Thursday, November 8, 2007

Marian Prayers and Angst

It is no small wonder that, as a conservative Reformed Protestant, one of the hardest concepts for me to accept (or even tolerate) about the great Apostolic Churches is their Marian devotions. From what I've read, mine is not an uncommon experience. While not the prima facie catalyst of the Reformation, I note that today it seems to be the most prominent issue with which we justify our divisions. My ordained Reformed dad has opined that if it weren't for Marianism, the church could have reunited shortly after the Council of Trent. Would that this had been true.

While the formal Catholic teachings on Marianism stand up to some measure of my (admitedly individualistic) scrutiny, I fester over the Marian 'lex orandi' side of things. I have been repeatedly assured by Catholic Aplogetic literature that any prayer to Mary is no more than a petition for her to pray for us. To ask her or any saint to do more than petition to Jesus is to exceed permissible bounds.

The 'Hail, Mary' sure seems to fit safely within that rule, what Fr. Neuhaus would call rightly ordered devotion. But how about the traditional prayer, 'Hail, Holy Queen'?

"Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!"

It is surely a hard teaching that asking the Blessed Mother to turn her eyes of mercy toward us is formally nothing more than asking for her intercessory prayers. It would seem more safely within the confines of formal teaching to say 'pray that we may receive your Son's mercy.' I know, I'm biased -- not atuned to the Catholic Marian Pathos. I seek to understand, but see the danger of getting 'rightly oredered devotion' to Mary 'wrong' as a grave matter - superstition of not idolatry.

I know... I know...


Devin Rose said...

As a convert from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism, I ran into this same conundrum.

No doubt you have already heard many of the arguments, but I would add one more: One person can give another person their blessing.

Isaac giving Jacob his blessing (instead of Esau) is a very obvious Biblical example, but in practice, we give people our blessing in lots of ways.

A father blesses his daughter's suitor when he asks for permission to propose. A mother blesses her son as he prepares to go to war.

These blessings can of course be given in the Name of the Holy Trinity, or of Christ, etc., and they often are, entrusting the blessing to our Lord's grace and goodness.

In the same way, if I ask the Virgin Mary to "turn your merciful eyes toward me", I view it in the same way as asking for her blessing.

Chad Toney said...

The HHQ still ends with a "pray for us. . ."

But I know how you feel.

I view the more flowery Marian devotions in the same genre as a love letter.

In other words, I can remove my pen protector and tell my wife I can't live without her, would do anything for her, and will turn to her when I need comfort, etc. (When in actuality, if she died, I would not commit suicide, I wouldn't rob a bank for her, and I know God is the ultimate comforter).

Tim A. Troutman said...

Totally feel where you're coming from. It took me well over a year (after I had decided to convert) to come to grips with Mariology as I think you and I have talked about this before. I wasn't even comfortable praying the rosary until ... I'd say about 6 - 8 months ago.

Good points Chad & Devin. I would also add what helped me was considering the difficulty a Muslim converting to Christianity would have considering that we view God as Father (not to mention the issues with the Trinity). When one's theological center of gravity is confronted with radical realignment, it's no small task.

Yet the Muslim has a greater obstacle to overcome than us. His reservations and even instinctive offense at our doctrines do not contradict their truth in the least.

Still, with all that said one thing I was used to in the PCA seems to be a little lacking in most Catholic parishes or Catholic publications (at least regarding Mary) and that is the zealous protection of any misunderstanding that might arise from any ecclesial act.

For example, when the pastor of my PCA church would anoint with oil, he would always precede it with an explanation that there was nothing magical about the oil nothing happening here... we're just praying etc... ( Now of course I disagree with him - not that there's magic in the oil but that a real sacrament is taking place when performed by a priest) but I do admire the deliberate protection of doctrine.

I think there is a little bit of a laxity concerning this in Mariology. I think you just have to stick with the official teaching.

Thos said...

Thanks all. I note the absence of much of an effort to speak up for the text of the HHQ prayer - the defense (that this prayer and those of its ilk do not violate the rule that prayers to the saints, including Mary, only ask them to petition to the Godhead on our behalf) is more along emotive, sentimental lines. (I have to grant additionally Devin's point that asking for a turning of eyes of mercy may be a curious way of requesting a blessing - which is a form of prayerfully attempting to beseech God's grace on the subject of the blessing.) I suppose that's fine. It's a very eastern feeling expression.

I would have to share Tim's sentiment that a constant effort to teach limits on such devotions and doctrines would be prudent. I think in articulating the appropriate limits to a practice, one can thereby accentuate the richness of its core.

But I'm no place to judge. I primarily want to gauge the extent to which one can be Catholic and cautious (and perhaps even at times opposed) to a popular ethos (without being a party pooper!).

Peace in Christ,

Chad Toney said...

I note the absence of much of an effort to speak up for the text of the HHQ prayer

I'm sure one of us could do a line-by-line exegesis of this prayer and make it sound more acceptable to Protestant ears. I've seen it done well on forums or somewhere...


1. I'm too lazy. =)
2. There are plenty of other prayers and devotions to Mary and the Saints that will bring up similar angst (I think the Memorare bothers me more than HHQ). For me, it's better to have some general reasons on what's going on and why.

Chad Toney said...

I'm sure one of us could do a line-by-line exegesis of this prayer and make it sound more acceptable to Protestant ears.

This sounds snarky...didn't mean it to be. It wasn't really what you were asking for.

Thos said...


No snarkiness taken; I'm with you. Thanks for pointing out the Memorare though! I'll give it some thought.

I didn't raise the HHQ because I thought it was offensive, but because it's a common Marian prayer that gives me pause over how much Catholic practice comports with Catholic formal teaching. I'm sure a textual defense can be made (I'm in law school, so I know a defense for anything can be made!). It was just telling that the focus of the prayer is on the emotive side (and again, that's no indictment, just telling).

Peace in Christ,

Amy said...

I don't think there's room in a combox for a great explanation of this, so here are some links:

St. Alphonsus de Liguori's book on the Salve Regina is here:!/FuseAction/store.ItemDetails/SKU/442/
He explains (far better than I ever could) the prayer.

There's also a shorter explanation online here:

I think it may help to remember that every Marian devotion, every prayer involving Mary, is always intended to point towards Christ. It may also help to remember that there are a number of practicing Catholics are confused, and think that Mary is an alternate path to heaven, if Jesus' way becomes too difficult (I ran into someone with this opinion last week. Oi!).

We also have three different terms for the honor given to those in heaven. Unfortunately they lose something in the translation to English :)

Dulia, hyperdulia, and latria. Dulia is the honor given to those human beings who are now in heaven. Hyperdulia is the honor given to the Blessed Mother, since she is above all other people. Latria is the honor and worship given to God alone.

Thos said...

Thanks Amy.

Pope Pius XII's prayer in the second link you provided is especially challenging to me. I feel a certain inertial resistance to expressions that Mary is that being to whom we appeal when we want the path of salvation opened to a particular person. Christ Jesus himself said that he was on earth to save whom the Father had given to him.

I will continue to try to grasp the meaning of these expressions, and of Hyperdoulia (I'm familiar with the terms used for the various types of devotion).

Peace in Christ,