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Some Insights on Our Catholic Understanding of Mary

Today, July 4th, I used my “independence” to do some spiritual reading.  The insights I am about to share are not my own but come from Dr. Edward Sri.  I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by him in March.  I enjoyed his presentation so I picked up two or three of his books.

I am currently reading his book Love Unveiled: The Catholic Faith Explained (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2015).  I just read chapter 8, which is entitled “Mary and the Saints.”  There are two areas in this chapter that gave me new insight into our Catholic beliefs about Mary.

The first is found on pages 138-141 in a section he entitled, “Treat her like a Queen?”.  We call Mary Queen of Heaven.  I have always accepted the title of “queen” for Mary without understanding why we would call her “Queen.”  I have always thought that the queen was the wife of the king.

Dr. Sri explains how in the culture of the Old Testament, it was not the wife of the king that was called Queen.  It was the king’s mother.  Dr. Sri first points to 2 Kings 24:12 and Jeremiah 13:18-20 to where we can find “mother as queen” in the Bible.  He also tells us about people going to the “queen mother” for her intercession.  Does this not point to Mary?  She is mother of Jesus our King so she is queen.  In her role as queen and mother we ask for her intercession.

To develop this identity of the mother of the king as queen and the authority that goes with it, Dr. Sri then points to the first and second chapter in the First Book of Kings.  In chapter 1, King David is still alive and Bathsheba is his wife.  The passage shows how, even as the king’s wife, Bathsheba has to bow and give homage to King David before approaching him.

In chapter 2, King David has died and his son Solomon is now king.  This means Bathsheba is now the mother of the king.  The passage goes on to explain the role and authority she has as queen.

Now, I turn to the second insight I received from Dr. Sri’s book today.  As Catholics, we call Mary the “Blessed Virgin.”  Our Catholic faith teaches that Mary was virgin before Jesus was born and after.  Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters agree that Mary was a virgin until Jesus’ birth but not after.  One of the places they turn to for this are the passages in the gospels that refer to Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

Dr. Sri addresses this on pages 150-151 in a section he entitled, “Jesus’ Brothers?”  He provides two answers to how Mary can be ever-virgin while Jesus’ has brothers and sisters.  Before presenting his two answers, I will offer briefly another response I have heard regarding Jesus having brothers and sisters.

Some speculate that it is a reference to step-siblings that Jesus had from a previous marriage of Joseph.  This is not in the Bible but both of Dr. Sri’s answers are biblical.  The first I learned in seminary.  The Greek word used for “brother” in these passages is not restricted to “brother” as having the same biological father and mother.  It is often used (he gives examples) for cousins and other extended relatives.

I fully accept these as valid responses to the question of Mary remaining a virgin while Jesus has brothers and sisters.  However, Protestants are not likely to embrace this alone.  How are we to know whether the relatives of Jesus are brothers or cousins or other relatives?

What Dr. Sri does next is a great answer to show that Jesus did not have brothers and sisters as we think of them (not extended family).  He turns to John 19:25-27 where Mary and the beloved disciple are at the foot of the Cross as Jesus is crucified.  It is there that Jesus says to the disciple, “Behold your mother.”  In doing so, he is telling the beloved disciple to care for Mary as his own mother.  If Jesus had had brothers and sisters, they would have been the ones responsible for caring for Mary.  Thus, Dr. Sri presents this as evidence that Jesus did not have brothers and sisters.

I am grateful for these insights.  It shows the importance of continuing to learn more about our faith.  I am at my best when I can find time to learn more about what our faith teaches to share it with others and to grow in my own faith.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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