus on Mary, we are to be:
 “looking with undivided attention to the Originator and Perfecter of [our] faith--Jesus--who, because of the joy being set before Him, endured a cross, having disregarded [the] shame, and has sat down at [the] right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

All Scripture references are taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible. Copyright 1999-2004 By Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).

Broderick, Robert C. The Catholic Concise Encyclopedia. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. Liquori, MO: Liquori Publications, 1994 by U S Catholic Conference; Catholic Church.
Elwell, John. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984
Leith, John Haddon. Creeds of the Churches. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.
Webster’s Talking Dictionary/ Thesaurus
. Licensed property of Parson’s Technology, Inc. v. 1.0b. Software Copyright 1996 by Exceller Software Corp. Based on Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. Copyright 1995 by Random House, Inc.

"Hail Mary" - Part Three

The above article originally appeared in the free Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this website February 8, 2004.


Catholicism - Mary and the Saints

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