A mantra, as defined within the article (See Mantra), is generally refers sacred words or syllables repeated in religious or ceremonial rituals. The term comes from the Sanskrit man “mind” and tra “to deliver.” Many mantras are employed in ritual to acquire ceremonial or magical power. Most consider this a positive use of mantras; however, it is thought that mantras can produce negative or harmful effects too. It is also stated that “In Catholicism there are the prayers such as the Our Father (Pater noster) and Hail Mary, (Ave Maria) especially when prayed as the Rosary, which might be considered mantras in essence.” The focus of this article is on the Hail Mary.
Traditionally Catholics say the prayer Hail Mary to plead for and gain the intercession of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was developed during the Middle Ages. The first part of the prayer is derived from Biblical scripture. The initial words, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” is the salutation from the Archangel Gabriel as read in the Gospel of Luke, (1:28). These are the words that the Archangel saluted Mary with when he announced to her that she was to give birth to the long awaited messiah. The next portion of the prayer is the salutation that Mary receives from her older cousin Elisabeth when later visiting her, “blessed are you among women, and blessed if the fruit of thy womb.” (1:42)
The second part of the prayer, the closing petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” was “framed by the Church itself” as officially stated by the Catechism of the Council of Trent. In summary the Catechism states, it was most rightly that the holy Church of God added to this thanksgiving, petition and also the invocation of the holy Mother of God indicating that the devout should have recourse to her in order that by her intersession she may reconcile God with sinners and obtain for them the help the need for this present life and for the life which has no end.
It is particularly the second part of the prayer that renders its mantra essence especially said during the Rosary. This is especially true concerning the second part of the prayer, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” This latter phrase can leave both conscious and/or unconscious affects upon individuals; instead of receiving help from the very opposite becomes true; the individual becomes depressed and remorseful constantly thinking that he is a sinner going to die. To the devout Catholic this statement may seem absurd; his answer would generally be something like this, “Saying a Hail Mary always helps; why can’t it? You’re praying to the Mother of God. Everyone knows he’s a sinner and going to die.” This person has testified to the mantra effect of the prayer without realizing it; he probably has no knowledge of a mantra. He just recites the teachings of his Church and lives by them: he is a sinner, can do little to strengthen his relationship with God, is going to die, and, therefore, needs the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
Later in this article this mantra effect will be further discussed. However, it is not the only problem which the prayer presents to some Protestants and non-Christians alike. Even though the initial part of the prayer is derived from the Bible many claim it does not to adhere to Biblical teaching; and many are struggling with the concept of the virgin birth. In order to attempt to answer many of these questions the prayer, especially its contents, must be put into its historical and Biblical settings.
Factually, no one knows whether Jesus Christ ever lived or not. Except for being briefly mentioned by Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Tacitus (See Historicity of Jesus) there is not one thread of tangible evidence to establish his life here on earth. It can be said that all Christendom is based on faith or myth. This is the starting point for a search for answers to questions surrounding the Hail Mary because it is the identical starting point for a search for answers to questions concerning Christ and the people surrounding him. This article makes no attempt to declare the faith or myth true or not as such an attempt would be futile; for those holding the Christ spirit will not surrender their faith, nor should they be asked to. However, what this article attempts to do is to examine some of the concepts composing the faith or myth.
This search can begin with the fact that most of the knowledge known of Jesus Christ is contained in the four Biblical Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This article will not go into the books of the Gnostic Gospels (See Gnosticism) which some feel are more reliable than the New Testament. Another fact is, as agreed upon by Biblical scholars, these four books were not written while Christ lived or immediately after his death. It is generally acknowledged that the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel of the New Testament to be written with a general agreed dating somewhere between 65 and 68 AD. However, if the Gospel of Luke was written around 63 AD then this would move the writing of Mark back to the middle or late 50s AD. It is asserted by Papias in the first century that Mark’s gospel was derived from the author’s close association with Peter. The eye witness accounts of Peter make the Gospel of Mark a canonical book according to critics which have nothing to do with Mark, making the book’s authenticity not dependent on him.
The timeframe for the writing of the Gospel of Mark must be considered. The writing of this Gospel has been placed any where from roughly 55 to 68 AD. Supposedly, just as a matter of convenience, Christ’s death is accepted at 33 AD, the date most agree upon. If this be the case, then the Gospel of Mark, generally considered by scholars the first canonical book written, was not written until twenty-two to thirty-five after the death of Christ. The amazing fact about this is that the time-span covers about a quarter of a century or more. In essence, during this time, there was no written word or record covering Christ’s life or death. All the events covering his life and death were memorized and conveyed by mouth. No doubt these events were important and sacred to the family, disciples, and friends of Christ; and their importance would make them more memorable, but the age and memory must be considered here too. First, it is not known whether the author of the Gospel of Mark is actually the disciple Mark or someone else. Upon examination of the Gospel the internal evidence suggests the author is the disciple as it appears the writer is a Christian Jew, he is familiar with Jewish thought and life, and Aramaic, the language which Christ spoke; and has a thorough knowledge of Palestine. But, his dependency upon Peter casts doubts. Others assert that the author was a disciple of Peter.
This alone would explain why Mark was dependent on Peter for information concerning Christ’s life. He had never personally met Christ; all his information was secondhand with Peter being his main source. Therefore, the accuracy of this information in the Gospel of Mark depended upon how well Peter remembered the events surrounding Christ’s life. Again one must remember that some twenty-two to thirty-five years has passed since Christ’s death; and Peter is this much older. Unless one believes that the Bible is the inspired word of God, can one believe that Peter remembered all events of Christ’s life exactly the way they happened? Of course not, only the fundamentalist that truly believes that the Bible is the inspired word of God does so; then he must deal with the various translations plus when God told King James to omit all the books from his version that are in the Douray-Rheims (Catholic) version. The objective person knows Peter was human and with age was apt to forget or add to events. An omission or changing of words here and there can change or render passages different meanings. These changes were included within the Gospel of Mark.
In the Gospel of Luke, from which the first part of the Hail Mary is derived, there is a different circumstance; the author had no direct contact, or his instructor, with Christ. The Gospel is believed to have been written between 60 and 63 AD, possibly at Caesarea when Luke was in attendance and companion to Paul in first century. With much study this Gospel looks to had several authors. However, the first was attributed to Luke, who dedicated the preface his patron Theophilus (meaning friend of or lover of God), in which he, the evangelist, does not claim to be an eyewitness to Christ but to have studies the events of his life in detail. (Luke 1:1-4) Probably such events were recorded in the Q, the Quelle, document as noted by Biblical scholars. Also noted concerning the Gospel of Luke is that the author pays more attention to women, which would account for the reason that events surrounding the births Jesus and John the Baptist are described in detail in the Gospel; some speculation is that the author, or some of the authors, was a woman, but this is hard to believe since all of the recognized Apostles were male in the canonical books. Why should Luke be female? A more plausible explanation for Luke being more concerned with female issues is that he was a physician. Supposedly he studied medicine at the famous school at Tarsus, rival of Alexandria and Athens, possibly meeting Paul there. From his expertise of the eastern Mediterranean it is thought he had a lengthy experience as a ship doctor. Paul referred to him as “Luke, the beloved physician…” (Colossians 4:14) Scholars also speculate that the other two canonical Gospels, Matthew and John, when written were based on Mark.
However, one still questions whether an author in the first century would know about or comprehend the concept of a virgin birth. One clue is that Luke was a Hellenic writer who was familiar with Greek and wrote for the Christian gentile. Being familiar the Greek language and literature Luke certainly knew or speculated that Christ was not the first son of a God born of a mortal woman; there are several recorded in Greek mythology.
**If Greek mythology did influence Luke’s description of Christ then his subject would possess similar characteristics of the gods and heroes, though these characteristics need not be identical. Criticism has been raised in objection that the mythical gods and heroes were not exactly like Christ, or vice versa. They do not have to be. Mythical gods and heroes are uniquely recognizable for their own character even though some share similar traits. A brief mentioning of several gods and heroes will exemplify this statement.
There is Attis, a “dying-and-rising” fertility god, who like Christ was supposedly immaculately conceived. Some traditions have him born of the “great mother” Kybele, while others tell of him being immaculately conceived by the demigoddess Nana when she placed an almond in her bosom. Traditions have him either killed by a wild boar or castrating himself in order to give his vitality to Kybele whom he loved. In Phrygia (now Turkey) his festival was in the spring to honor his self-mutilation, death, and resurrection, or rebirth. Originally Attis is said to come from a shepherd. He is equated with the Mesopotamian god Dumuzi, the Sumerian form of Tammuz, a god of vegetation and fertility and also of the underworld, who was called “the shepherd,” and “lord of sheepfolds.”
Adonis is another vegetation god. The name Adonis is derived from the variation of the Semitic word “Adonai,” meaning “lord,” which was one of the names used referring to YWYH in the Old Testament. According to legend this deity is another death-and-resurrection god, said to have been born from an incestuous relationship between the Syrian King Theias and his daughter Myrrha which was caused by Aphrodite. Aphrodite found Adonis after his birth, felling in love with the beauty of the infant she gave him to Persephone to care for. Persephone became attached to the child and when Aphrodite wanted him back Persephone refused causing an argument between them. This was settled by Zeus who said Adonis must stay with each goddess one third of each year, the other third was of his own choosing; he chose to stay with Aphrodite two thirds of the year. Like Attis he also was killed by a boar. The cult of Adonis was known to the Greeks since the sixth century BCE, certainly through their contact with Cyprus; and in Jerusalem under the Babylonian name of Tammuz as well as throughout the Mediterranean world. The grief by Adonis’ sudden death prior to Aphrodite’s and his reunion was deeply felt and symbolized by women’s funeral lament. Also, the Ephemeral symbolized the grace and decline of the deity. The temple of Astarte, in Byblos, celebrated the Adonis’ annual death and resurrection. This legend of Adonis, including his close association with Aphrodite and Persephone, representing many other mated pairs, where the male dies and is reborn, prevails in North Africa and the Near East.
Mithra, or Mithras, is known as the god worshiped by the Roman soldiers and was prominent in the Empire during the first century BCE. However, the origin of this deity seems connected to the rise of Zoroastrianism in India in the four century BCE. He was known as the messenger of Truth among the gods and helped Ahura Mazda fight Angra Mainyu. He became highly regarded within the Persian pantheon and eventually his cult spread beyond Iran and Asia Minor. The ascetic religion of Mithraism, to which only men were admitted, became very popular among the Roman military as they called Mithra Deus sol invictus, “the unconquered sun.” Legend has it this deity was born in a rock cave. Before ascending to heaven he fought the sun and managed to conquer the sacred bull and from spilling of its blood all plants, animals, and humanity benefited. Other legends say this resurrected deity was born of a virgin on December 25th. Mithra was the chief god which Emperor Constantine worshiped before converting to Christianity.
Tammuz is also a “dying-and-rising” god. He is an Akkadian vegetation and resurrection god. He is the son of Ea and consort of Ishtar who dies in the month of Tammuz (June-July). His soul is taken by Gallu demons to the underworld while woe and desolation descends upon the earth as Ishtar leads the world in lamentation. Afterwards she descends into the neither world, ruled by Ereshkigal, where after many trials she successfully rescues Tammuz and brings him back to earth. As a result the earth is fertile and joyful once again.
Balder, Norse Baldr, is the god of light, joy, innocence, purity, and reconciliation. Son of Odin and Frigg he was by both the gods and men, and thought to be best of all gods, but has little power. His wife was Nanna, daughter of Nep; and their son Forseti was god of justice; Balder’s hall was called Bredalik “broad splendor.” Most legends surround Balder’s death. He had dreams of dying, in other legends his mother had these dreams, so Frigg extracted from every creature, object, and force in nature an oath that they would not harm Balder. However, there was a malicious trickster, Loki, who was jealous of Balder and went to Frigg to find out if anything could harm him. Frigg, not suspecting Loki’s motive, thought awhile then told him one thing, a small tree in the west that she had thought too small to get an oath from. It was called mistletoe which Loki hurriedly went to and retrieved. He then tricked Balder’s blind twin brother, Hod, in throwing mistletoe fig (dart) at Balder. With the help of Loki’s guidance Hod threw the fig which pierced Balder’s arm, and went straight into his heart.
Upon his death the gods lamented as Odin sent his other son Hermod to Hel, the goddess of death, to plead for Balder’s return. Hel agreed to return Balder if one condition was met, everything in the world, dead and alive, must weep for him. All wept except Loki who took the disguise of the witch Thokk, so Balder had to remain in the underworld. His body dressed in a crimson cloth was placed on the funeral pyre on his ship Ringhorn, which according to legend was the largest in the world, along with his treasures and horse. Some legends says his wife died of heat break after Balder’s death and her body was also placed on the pyre with his while others tell of her throwing herself on the fire. The pyre was set afire and the ship sent to sea by the giantess Hyrrokin. Loki was punished for his crime. Hod was put to death by Vali, son of Odin and Rind, who had been born for that specific purpose. After the final conflict, Ragnarok, when a new word arises from the ashes then both Balder and Hod will be reborn.
Osiris, an Egyptian death-and-resurrection god, was the son of Nut who bore him within her intercalary days which Thoth created because of his love for her. Re finally acknowledged Osiris as his son. In the First Time legends Osiris ruled barbarous, cannibalistic people whom he taught what to eat and methods of agriculture. Also he instructed them in the rightful worship of the gods and drew up their laws. Osiris governed by persuasion and was popular with his people. Having civilized Egypt he decided to improve the world. During his absence he left Isis, his wife, on the throne to rule with Thoth helping her. She had a difficult time with Seth, Osiris’ jealous brother, coveting the throne and her. Upon return from his successful mission Seth killed Osiris and cast his severed body into the floodwaters of the Nile. Accompanied by others including their son Horus Isis retrieved Osiris’ body and through her magical powers restored him to life; but he already belonged to the land of the dead. In some myths Isis conceives Horus the Elder posthumously as she brings Osiris’ body back by ship. Osiris leaves his son Horus on the throne as he returns to the underworld. The people are pleased with this since they feel they have a just and good king ruling neither land.
When describing the mythical gods it is seen that they shared traits similar to those possessed by Christ. The two prominent ones were they all experienced death and resurrection. Attis was said to be born of a virgin and was called shepherd like Christ. Adonis when pronounced in its Semitic form, Adonia, means “lord,” the same attribute as attributed to Christ. His legend was known in Jerusalem, where he was called Tammuz, and throughout the Mediterranean world. The legend of Mithra was well known in Rome where he was worshiped among the soldiers. Originated in India, he fought on side of Ahura Mazda, the side of light, and was known as the messenger of Truth among the gods; before ascending to heaven he killed the sacred bull whose spilling of blood brought fertility to the earth, similar attributes as Christ had. He is said to have been born in a cave of a virgin on December 25th. Tammuz is another “dying-and-rising” god who went to the underworld and rose again to bring fertility and joy to the earth. Balder another god of light who was killed unjustly like Christ and went to the underworld to rise again and reign in a perfect world. Osiris also was a just god killed unjustly to rise again to bring justice to his people. From an objective viewpoint the similarities between these gods and Christ can be explained when considering that eventually people from other cultures and religions besides Judaism made up the early Christians and ideas were assimilated.
Even though the knowledge of virgin births of heroes in mythology may have influenced Luke this does not answer the important question which is did those immediately surrounding Christ know of his virgin birth? Evidently not according to the Bible, at least not his Nazareth neighbors among whom he grew up. For when he returned to visit and preached in the synagogue they asked, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph, and of Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.” (Mark 6:3) And, “…all bore him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?'” (Luke 4:22)
From the two previous Biblical passages it is surmised the people that Jesus grew up around thought him the son of Mary and Joseph, not the exceptionally born child that he is later claimed to be, which raises further questions. The first of which is did Mary and Joseph fully comprehend his miraculous conception. As indicated by scripture one is aware that Mary knew or suspected there was some strange about this forthcoming birth. This is so because after the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she would bear a son to be name Jesus, who would be the Son of the Highest, who would give him the throne of his Father, David; and would rule forever over the house of Jacob; Mary asked, “how shall this be; seeing I know not man?” (Luke 1:31-34) The angel told her, ‘…the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also that holy thing that shall be born of the shall be call the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) And Mary answered, “…behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)
Joseph discovered that Mary, who he was espoused to, was with child. So when as her husband, being a just man and not willing to make her a public example, decided to put her away privately. When thinking about the an angle of the Lord appeared to him saying that Mary, his wife, would bear what was conceived by the Holy Spirit; and would bring forth a son and Joseph should call him Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins. When hearing this Joseph decided to keep Mary as his wife and knew her not until after she brought forth her first born son; and he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)
The question arises was Joseph a good and pious man or a religious member of his community. The answer seems to be affirmative in both instances. From the possible evidence gathered concerning Jewish marriages the Gospel of Matthew seems to be confirmed. As soon as an Israeli girl was marriageable she was married; it was common for a woman of thirty to be a grandmother. According to the Talmud “man was created that he might procreate.” Both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate the primary importance attached to fruitfulness, and the opprobrium in which barren women were held. Therefore, this obligation to marry became the law and custom of the Jewish people. Even the Talmud cites certain cases: an uncle could marry his niece, or even his grandniece. Therefore the marriage of an adult man to a child of thirteen or fourteen was as common then as it is now among the Arabs and amounted to no more than a solemn engagement. However, the Hebrews granted espousals the force almost equal to marriage; the participants had the rights of marriage except for the access to the body. Virgins were under the jurisdiction of the man they were espoused to for one year, widows for one month. The punishment for a woman found in adultery was stoning. Infidelity was equivalent to adultery; any espoused maiden accused of this could not escape the punishment of death. Laws such as this were established in the book of Deuteronomy. (Daniel-Rops 41-43)
These Hebrew laws and customs definitely applied to the situation of Mary and Joseph. The ordinary people even when seeing Mary in her condition could do nothing about it. The words “Mary was espoused to Joseph” would indicate there was a contractual state established between them similar to the current term engagement. Legally it was the espoused man who had to do the accusing. Therefore, Joseph was legally bound to accuse Mary of infidelity, before she could be convicted and condemned to death. He apparently was wise and prudent, and a man advanced in his years of maturity, which seems to be confirmed by the fact he died before the public ministry of Jesus began.
Even before the angel spoke to Joseph his decision to put Mary away privately showed he cared for her. Joseph knowing the harsh Hebrew law sought to obey it in the way which caused Mary the least embarrassment and possibly even death. This must be considered when analyzing his reaction to the angel’s announcement. Did Joseph fully comprehend it, that Mary had became pregnant by the overshadowing of God, or was it a way for him to save Mary? Believers of the Bible, especially Catholics, would declare such a question unjustly asked. Of course, a pious man as Joseph understood and accepted the message of the angel of the Lord, they would answer probably a little indignantly. But a further pursuit of this subject will show this question not to be unjustified. As already shown the people that Jesus grew up amidst thought he was Joseph’s son, not foster-son as many say. Whether Joseph fully understood the special circumstances of Jesus’ birth the Bible is unclear.
Also Biblically unclear is whether either Mary or Joseph fully understood the special circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth since when eight days after his birth he was taken to the temple for circumcising, and his name was called Jesus, as he was so named by the angel before he was out of the womb. And when the days of purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished; they brought him to Jerusalem, and presented him to the Lord. (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opened the womb, shall be called holy to the Lord), And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons. (Luke 2:21-24)
Upon examination, the preceding scripture causes confusion because it prescribes the religious procedure to be following the birth of a Jewish male child. Jesus is said to be no ordinary child, but the Son of God; however, Mary and Joseph carried out the same ritual as would have been for any Jewish male child. Why, or what was their purpose in doing so? Did they do it because it was the law; and the thought the law applied to Jesus as well; or did not they realize the true identity of the infant, or were they attempting to conceal this identity?
According to the canonical Gospels an affirmative answer to the first part of the question would seem appropriate; however, it does not explain Mary’s need for purification. Jesus never denied his Jewish heritage, in fact, during his ministry, he was called rabbi (John 3:2); therefore, he would have desired to fulfill all the obligation of Hebrew law. But, would this law equally apply to Mary, who has been said to have been blessed among women, and blessed was the fruit of her womb? (Luke 1:42) A woman so very blessed, and the fruit of her womb is blessed too, needs to be purified? Those not of the Christian belief, and possibly even some Christians, would naturally ask why. The strict observance of the law does not answer the question when Jesus is said to be the Son of God. The implication is that the Hebrew God considers all natural birth impure, even that of his own Son. To this God not only is natural birth impure but the woman bearing the child, his Son, is impure too. Some objective reader would even say it was incestuous. The Hebrew God is claimed to be the creator and Father of all human beings. All women therefore are his daughters; to have a child by one would constitute incest. It was Christ himself who instructed his disciples “After this manner therefore pray you, Our Father, who art in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9)
The idea that Jesus was born of an incestuous relationship between God and Mary would be called sacrilegious by most Christians, especially Catholics, who have painstakingly tried to maintain throughout the centuries that Mary remained a virgin after Christ’ birth even though the Bible indicates otherwise. To the rational person this is not surprising because people try to deny what they dread to admit; maintaining Mary’s virginity maybe the chief source of such denial. Two Biblical indications that Mary did not remain a virgin has previously been mention: “When hearing this Joseph decided to keep Mary as his wife and knew her not until after she brought forth her first born son…” (Matthew 1:25) This passage would seem to indicate that Mary and Joseph had a normal sexual life after Jesus was born. However, despite this scripture some maintain that Joseph had sons from a previous marriage who were regarded by those living nearby, not knowing Jesus’ divine nature, as half-brothers or stepbrothers of Jesus and often called his brothers. Later some even asked, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)
The fact that Jesus had sisters is even a more difficult situation to explain, and the Bible indicates that he did. For when he returned to visit and preached in the synagogue they asked, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph, and of Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us…” (Mark 6:3) Such statements give credence to the terms “brothers” and “sisters,” the children later born to Mary and Joseph were Jesus’ half brothers and sisters. Another explanation for the use of the term brother is that the language of Aramaic, which Christ and his disciples spoke, had no words nephew or cousin, so brother might have been used to designate them too. This being true could substantiate Mary’s perpetual virginity. Still this does not definitely answer whether Mary and Joseph clearly understood the circumstances of Christ’s birth and divine nature, or kept them hidden.
One indication that they did not understand Jesus’ divine nature is seen when after searching for him they found him in the temple conversing among the teachers. Each year the family with relatives and friends went to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. When Jesus was twelve on their return to Nazareth they missed the lad; Mary and Joseph at first thought him to be with others in their group, but when not finding him the hurried back to Jerusalem. There they looked for him for three days before finding him in the temple listening to the teachers and answering their questions. All who heard him were amazed at his answers. When seeing him they were astonished; and his mother asked him, “Why have you done us this way? Do you not know your father and I looked for you sorrowfully?” He answered, “Why do you seek me? Do you not know that I must be about my father’s business?” They did not understand the meaning of what he said to them. Then he went with them to Nazareth and was subject to them; but his mother kept all of this in her heart. (Luke 2:41-51)
There are two others things surrounding this incident in Christ’s life which should be noted. First, when referring to Joseph, Mary referred to him as Jesus’ father. Second, as an obedient son he returned home with them and was subject to them, meaning did what they told him. From other scripture one knows that Joseph taught him the carpenter trade, really not a trade one would teach an aspiring young preacher whom one knew was the Son of God. The Bible seems quite clear about this, that neither Mary nor Joseph knew of Jesus’ divine nature; and, therefore, were not concealing it.
Even after the Reformation many Protestant churchmen including Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin defended Mary’s perpetual virginity against those who questioned it. But by the 17th century the question of Mary’s perpetual virginity became a major division between Catholics and Protestants with the latter stating they found no reason for not believing the Bible when it states Jesus had brothers and sisters. Therefore, Mary did not remain a virgin, but these were the children of her and Joseph, and Jesus’ half-brothers and sisters. The Catholics counter this by saying if this was true Jesus would never have given his mother into John’s care when he died. This argument is counteracted by Protestants by claiming these brothers and sisters never believed in Jesus till after his death and resurrection. Islam teaches that Mary was the mother of Jesus, was a single parent but remained a virgin during her life; however, Jesus was not the Son of God.
Therefore, from the previous discussion and assumption that neither Mary nor Joseph understood Jesus’ divine nature, it can be safely assumed that Mary was unaware of her Immaculate Conception. Not only is it not Biblically stated, but it must be remembered that ordinary people of that time were not as sophisticated to think of such concepts as Immaculate Conception. They were mostly village and rural dwellers, and laborers. The Roman Catholic Church after centuries established the doctrine even though it is not mentioned in the Bible. At first Catholic theologians including Augustine opposed the concept. Augustine had no idea of the Immaculate Conception, but even he suggested that Mary was to be free of sin, never to have committed sin; and he thought this possible because she was given more grace than most so she could conceive and bring forth him who knew no sin. This was not the final dogma, but Augustine anticipated it. (Danial-Rops 103)
Other theologians such as Bernard, the mystic; Bonaventure, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas all rejected the idea. However, the notion that Jesus had been marked by sin proved vexatious to the devout consciousness. So valiant effort was put forth by the 13th century Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus to devise a formula whereby Mary was never touch by sin even in her mother’s womb. Over the years the Church proclaimed the doctrine, inspired by faith, which came about through tradition, the general and usual process which perfects knowledge. (105) The doctrine was solemnly declared dogma by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, being the feast of the Immaculate Conception, in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus. The dogma asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved by God from the stain of original sin at the time of her own conception. Specifically the dogma states that Mary was not afflicted by the lack of sanctifying grace that afflicts all men, but was filled with grace by God, and furthermore lived a life completely free of sin. This doctrine is often confused with that of the virgin birth of Jesus.
Catholic theologians maintain this dogma is scripturally based since the Angel Gabriel greeted Mary as “full of grace.” (Luke 1:48) Catholicism maintains such a prerequisite was necessary for Mary to be the mother of Jesus, who became incarnate within her, and being the Son of God, sinless, he could not be born of anyone every touched by sin. This opinion is not universally shared by all Christians. Although many honor Mary as Jesus’ mother they do not believe this special privilege of the Immaculate Conception was necessary. Many think Mary was cleansed of sin prior to the birth, the incarnation, of Jesus, similar to the birth of John the Baptist. While others, namely the Orthodox Christians, believe no cleansing of original sin was necessary since it is not inherited.
From an objective viewpoint it might be said the Roman Catholic Church needed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to escape from the burden of original sin which it placed upon humankind. If everyone inherited the punishment of the sin of Adam, then so did Mary and Jesus. When declaring this could not be the case, a way to circumvent it had to be found, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was the result. Dogma is a belief, a tenet of faith or religion, which is believed or not, and cannot in the general sense be proven or debated. Those belonging to that faith or religion believe the dogma or believe they will suffer the consequences for not believing it. Many dogmas of Catholicism are based upon the infallibility of the Pope.
Another dogma resulting from Papal infallibility is that of the Assumption of Mary pronounced in the constitution of his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. This establishes the belief that Mary’s soul and physical body were transported into heaven. Her passage into heaven was called Assumptio Beatae Mariee Virginis, “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The significance of the Assumption 0f Mary may by summed up as follows: In Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma he states that “the fact of her death is almost generally accepted by the Fathers and Theologians, and is expressly affirmed in the Liturgy of the Church,” to which he adduces a number of helpful citations, and concludes that “for Mary, death, in consequence of her freedom from original sin and from personal sin, was not a consequence of punishment of sin. However, it seems fitting that Mary’s body, which was by nature mortal, should be, in conformity with that of her Divine Son, subject to the general law of death” (Bk. III, Pt. 3, Ch. 2, §6). The point of her bodily death has not been infallibly defined, and many believe that she did not die at all, but was Assumed directly into heaven. However, the same Apostolic Constitution which infallibly proclaims the doctrine of the Assumption, also non-infallibly teaches that Mary first died and was resurrected, prior to being assumed into Heaven. (See Doctrine of the Assumption of Mary)
Once again the working, or maneuvering, of Papal infallibility is seen. It is said such infallible teaching brings Church teaching in accordance with the beliefs of its people. Prior to the doctrine made dogma and the feast day appointed on August 15, it was apparent that statements leading to it were direct and guarded. Assumpta est Maria in coelum, “Mary has been raised up to heaven,” are the words of the Alleluiatic Verse and the Offertory of the Mass; and for the antiphon of the Magnificat at Vespers is a repetition, in equally restrained terms, of the same idea. Many Catholics had come to the same conclusion they too shared a love for Mary based upon Jesus’ loved for his mother gleamed from the scriptures. They saw their own feelings analogous to those of the Lord’s; their emotions were mainly those of the heart. After careful scriptural study one sees that there is nothing conflicting in the dogma to Christian belief. The doctrine was linked to two principle beliefs, Mary’s divine maternity and the resurrection of the body. Pope Pius XII said the Assumption of Mary “dogmatic kennels” the two beliefs. (Daniel-Rops 107-108) Mary, being preserved from sin including original sin by sanctifying grace, died not as a punishment; therefore, her body was resurrected into heaven as it is believed all bodies of the just will be someday, only it is believed she did not have to wait. She was bodily carried up to heaven by the resurrection power of her son, Jesus. According to tradition Mary died three to fifteen after Jesus’ resurrection either in Jerusalem or Ephesus, most likely Jerusalem, and when her tomb was opened it was found to be empty. Some believe that Mary never died but was directly assume into heaven, while others believe she died and then was resurrected. The dogma is not definitive on this point.
For a non-Christian or nonbeliever to understand this one must examine the basis of Papal infallible teaching. Catholicism holds that teaching from revelation ended with the death of the last apostle who revealed what Christ had taught him. That is to say, since then no more knowledge revealed by Christ has been added to the sacred beliefs. But the Church holds that throughout the centuries other principles and beliefs, just as in the beginning that are rooted in the body of beliefs, should be added to that body. The Church does this as the Vatican Council states, “in such [wise] wisdom as the conditions of time and circumstance require.” (Daniel-Rops 100) To be stated differently through this process acting in accordance with legitimate tradition the Church has neither innovated nor changed anything fundamental; it has just explained to deepen men’s understanding of, and stated more clearly, the content of the deposit of faith. (100-101) The Pope usually exercises his Petrine authority or function involving Papal infallibility, that is the definitive character of teaching on matters of faith and morals on which he propounds solemnly as the visible head of the Church, after consultation with Catholic bishops in holy synods or an ecumenical council.
The Church tended to favor the people As far as for the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. But this was not always the case. For example, during the Council of Ephesus (432 CE), people almost rioted in the streets demanding the restoration of the worshipping of the Goddess. Mary was the likely target. There are two major points of interest that focus here. First,
the location for such an outcry seems important because until Christianized Ephesus had been a sacred city where the Divine Mother was worshiped by “all Asia and the world” (Acts 19:27). Also in this city of Ephesus, as elsewhere, she was called Mother of Animals. “Her most famous Ephesus image had a torso covered with breasts, showing her ability to nurture the whole world.” (The Goddess–I…)
And second, as Ralph Monday states, Logically,
the reason was to bring Mary under the penumbra of Artemis, one name, one symbol of the many aspects of the Goddess that had been worshipped for millennia, and Artemis, though a perpetual virgin, was called the “Mother of God.” (Adam and Lilith: Thanatos…)
However, the bishops conceded so far in allowing Mary to be called the Mother of God, but forbade her from being called Mother Goddess or Goddess.
In this instance infallible teaching did not keep pace with the desires of the people, but stopped them. The Church seemed to move as far as it thought it had to at the time. As Monday further states, Early Christianity
was in keen competition with the pagan religions that preceded the church’s rise to power, and since so many of those religions had a virgin birth story of their own it was only logical for the church to adapt that story for its own political and power purposes in spreading the belief in its narrative, for let us not forget that Catholic means “universal.” (Adam and Lilith: Thanatos…)
Apparently this has been the practice of the Church throughout its history especially in regard to its infallible teaching. The dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary are prime examples. They take an ordinary Jewish girl and make her into a demigoddess by granting her privileges which no other human possesses except Christ himself; this is similar to what people wanted centuries before. When reviewing one characteristic of such teaching, namely “in such [wise] wisdom as the conditions of time and circumstance require,” one clearly sees its function; for the best advancement of the Church at that time. This is clearly seen with the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. The words Assumpta est Maria in coelum, “Mary has been raised up to heaven,” are the words of the Alleluiatic Verse and the Offertory of the Mass; and for the antiphon of the Magnificat at Vespers is a repetition, in equally restrained terms, of the same idea. Another characteristic of infallibility is authority; this is important in organized religion, especially Catholicism. When the concept of the Assumption of Mary is embodied in the ceremonies of the Church and sanctioned by the Pope and clergy, who are the laity to say that it is wrong, or we do not want it that way?
Objectively speaking, making something dogmatic, a tenet of faith which must be believed by the adherents of that faith, does not answer the question previous asked; did it happened. As with the instance with the Assumption of Mary, was she really bodily taken up into heaven as Catholics must believe? No one knows, such an article of faith can neither be proved or disproved. The same can be asked concerning the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, did Mary or anyone of that time know the special circumstances surrounding her birth. There is no evidence of it. Because of the lack of such evidence objectively it must be stated that infallible teaching through the Pope advised by Catholic hierarchy seems to amount to religious speculation. It is speculation in the pragmatic sense as to its usefulness to its adherents? When people pray to Mary for help within their lives or for others they generally are not concerned whether she was immaculately conceived or taken bodily into heaven. When persons pray to Mary two things usually occur: the persons are expressing faith that she is their divine or heavenly mother, and, secondly, in that capacity they believe she can intercede for to God to obtain the favor or help that they request. Many Catholics also firmly believe that since she is the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, there are not many requests that he will not refuse her. Others would say such sentimentality was not according to the Bible reasoning that if God supremely rules the world as Christians claim, then he is not going to change his plan to suit individual whishes In the Lord’s Prayer Christ taught the disciples and people to pray, “Thy [God’s] kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) Again Christ preached, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is here and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, be not anxious saying, What shall we eat, What shall we drink, or With what shall we be clothed?” (Matthew 6:30-31) It would, therefore, seem that to pray for the intercession of Mary to obtain personal wants and needs is not according to scripture.
This brings one to the second part of the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God; pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” As previously mentioned the Church framed it itself according to the Catechism of the Council of Trent. The reason for doing so was summarized as it was most rightly that the holy Church of God added to this thanksgiving, petition and also the invocation of the holy Mother of God indicating that the devout should have recourse to her in order that by her intersession she may reconcile God with sinners and obtain for them the help the need for this present life and for the life which has no end.
Observing from the previous statement one immediately recognizes that the reason is not scriptural either. The Church is encouraging people to seek Mary’s intercession to gain personal needs and wants, the very opposite of Christ’s teaching. The petition to Mary is unscriptural for another reason also which is that it may be assumed that Mary knows the hour of their death, however.this appears Bvblically untrue from the way Christ described the end of world; for he said, “But of that day and hour no man knows, no not the Angels of heaven, but my father.” (Matthew 24:36) Later it is stated, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) These passages raise questions the Church’s motive for establishing the second part of the Hail Mary, especially “praying for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” when it is inferred from Christ’s description of the end of the world that no one but God knows the hour of our death. If the prayer is taken literally, then Mary prays for every just soul constantly, from their baptism till their death, because they are sinners and she does not know when they will die. Such an enormous task for Mary is possible in an endless eternity, if one exists, but would Christ put that on his mother? If so, when would it be possible for her to perform her apparitions? Even though this part of the prayer seems unscriptural, these questions point out the impracticality of it too.
Granted, possibly the Church wanted people to have recourse to seek the intercession of Mary in seeking God’s help, which can be spiritually beneficial; but the objective view is that the Church primarily form the second part of the prayer so to constantly remind people they are sinners and are going to die. This conclusion seems obvious because it rests on the basic function of the Church which claims to be the only organization that dispenses sanctifying or redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. “Christian grace is a fundamental idea of the Christian religion, a pillar on which, by a special ordinance of God, the majestic edifice of Christianity rests in its entirety. Among the three fundamental ideas-sin, redemption, and grace-grace plays the part of the means, indispensable and Divinely ordained, to effect the redemption from sin through Christ and to lead men to their eternal destiny in heaven.” (See Sanctifying grace)
It is thought the one who prays the Hail Mary is petitioning Mary to gain her intercession to obtain God’s sanctifying grace for his present and eternal life. However, in doing so when praying the prayer, especially in the Rosary, the individual in effect recites that he or she is a sinner and is going to die fifty-three times. This section of the pray does not glorify Mary, although it may request her help, but does a heavenly mother need to be asked for help to meet a need fifty-three times in succession? Most human mothers would get annoyed. What if the petitioner does not get his request granted? What is he to think? He is not worthy? He is not good or holy enough? Mary has not interceded for him, or God will not grant his request, or it was not within the Divine plan? Many Christians say that God always answers a prayer; and they are right, no is an answer.
No can at times be a defeating answer, not only physically but even more psychologically. Many prayers are answered negatively; and many ask the questions above. For many the defeat feeling is there, I’m not good enough, God doesn’t like me. That seems to be the Church’s primary motive for adding the second part of the Hail Mary to constantly remind the devotee that he is a sinner who is going to die. This is the mantra to sin and death whose purpose is to benefit the Church by encouraging the devotee to be more faithful. If this was not the purpose then the devotee would be encouraged to ask Mary for his request without constantly reminding himself that he is a sinner, and is going to die.
by Alan G. Hefner
Bowker, John. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. New York. Oxford University Press. 1997
Daniel-Rops, Henri. The Book of Mary. New York. Hawthorn Books. 1960
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Historicity of Jesus. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#Josephus>.
Immaculate Conception. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immaculate_Conception>.
Mother of God. <http://www.themystica.org/mystica/articles/g/goddess_1_intro_and_history.html>. <http://www.themystica.org/mystica/articles/a/adam_and_lilith_thanatos_and_resurrection_of_the_archetypal_goddess.html>.
Pagan Christs. <http://home.earthlink.net/~pgwhacker/ChristianOrigins/PaganChrists.html>.
Sanctifying grace. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06701a.htm>.
Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Chicago. Moody Press.
Upright, Morgan. <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/adonis.html>.