Monday, 23 August 2010

On the Worthlessness of Mary

Will great round to writing the next day of Downside up in the near future. In the meantime, here is a little something on our Lady- my first attempt at anything homiletic/ theological.

Our Lady has a great many, very beautiful titles: Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Tower of Ivory, Ocean of Bitterness, House of God, Morning Star, Mother of Perpetual Help, and so on ad infinitum. For every conceivable aspect of human need, there is a title of Our Lady that we may name her, and beg her help and intercession and gain what we require, either for spiritual or material aid.

This is all well and good- I have an especial devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, who’s intercession I have sought a great many times, and never without success. She is also Patroness of my diocese (Middlesbrough) - but one title we never hear is “Mary most Worthless”. I was suddenly, through misreading “worthiness” struck by this; that Our Lady, the Mother of God, and Assumed and Glorious Queen of Heaven, conceived without sin, and first of all creation, is in fact, of herself of no worth.

Except for Grace.

Through the operation of Grace; that is through the loving kindness of our God; all generations call her blessed. It was Grace that rescued her from ever being in original sin, and from ever committing the slightest sin making her the fairest of all women. None of this is achieved by herself through her own merits. Without God deigning to bestow on her an infinite number of Graces, and making her the Theotokos, she would have been no better than she ought to be; just like the rest of us.

And yet she is just like the rest of us; she was created by God, in His image and likeness, as we all are; she is a God bearer- as we all are whenever we receive Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; she is a recipient of God’s mercy and loving kindness; and many, many other ways.

I am nervous of the term which seems to be so prevalent among the Orthodox Churches of “Deification”. I don’t know why, it is a very good term for what God desires to happen to us, that over time, as with John the Baptist, He increases, as I decrease, we draw closer, and closer to the Godhead, until we become God: until we are so lost in God, so hidden in the face of the Almighty (to quote Bernard of Clairvaux) that all our flaws have been lost, even our littlest sins and peccadilloes are smoothed away that we achieve (I don’t want to use the phrase, but work with me on this) perfection- we become one with the Godhead.

This is what, I think, has happened to Mary; she has become so intimate and so close to God; not just because she bore Him for nine months in the womb, not just because she was the one who taught Him his religion, because our Lord says in response to “Blessed is the woman who bore thee”, “Nay, Blessed rather is he who hears the word of God and keeps it”. Would our Lady be so worthy of praise if she had not been the perfect example she was? What if she’d gone off the rails and hit the Gin? Who knows? Does it really matter? Probably not. I suspect that was nor part of the Almighty’s plan, to which she was utterly submissive.

But the impression I get is that she is worthy of praise and adoration because she is the most perfect follower of Christ, more so than for her having borne our Lord in the womb. But she did, and she is and she was, if that makes sense. And through this, through her pondering all things in her Immaculate Heart, she drew ever closer to God and closer and closer and closer, until she had diminished to the point where she only displays the will and love of God- can one think of Mary except as the God bearer? Would we think of her at all if she had not been the God bearer, if she had instead become a proud and domineering housewife, feared and respected in Nazareth? I suspect not; her name would have died with the last person who remembered her. So through her humility, through her utter obedience to God, through her loosing herself totally in Him, she has become Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Tower of Ivory, Ocean of Bitterness, House of God, Morning Star, Mother of Perpetual Help, &c., &c. And not Mary most worthless, Mary most unremembered.

This may all be abundantly clear to everyone, but it had never really occurred to me.


  1. I think that God doesn't appreciate docile submission from anyone. Considering Jesus was both man and God, and the references we have to his upbringing, it is likely that his mother and step-father were both intelligent, lively people who challenged social norms and the concept of blind faith in tradition.

    After all, in purely religious terms Jesus was a revolutionary. Not only did he fulfil the prophecies
    ""Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
    but he also challenged the aspects of the religion which were non inclusive, or contrary to the concept of a loving, understanding God.

    I know it's easy to assume it was Jesus himself from which this came, but I would hope the God chose Mary not just for her purity and good heart, but also for her strength of character.

  2. There have been plenty of strong minded people who have been forgotten.

    What God wanted from Mary was her "yes", her "fiat". At the Annunciation she says, quite simply, and with all humility "Be it unto me, according to thy word". She accepts the will of God whole heartedly, and holds nothing back- she was obedient to God in all things.

    Also, looking at the Gospel accounts, they seemed to be good practicing Jews- we know they went to the temple, at least twice (for the presentation, and on another occasion where they loose Jesus for three days). They seemed perfectly respectable people in Jewish society- Joseph was a carpenter, and Mary ran the home, and Jesus was obedient to them, until He went out to preach; and it seems that Mary went with Him.

    People seem to think that obedience and humility are ideas expressed in the weak, those who lie down and are used as door mats. However, both take a lifetime's work to achieve- neither are easy at all and we see them both most perfectly expressed in Mary's "fiat". The acceptance of God's will, and submitting to it, not to what we want to do, but what God wants us to do, I would say is the hardest thing imaginable. Certainly I have great trouble with it!

    So yes, our Lady must have had great strength of character. How else could she have stayed at the foot of the Cross and watched her son die? How did she not run away with the disciples? Instead, she stayed, with John, and was given to him and he to her, for mutual support, care and protection; and through this we are given to her and she to us, for a mother's support, care and protection, and her most powerful intercession; for she is a mother like no other!

  3. I understand completely what you're saying, and humility is indeed a great virtue. Accepting that your decision making abilities are secondary to that of God sounds obvious but as you quite rightly say putting it into practice can be a bit more difficult!

    What I'm saying is that although her acceptance of God's will is often the most well quoted and admired part of her life, I wouldn't expect her to be meek in other aspects of her life. After all - she did raise the son of God, as you have again said - in the context of a Jewish household of the first century AD, not an easy task. Most of the parts of the gospels which directly refer to Mary refer to her having to undertake pretty hefty tasks for someone who was, as you have again mentioned, an ordinary human woman. Despite being guided by the hand of God, Mary was a woman, and I can bet that she felt all of the emotional pain from her struggle that any woman would have. So when I say she was chosen for her strength of character, I mean that she was more than just a vessel of God's will, she herself was an integral part of His plan.

  4. "HAIL MARY FULL OF GRACE" This is how the Almighty God greeted the Blessed Virgin Mary through His messenger the Archangel Saint Gabriel.
    It is the first prayer in Christianity which, its enemies the heretics Protestants ignore and reject. So under the influence of what spirit do you give yourself the authority to come up with 'Mary most Worthless'?
    The response of Mary to the message of God was "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto according to his word". The Blessed Virgin Mary is a creature of God, but she is a unique creature of God. There has never been one like her and there will never be one like her.
    And of course she is worthy of praise and honour because She bore our Lord in the womb. God who is All, whom the whole world cannot contain confined Himself in Mary and became One with her in flesh and blood. There can be no question whatsoever that the Blessed Virgin Mary is, first of all, to be venerated in Her Divine Maternity. The same thing can never ever be applied to any other creature.
    The words of Our Lord Jesus Christ during His three years public ministry on earth are not to be taken always in an earthly context. Most of the time Our Lord spoke in parables and they have more far-reaching meanings than just plain words.

    In the Magnificat...Our Lady says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit..."Because He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaid". NOT the 'worthlessness'. It is not for any of us therefore to fabricate different words. But it is for us to look up to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the most perfect example to follow in her innumerable virtues and especially in her "humility" if we want to be pleasing to God.
    'Worthlessnes' just like 'Ocean of Bitterness' are NOT words that the One Holy Catholic Church applies to Mary Most Holy.

    Aline I.M. Horlock