Why do Catholic Christians pray to Mary?

I was asked the other day on behalf of someone who’s a Catholic Christian why Catholics pray to Mary.

There’s a whole larger theological sweep, comparing Mary with Eve as the mother of all the living, and, as the bearer of God, with the ark of the covenant. But from a bit of digging around in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the following seems to me are the key points that the doctrine is drawn from.

Catholic position:
Luke 1.28-30. Mary is uniquely the favoured one because The Lord is with her. (p570)

Luke 1.48 “All generations will call me blessed” – “the Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship” (p222)

Luke 1.38 “Let it be to me according to your word” – “Without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son” (p110)

This is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: “The Blessed Mary was, by a singular grace and privelege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ…, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (p110)

It follows that because of her unique position that “we can pray with her and to her” (p571): “because of Mary’s singular co-operation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary” (p571), including “entrusting the supplications and praises of the children of God to the Mother of Jesus” (p569)

Protestant position:
Luke 11.27-28. More blessed than the body which bore Jesus are those who hear and keep God’s word. While Mary is certainly blessed, true blessing comes from honouring God, not physical or biological closeness.

Mark 3:31-34. Jesus’ mother and brothers stand outside the house where Jesus is teaching and ask him to come out to them. It looks like Mary did not always have full confidence in Jesus – are we sure she was sinless? (Cf Mark 4.11 – to be outside the house was to be outside the kingdom and not understanding Jesus’ teaching) On the other hand, Mary’s position is not fundamentally unique: while certainly blessed to be the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:42-43), Jesus declares that anyone who does God’s will is his brother or sister or mother.

Therefore, we do not need Mary’s help in bringing our prayers to God, and Scripture does not encourage us to seek it. Rather:
Ephesians 3:11-12 – We have full access to God through Jesus
Romans 8:26-27 – The Spirit of God intercedes for us to the Father
Romans 8:34 – Christ Jesus is interceding for us at God’s right hand
Hebrews 10:19-22 – We can draw near to God in full confidence, because of the blood of Jesus.

Our Lord gives us our pattern for prayer: “this then is how you should pray: Our Father…” (Matthew 5:8-13)

Made like God

An assembly talk for 4-6 year olds.

Good morning. my name is Sam and I’m a follower of Jesus.

We haven’t met before. But if I asked you who you were what would you say?

You’d probably tell me your name. And that’s great.

But is there something that all of you are?

Is there something that every person on the planet is? – a human being

What’s a human being?

The Bible tells us who we all are – it tells us what it means to be a human being. If we go to the start of the Bible we find that

God said, “Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness.”

Let me tell you a story.

There was once a Father and a Son who were toy makers. They loved to create toys that were exciting and fun. They created tractors, and bricks and computer games and crayons and tea sets. They had great fun together making all these things.

But one day the Father said to his Son, “I know what would be really fun. let’s make a toy that is like us”. The Son said “if it’s going to be like us it would have to be able to talk like us and laugh like us and think like us and even be able to make things like us. If we made a toy like that, it wouldn’t just be a toy, it would be our friend.”

And the Father said, do you think we can do it? And the Son said, yes!

And so do you know what they did? They took a piece a normal piece of wood, and they crafted it together. They took extra care over it, because this was going to be a toy that wouldn’t just be a toy, but would also be their friend. And when they were finally finished, the toy woke up. And the father said to the toy “Hi. I’m the Father and this is my Son. We made you to be like us”. And they had. they had made a toy that could listen to them and laugh with them, and think like them. And over time they even helped the toy to make it’s own mini toys, just like them.

Boys and girls, we are a lot bit like the toy in that story. The Bible says that God has made us to be like him, and to be his friends. We can talk like God, we can laugh like God and think like God. We can even make things ourselves, a bit like God. We can’t do all those things exactly the same as God. But we can do all those things.

And that means that every one of us and every person on this planet is very special. We have all been given a gift, even if we don’t know it. God has made us, and he’s made us like him.

And that means that the best thing in our lives is doing what we were made to do. And that’s being God’s friends. Talking with God and laughing with God, thinking about God and even making things with God’s help. This is who we are made to be.

So let’s always remember this: that we are all made by God to be his friends.

The essence of the Christian religion

Towards the end of his introduction to dogmatics (“the system of the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in Christ”) Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck gives a summary of his system:

The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.

Note how Bavinck emphasises the objective reality of Christian belief: he does not mention human faith (except in reference to ‘religion’), but the object of faith – the work of God in creation, redemption and perfection. This structure guides his work: volume 1 introduces “dogmatics” as the believer’s confession of the ground and content of his faith as revealed through the Scriptures, volume 2 is God and creation, volume 3 sin and salvation in Christ, volume 4 Holy Spirit, church and new creation.

Handy to have a summary in one sentence!

What this definition misses somewhat is a goal, a driving force, both for God’s action and for our lives. It seems to focus more on God’s action in restoring creation than God himself. This seems to be behind Bavinck’s next sentence:

Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficent in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

And so, dogmatics is a “doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a “glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).”

(Reformed Dogmatics, I, 34)

Do we love for our sins to be recounted?

In his 8th Homily on 1 John, Augustine is speaking about the issue of whether followers of Jesus should allow their good deeds to be seen by other people. Taking in Jesus’ warning about doing things in order to be seen by others (Matt 6:1), Augustine concludes that if we are seeking to glorify God we will not hide our good deeds (Mat 5:16), but will point people to him “from whom you have the means to good”. In Paul Augustine finds a striking example of someone who “set his goal not at his own praise but at the praise of God”, which is evident because:

“Paul loves for his sins to be recounted by us so that he who healed so grave a disease might be glorified”.

It’s easy to question our motives for doing good, but Paul’s example provides a good test: If we are used to public service of Christ, a good question to ask ourselves might be “do we love for our sins as well as our good deeds to be recounted so that our Saviour might be glorified?”

And if we are seeking Christ to be glorified where he is not named e.g. in the workplace, we should be encouraged that it is not perfection that is needed but allowing the full glory of the Sun of Righteousness’ healing rays to be seen.


How to please Jesus in every way

In reading Paul’s prayer for the Colossians in Colossians 1:9-13 with a minister friend last week, we noticed 4 aims Paul has for the church (v10-13). Together they provide a rounded view of the Christian life. We thought they’d make a good application checklist as we share God’s word and ask him to change us through it:

  • how does this lead to us bearing fruit?
  • how will it grow us in the knowledge of God?
  • how will it strengthen us to endure?
  • how will it lead us to joyfully give thanks for God’s grace?

Paul says these 4 things will mean that we “live a life worthy of the Lord, and please him in every way.” (v10) Exciting!

The categories are something like:

  • hands
  • head
  • staying Christian
  • heart

To get there, Paul prays that the Colossians will be filled with all spiritual wisdom (v9). Which as we’ll see is found in Christ…

What would Jesus say about St Paul’s?

We’ve all been following the St Paul’s/Occupy London situation. I’ve been asked what I think about it a couple of times. Here’s a much better answer than the one I gave, from a member of another church in the square mile, St Helen’s Bishopsgate. This was at a lunchtime meeting for City workers.

Birthday prayer

It was my birthday a few years ago today, and I thought I’d post this section from a sermon preached by Charles Spurgeon a few more years ago today (2nd November 1884):

The best preaching is, “We preach Christ crucified.”

The best living is, “We are crucified with Christ.”

The best man is a crucified man.

The more we live beholding our Lord’s unutterable griefs, and understanding how he has fully put away our sin, the more holiness shall we produce.

The more we dwell where the cries of Calvary can be heard, where we can view heaven, and earth, and hell, all moved by his wondrous passion—the more noble will our lives become.

Nothing puts life into men like a dying Savior.

Get close to Christ, and carry the remembrance of him about you from day to day, and you will do right royal deeds.

Come, let us slay sin, for Christ was slain.

Come, let us bury all our pride, for Christ was buried.

Come, let us rise to newness of life, for Christ has risen.

Let us be united with our crucified Lord in his one great object—let us live and die with him, and then every action of our lives will be very beautiful.

If you want to pray something for me this year, pray this.