According to Catholic teaching, Mary was conceived immaculately, meaning that she was born without the taint of original sin. This idea is often confused with the idea of the Virgin Birth. Wikipedia clarifies:
The doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary concerns her own conception in her mother’s womb, not the virgin birth of Jesus.¹
Catholics also believe that Mary always was and will be a virgin. That is, Mary and her elderly husband Joseph remained perfectly chaste throughout their lives.
The Virgin Birth refers to Mary’s conceiving Jesus after she freely chose to accept God’s miraculous intervention, through which she would become pregnant. This event took place before her marriage to Joseph. The angel Gabriel came to her and proposed the choice she had to make. After she accepted God’s will for her, Mary probably suffered from the misunderstanding of Joseph and others who initially saw only scandal.
The Greek Orthodox Church accepts devotion through Mary but not the idea of her immaculate conception.
From reading the New Testament and Apocrypha, many believe that Joseph and Mary had sex and four other boys and two girls after Jesus.
But the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that Mary bore only Jesus. For believing Catholics, the “other Mary” mentioned in the New Testament bore James and Joseph, the so-called “brothers” of Jesus. And Catholics say the term “brother” (Greek: adelphos) is in keeping with a common Old Testament usage, meaning “close relation” (kith and kin). So “brother” in this sense means spiritual instead of physical brotherhood.
Unlike some feminists and New Age enthusiasts, Catholics believe that Mary is a mediator between Christ and mankind, not a goddess. The idea that Mary is a mediator between mankind and God has been traced to the 3rd century CE.
When praying to Mary through the Holy Rosary, Catholics do not worship her but, rather, request that she intercedes for them—as in the Hail Mary Prayer, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
Some Protestants and Fundamentalists believe that Catholics have got it wrong because, so they assert, Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and Man. But, quite ironically, many of these very same people freely ask their friends and associates to “pray for them,” which clearly is a request for intercession.
Catholics often reply to this Protestant and Fundamentalist charge by asking: If we can ask souls on Earth to pray for us, why not souls in heaven?
In the New Testament Mary instructs Jesus to perform his first miracle at a wedding ceremony at Cana (John 2: 1-11). Jesus hesitates – “it is not my time.” But at Mary’s insistence he ends up performing the miracle (turning the water into wine).
In 431 the Council of Ephesus defined Mary as Theotokos, a Greek term meaning “The Mother of God.” Mary became widely venerated throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. Devotion during this period was so enthusiastic that sometimes monks and religious were taken as mad persons. And maybe some were.
The doctrine of Mary’s bodily assumption (her rising at death) into heaven was formed around the 6th century CE by orthodox theologians. It became sanctioned by the Catholic Church in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.
The idea of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s immaculate conception was hotly disputed in the Middle Ages but generally accepted by the 16th century. The doctrine was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, stipulating that Mary was born free from “all stain of original sin.”
Many lay and religious persons around the world claim to have witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the most publicized being those at Fatima, Lourdes and Medjugorge.²
Some religious scholars and lay people, alike, equate Mary with the Egyptian Isis, the Roman Demeter, the Hindu Kali or the Chinese Kwan Yin, among a host of other goddesses. Likewise, C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell equate Mary with various goddesses, envisioning all as archetypal images of an underlying and (some say) sexist “feminine principle.” But even a casual study of these various female deities reveals striking differences. And to equate them as if they were all the same, as some New Age enthusiasts and depth psychologists do, seems facile.
Mary is depicted musically in Stabat Mater, the “standing mother” (at the foot of the cross of her crucified son). The composers Palestrina, Pergolesi, Rossini, Haydn, Verdi and Dvorak have written unique works, each called Stabat Mater. While Pergolesi’s work is the most popular, all compositions are based on the same New Testament account of Mary’s grief while witnessing Jesus’ execution at the hands of the occupying Romans.³ Since 1727, the devotional poem Stabat Mater Dolorosa (“A mother standing, grief-stricken”) has been set to a plainchant melody in the Catholic Mass.
² For more, see http://www.marypages.com
³ Over the centuries there has been much heated debate over who actually killed Jesus. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barabbas
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