I have spent time in my life being a little confused about Mary. Well, that's not technically true. I would have been confused about her, but instead I chose not to think too much about her one way or the other. It's not that I have a problem with her being honored, or that I have any huge problems with the Church's teachings about her. What left me just this side of indifferent was the way that those teachings sometimes get lived out. When I was in high school, I heard someone flat out say that they were more comfortable with Mary than they were with Jesus. I saw others that lived as though that were the case. I talked a little more about my feelings on the subject here. Anyway, with that kind of background, I had a tendency not to be all that interested in Mary.
Here's the problem. Clearly, when someone feels more comfortable with Mary than they do with Jesus, they need to get that straightened out, and quick. However, there's another side of it that I've started to see more and more. Those people that I know that have a deep and real relationship with Jesus, and who also deeply honor Mary, have a depth, texture, dimension, something in their relationship with God that I don't understand and want very much to know more about.
When I took the time to actually pull my vague thoughts about Mary out of the closet and examine them in the light of day, I could see clearly that I'm missing out. I'm telling you that these years of mostly indifference don't go away in a day, but there are things here and there that are helping.
One thing that I've started to see is that when there is a true and right honoring of Mary, it is primarily honoring Christ. It is because of her relationship to Him that we honor her. Many of the teachings about her are primarily because of Him. The teaching that she is the Mother of God is because the Church was clarifying that Jesus, who is both truly God and truly man, is still one person. As the mother of this person, Mary is the Mother of God, even though she wasn't around from all eternity and even though she is a creature created by the Word, her Son.
The other thing that I've been thinking about a lot is a certain type from the Old Testament. I don't know how many of you have heard of or are interested typology, but I love it. You have to be careful not to get too carried away, but essentially, God prophesied in many ways. He spoke through His prophets, but He also spoke through real events that happened. For example, Isaac was an only son, taken up a mountain to be slaughtered. In this way, he is a type and foreshadowing of God's only Son, who was also taken up a mountain to be slaughtered. Only, Isaac was saved, and Jesus completed the work He had taken up.
There are some types of Mary, too, and the one that I love is the ark of the covenant. Think about it. What did the ark contain? The word of God, the commandments, written on stone. The miraculous manna from the desert. The staff giving the authority of the priesthood to Aaron's line.
In her womb, Mary carried the Word of God in the flesh. She carried the true Bread come down from heaven. She carried the eternal and perfect High Priest.
Scott Hahn, in his book Hail Holy Queen (chapter 3) points out this interesting set of parallels between David's journey to bring the ark to Jerusalem and Mary's visit to Elizabeth. (ESV)
2 Sam 6:2 "And David arose and went"
Luke 1:39 "...Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country"
(Hahn points out that both were proceeding to the hill country of Judah.)
2 Sam 6:9 "And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?"
Luke 1:43 (Elizabeth says) "And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
Hahn points out that similar expressions are used for the way that David danced before the ark, and the way that John leaps in his mother's womb (2 Sam 6:14, 16 and Luke 1:44). Furthermore, both Mary and David remain in the hill country for about three months (2 Sam 6:11, and Luke 1:56).
Now, if you're looking for some kind of proofs about Mary or the doctrines about Mary, I don't have them, at least not tonight.* However, this is the image that finally made some things click into place for me. Think of how the Jews in the Old Testament treated the ark, because it was so holy (set apart), so sacred. It was not what it was in itself that made it holy, but because of what it contained. This is why we call Mary blessed (Lk 1:48) and this is why we recognize the place that God has exalted her to (Lk 1:52).
Think of what the ark was made of: acacia wood and the purest gold. This is why we believe that Mary was untouched by sin, so she could be the purest possible vessel for Jesus.**
Think of how the ark, during the time of exile, was hidden in a safe place, to be kept holy and untouched. Mary, body and soul, the new ark of the covenant, was also hidden in a safe place, so she was not touched by the corruption of death.
If the ark of the covenant was so holy, and it contained only symbols, how could we not treat the ark of the new covenant, the ark that contained God Himself with at least as much love, respect and devotion***?
When I think of the holiness of Mary, and I think of why she is so holy, it gives me even greater awe of Christ. Sometimes, since He makes Himself so available to us, since He loves us so much and so personally I forget how holy He is.
He. Is. God.
That, my friends, is what the doctrines about Mary teach me.
*If you want a lot more about Mary as the new ark of the covenant, or more about Mary and Scripture, check out Hahn's book.
**We do believe that she was only sinless by the grace of Christ crucified. The rest of us fall into the pit of sin and are pulled out only by grace. We believe that Mary was saved only by grace, but that she was saved by keeping her from falling in.
***"Devotion", as I am used to using the word, is NOT the same thing as worship.