Yeah, this is where some of my Evangelical friends think Catholics have put Mary up there with Jesus as a "Co-Saviour". They say things like:
This is the last straw. The Catholics are completely out to lunch and they are turning people's attention away from Jesus and making them focus on a dead woman whose ministry ended with the birth of Jesus.
I have been trying to avoid this conversation because it is so thorny. But as usual, God sends people into my path to ask me about this stuff. So here goes...
Although "Co-Redemptrix" has been talked about a lot lately and may become doctrine, it has been a belief since the first centuries of the Church. "Co-Redemptrix" refers to Mary's participation in Jesus' work, kind of the way an Evangelical pastor participates with Jesus when he prays for people and preaches the Gospel. "Mediatrix" refers to Mary's role of "Magnifying the Lord" (Lk 1:46).
As for Mary being dead, Catholics don't think Heaven is a dead place. They think it is quite a lively place with lots of singing and stuff. Martin Luther said, "There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven." (Aug 15, 1522) Catholics believe Mary is in Heaven. More about Christians in heaven here.
Mary is a "born again" Christian who received the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost and spoke in tongues 2000 years before Pentecostals got the gift (Acts 1:14, 2:3). She knows how to pray - yes even in tongues :-)
"For just as the former [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience."
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, 19.1 (c. 180 A.D.)
Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was a student of John the Apostle. That's about as early as you can get.
It is useful to compare Mary's "Yes" to the Archangel Gabriel with Abraham's "Yes" to the angel that came to him (Gen 22:11). First, let's look at Abraham as he contemplated the sacrifice of Isaac. Now there is a guy with faith. This guy was old and his wife Sarah was no spring chicken either. Yet he believed God's promise that he would have offspring as numerous as the stars in heaven. The miracle happened, Isaac was born and Abraham rejoiced. Then God turned around and said, "Hey, by the way, sacrifice Isaac - kill him." I can imagine all the stuff that was going through Abraham's head at that point, but nevertheless he stepped up to the plate and tied Isaac up and started the fire and pulled out the knife. He would sacrifice the only son that God gave him - the son that was supposed to become the father of the Jewish people.
Just as there was a big riddle for Abraham when he said "yes" to God, there was a big riddle for Mary when she said "yes" at the annunciation. She feared her "yes" would cost her future husband. She was "betrothed" to him and in those days a woman who had an affair with another man while betrothed, would be stoned to death for adultery. It was beyond her how all this would come to pass without losing Joseph and being stoned to death while the fetus of Jesus was developing in her. Yet like Abraham, she said "yes" and trusted the Lord.
In the story of Abraham, God intervened miraculously. The Angel appeared at the last minute to stop the sacrifice. Isaac was saved. In the story of Mary, God sent the Angel in at the last minute to Joseph. Up until then he was going to "dismiss her quietly" which would have been disastrous because if she wasn't married to him when her pregnancy began to show, the town's people would have thought that she was a fornicator who should be stoned.
During his homily at World Youth Day 2008, in Sydney Australia, which I attended, the Pope said:
In the beautiful prayer that we are about to recite, we reflect on Mary as a young woman, receiving the Lord’s summons to dedicate her life to him in a very particular way, a way that would involve the generous gift of herself, her womanhood, her motherhood. Imagine how she must have felt. She was filled with apprehension, utterly overwhelmed at the prospect that lay before her.
The angel understood her anxiety and immediately sought to reassure her. “Do not be afraid, Mary…. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:30, 35). It was the Spirit who gave her the strength and courage to respond to the Lord’s call. It was the Spirit who helped her to understand the great mystery that was to be accomplished through her. It was the Spirit who enfolded her with his love and enabled her to conceive the Son of God in her womb.
This scene is perhaps the pivotal moment in the history of God’s relationship with his people. During the Old Testament, God revealed himself partially, gradually, as we all do in our personal relationships. It took time for the chosen people to develop their relationship with God. The Covenant with Israel was like a period of courtship, a long engagement. Then came the definitive moment, the moment of marriage, the establishment of a new and everlasting covenant. As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel’s message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said yes.
In fairy tales, the story ends there, and all “live happily ever after”. In real life it is not so simple. For Mary there were many struggles ahead, as she lived out the consequences of the “yes” that she had given to the Lord. Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart. When Jesus was twelve years old, she experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when, for three days, the child went missing. And after his public ministry, she suffered the agony of witnessing his crucifixion and death. Throughout her trials she remained faithful to her promise, sustained by the Spirit of fortitude. And she was gloriously rewarded.
The Bible clearly shows us that man was given free will. Eve had free will to say "no" to God and cause the fall. Mary was free to say no to Gabriel. She was given free will.
So Catholics believe that Mary's role at the annunciation was special, not shared by any other human in the history of the world. Mary's participation in the birth of Jesus was not passive. She had a role to play. If she said "no," none of us know what would have happened. Perhaps God would have worked out salvation history another way. Perhaps it was God's last chance for us, we just don't know. But when we think about the immensity of Eve's "no" we get a pretty good idea. Mary's "yes" was huge.
Let's go back to Abraham. In saying "yes" to God, he became the father to the people of God, the Israelites, who were bound by the blood of Jewish lineage (Old Covenant) . Mary's "yes" made her mother of all the people of God who were bound by the blood covenant that is Jesus (New Covenant). In other words, just as Abraham became father to Israel though the blood lineage, Mary became mother of all who shared in the blood of her son Jesus. Mary seems to allude to this link to Abraham when, right after saying "My soul magnifies the Lord", she says, "according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever." (Lk 1:55). She became mother of Jesus, and thus mother to all who share his blood. Paul appears to speak of this.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Gal 4:4-7)
In the above passage we see Mary as the mother of Jesus followed by an explanation of us as children. The word "woman" is very significant. It is the title Jesus gave her at Cana (Jn 2:1-11) and at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25-27). It was not a derogatory title. It brings us back to the garden of Eden, where Eve was called "woman." (Gen 3:3) Mary was the new Eve. Her "yes" to God is the beginning of the events that led to our redemption from Eve's "no" to God.
Most of my Evangelical friends say they are washed in the blood of Jesus. This is the new covenant. Catholics believe Mary is mother to all who share in his blood. "We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb.10:10) Catholics believe Jesus confirmed this by giving his mother to all humanity at the foot of the Cross. (Jn 19:25-27)
Abraham offered Isaac on the altar (Gen 22:9) which started the Jewish practice of offering the first born as a sacrifice to God. Mary participated in that tradition when she brought Jesus to the temple shortly after his birth. Simeon told her "A sword shall pierce your heart so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed (Lk 2:35)." That prophesy was fulfilled at the foot of the cross. When Jesus was pierced by the sword, it was Mary who experienced the pain because Jesus was already dead at that point. It was a "sword that pierced her heart." Anyone parent who has witnessed their child having a broken arm will attest to sharing in the suffering.
Abraham was spared the suffering of watching his son die, Mary was not. Yet just as Abraham's absolute faith gave him his son back. Mary, received her son back 3 days after he died. God is good.
...at the foot of the cross of our Saviour (Jn.19:26), Mary's intense sufferings, united with those of her Son, as Pope John Paul II tells us, were, "also a contribution to the Redemption of us all" (Salvifici Doloris, n.25). Because of this intimate sharing in the redemption accomplished by the Lord, the Mother of the Redeemer is uniquely ... referred to by Pope John Paul II and the Church as the "Co-redemptrix."...It is important to note that the prefix "co" in the title Co-redemptrix does not mean "equal to" but rather "with", coming from the Latin word cum. The Marian title Co-redemptrix never places Mary on a level of equality with her Divine Son, Jesus Christ. Rather it refers to Mary's unique human participation which is completely secondary and subordinate to the redeeming role of Jesus, who alone is true God and true Man. (petition by Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici).
Catholics believe Mary's suffering at the foot of the cross was also very significant. St. Paul says "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church," (Col 1:24) By his sufferings he is completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the church and us. This is a role we all can partake .... but this role is dependent on Christ and subordinate to Christ. Thus in her own suffering too, the Mother of the Redeemer participates in the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. For more on the Catholic belief about the redemptive value of suffering go here.
Paul said "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body that is the church" (1 Col 24). This appears to support that some are called to share in Christ's suffering.
Some Evangelicals think that the Church made this stuff up about Mary in the last couple of hundred years. But we see the Church's belief in Mary's participation in Jesus' work in the Early Church Fathers:
Mary...you know what the Patriarchs never knew; you have experienced what was never revealed to the Angels; you have heard what the Prophets never heard. In a word, all that was hidden from preceding generations was made known to you; even more, most of these wonders depended on you. (270 A.D., St. Gregory Thaumaturgus)
Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily repay you with praise and thanksgiving for having rescued a fallen world by your generous consent? (St. Augustine 430 A.D.)
Most certainly Jesus is the one and only mediator between man and God. The Catholic Church teaches that there are no subordinate co-deities, no additional redeemers, no additional mediators.
But most of us have been asked to stand in the gap for a friend or loved one. Those of you who are pastors are often called upon to intercede in prayer. In this way you are cooperating with Jesus' salvation in that individual. A famous Evangelical song by Audio Adrenaline says: "I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet, I'll go where you want me" We can be mediators in that fashion. This is not saying we are mediators between Jesus and God for mankind ... but we can have a subordinate and dependent role. Once again, the Latin word "co" means "with", not "equal to."
There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray "in the name" of Jesus... to invoke him (Catechism 2665-2666)
We got an email that said:
Christ is the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24)...It can not be made any clearer in the scriptures that God wants to communicate with us directly, and to be cautious of those who try to step in to mediate.
1 Timothy 2 does not say that God wants us only to communicate with Jesus. It says there is only one mediator between God and man, which is a different thing. The passage does not say "be cautious" of asking people to pray for us. It doesn't do anything of the sort. The chapter begins by not only allowing intercessory prayer by third parties, but requiring it and indicating that it actually helps bring them to salvation and knowledge of truth. Any mother who prays for her children knows that.
1. I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone ...This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4. who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
We cannot read the rest of the chapter without considering that overarching idea. Christians in heaven pray through Christ much better than you and me. They are much closer to Christ than you and me. Evangelicals pray for each other, and they don't say they are taking God's place. When we pray for one another we are participating in the mediation but we are not the mediator. Catholics feel that saints in heaven, including Mary, can pray for us just as well (or infinitely better) than our friends on earth.
In Hebrews 8:6, it says Jesus has obtained a more excellent ministry than any of the high priests. In 9:15 and 12:24 the passage goes on to say he is the mediator of a New Covenant, Catholics fully agree. We fully agree he is the mediator. We think Christians in heaven are a heck of a lot more aware of who Christ is than we are. The Bible says that he has helpers that participate in his ministry by his invitation. We believe he has invited Christians on both sides of heaven to do that.
When a saint enters into the joy of their Master, they are "put in charge of many things" (Mat 25:21)
Mary is a serious prayer warrior. We don't think that praying with her detracts from the worship of God anymore than praying with friends detracts from worship of God, which I do a lot. She is not all knowing, but she knows a heck of a lot more about this spiritual game than me. She is a creature. This does not take away the tremendous benefit we can get from communing with her.
The Catechism says:
Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him...the Churches developed their prayer to the holy Mother of God, centering it on the person of Christ manifested in his mysteries. (Catechism 2675)
Catholics see an interesting comparison between Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Eve in Genesis. Eve stands between the human race and sin and the Fall. She is in a sense the "mediatrix" of original sin (Gen 3:3-24). Catholics believe Mary's "yes" (Lk 1:2) to God and his plan of redemption, reversed Eve's "no" and reversed Eve's refusal to obey and cooperate with God. Mary's "yes" and cooperation with Grace blew away Eve's "no" and fall from Grace. Catholics think it is not by accident that Eve (the woman) came out of the body of Adam (the man), and that Jesus (the man/God) came out of the body of Mary (the woman). This view was put forth by St. Justin who lived from about 110 to 165 A.D. and is consistent with Paul's comparison of Jesus to Adam.
Catholics believe Mary spells out her role in eternity in Luke 1:46-49:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of his maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
So her role is to magnify the Lord and rejoice in God her Saviour. She is to be humble (which she is). In order for a magnifying glass to magnify something, one must look through it at the object. The magnifying glass is not the thing that we are looking at. In fact, if we focus on the magnifying glass, we will not see the object that is magnified. In the same way Catholics look through Mary at Jesus. Catholics believe that is what Mary has asked. That is what Catholics call "Mediatrix." In this passage of Luke, We also have been called upon to do something: to call her blessed. This is for all generations, all people and especially all Christians, not just a few little old Catholic ladies.
At the wedding at Cana where Jesus began his public ministry, Jesus did not want to perform the miracle. But Mary said to the servant "Do whatever he tells you to do." (Jn 3.3) Jesus did perform the miracle and his public ministry began. Jesus wouldn't even start his public ministry without his mother's instigation.
Even Martin Luther spoke to Mary in the first person saying:
"No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity. (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation, 1537)."
When Mary was carrying our Lord Jesus in her womb, Jesus was flowing through her veins. This lady has an intimate relationship with our Lord. Mary is probably the most misunderstood person in all of history. If all I do on this site is soften a few hearts towards her, then I will be exceedingly happy, and we believe Jesus will be also.
Take our prayers into the sanctuary of heaven and enable them to bring about our peace with God...Holy Mary, help the miserable, strengthen the discouraged, comfort the sorrowful, pray for your people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God. May all who venerate you, feel now your help and protection. ...Make it your continual care to pray for the people of God, for you were blessed by God and were made worthy to bear the Redeemer of the world, who lives and reigns forever. (St Augustine in 430 A.D. )
Many people wish that this thing about Mary would go away and that the Church would be in greater unity with other Christians if it would.
It appears that most of the closed feelings against Mary have crept into the reform movement in the last 100 years. Many great Protestants have had strong feelings for Mary including C.S. Lewis. Most early reformers had strong positive feelings for Mary including Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Wesley. Even Martin Luther spoke to her in the first person saying:
No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity.
(Martin Luther Sermon - Feast of the Visitation, 1537)
We are not apologists. Apart from all this doctrine and stuff, the reason we believe that Mary is in heaven helping us is because each of us had an experience with Mary that we cannot refute (Hugh's testimony here, Diane's testimony here). No one can tell us she is dead. We don't worship her. She is a friend who prays for us and has shown us very cool things about her Son, Jesus. We believe we are better Christians today because of Mary.
If you are afraid to talk to Mary, we invite you to:
Pray to Jesus about Mary.
Any Evangelical would say it is perfectly safe to pray to Jesus about anything. Ask Jesus what's up with Mary. Give him time to respond. We pray you have the same experience that has led to our powerful convictions about the validity of Mary as a helper for the helpless, and a great prayer warrior.
Other Topics on Mary
Mary in scripture
Mary, mediatrix, co-redemptix
Is Mary a pagan goddess?
Martin Luther's quotes about Mary
Mary in the early Church and today
Do Catholics pray to Mary?
Hugh's experience with Mary
Did Mary have a bunch of kids?
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.