Mary Is Venerated in the Bible!

Don’t ever let a Protestant skeptic tell you veneration of Mary is unbiblical.

Anyone who takes the truth of the Incarnation seriously must accept Mary as the Mother of God, a title which demands some degree of honor to the one bearing it. Thus, the ‘scandal’ of Marian veneration is really the ‘scandal’ of the Incarnation. Such truths are truly scandalous to a world that thinks so little of both God and man. But they shouldn’t be so anyone who believes in Christ.

Many evangelical Protestants, however, subscribe to a form of fundamentalism which holds that if something is not explicitly permitted in the Bible, it must be forbidden. Since we don’t see Christians venerating Mary in the New Testament, the argument goes, we shouldn’t either.

Except Mary is venerated in the Bible. At least twice.

 

Angel venerates Mary

In the Gospel of Luke, the Incarnation is announced with these words: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee (Douay-Rheims). Much of the history of Catholic-Protestant debates is really a tug-of-war over the second Greek word in that salutation, translated in English as ‘full of grace.’ But the first word in that greeting also speaks volumes about who Mary is and what has fundamentally changed in the order of creation with the Incarnation: Hail.

As a form of address, it’s a word that’s faded away in modern times, so it’s easy to forget what it means. When it’s used as an exclamation, modern dictionaries simply note that hail is an enthusiastic greeting.

But hail is much more than just a synonym of hello with a bold exclamation point after it. In the ancient Roman world, hail—in the Latin, ave—was used to address Roman emperors. Hail was still used as exclamation in Shakespeare, most often to address a royal person or some other person of superior status. In Hamlet, this is how the tragic prince is greeted by his friend, Horatio: Hail to your lordship! (Act 1, scene 2). In the Tempest, when the merchant Prospero summons his servant, the man responds: All hail, great master! (Act 1, scene 2). And of course, we find Hail Caesar more than once in the play, Julius Caesar.

Hailing Mary, then, takes on great significance: it suggests that she now has royal status. In the next chapter, Luke draws a contrast between Caesar and Christ—between a worldly, temporal empire, and the kingdom of God. The angelic salutation indicates that Mary partakes in this kingship of Christ.

This form of address also implies something about the relationship between the angel and Mary. In hailing her, the angel is honoring, or venerating her. Certainly, that’s how St. Thomas Aquinas, for one, interpreted the angel’s words and actions in his commentary on the Hail Mary. (Read the commentary here.)

The gospels confirm this reading of the Annunciation. According to the Englishman’s Concordance, hail, as an exclamation, appears only four other times in the gospels. In all four, it refers to one person: Christ. (For Greek enthusiasts, the operative word is chaire.)

In most of those cases, it is used as a term of derision by the Roman soldiers before the crucifixion. In the fourth, Judas hails Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Although the soldiers and Judas lacked faith, they were, ironically, using the proper term of address. Obviously, just because the soldiers and Judas mocked Jesus as a “king” does not mean He wasn’t one, so we are safe in concluding that the word, in the context of the gospels, is a form of royal address, just as it was in the broader context of the ancient world.

All this leads towards the conclusion that Mary, in a wholly unique manner, shares in the kingship of Christ, hence one of her other traditional titles, Queen of Heaven—again a title that seems to imply some form of veneration is due to her.

The Visitation as veneration

A skeptic may still question whether Christians should imitate the angel. The Annunciation was, after all, a unique, one-time event in history. But what happens next in the chapter should dispel any such lingering doubts. When Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s house, her cousin welcomes her with these words: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. “Mary is blessed by Elizabeth with the same words as before by Gabriel, to show that she was to be reverenced both by men and angels,” writes the Venerable Bede.

This conclusion is reinforced by some extraordinary textual clues. According to French theologian Rene Laurentin, many of the phrases in the Visitation account mirror language used to describe the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, specifically, in 2 Samuel 6. (Because Laurentin’s book, Structure and Theology of Luke 1 and 2, is in French, I am indebted to Scott Hahn’s summary of his work.) Here are four key parallels:

2 Samuel 6                                                                              Luke 1 

David “arose and went” to Judah to “fetch” the ark          ■ Mary “rising up…went” to Judah

David is overcome with “joyful shouting”                         ■ Elizabeth “cried out with a loud voice”

David is “leaping and dancing”                                          ■ John the Baptist “leaped in the womb”

David asks “How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?”   ■ Elizabeth asks “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Mary statueThe identification of Mary with the Ark of the Covenant has numerous implications. For our purposes here, it makes it abundantly clear that she is worthy of veneration. In fact, in the Old Testament, the worship services held at the time of King David centered around the ark, according to this article in EthnoDoxology  (which, it should be noted, appears to be a Protestant publication). The Old Testament background is pretty extensive, so here are just a few examples of how the ark was revered by the Israelites.

In 1 Chronicles 16:4 David “appointed Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, and to remember his works, and to glorify, and praise the Lord God of Israel.” Levites, who were the priestly class in ancient Israel, were the only ones allowed to carry the ark.

According to EthnoDoxology, the ark was carried in worship processions to symbolize God’s “ascent of his holy mountain and entrance into the sanctuary as King.” (Does this not call to mind those processions of statues of Mary in the street, which so scandalize Protestants?)

The ark also figures into the psalms written by David. Significantly, in Psalm 132, the Israelites invoked both God and His ark: “Arise, LORD, come to your resting place, you and your mighty ark” (New American Bible). The ark serves as the backdrop to Psalm 68, even though it is not mentioned explicitly. There are also references to ark imagery in Psalms 80 and 99.

One of the most compelling examples of ark-centered worship in the Old Testament is when Solomon brings it into the temple. Here is the description in 1 Kings 8:5: “And king Solomon, and all the multitude of Israel, that were assembled unto him went with him before the ark, and they sacrificed sheep and oxen that could not be counted or numbered.”

In the Gospel of Luke, the role once held by the Ark of the Covenant is now assumed by Mary. This means all the biblical evidence for ark-centered worship services now, albeit somewhat indirectly, also weighs in favor of the Catholic position: that it is not only appropriate, but even necessary for Christians to honor the Mother of God.

It may be hard for a person steeped in secular, modern thinking to comprehend the idea of venerating Mary. But it’s harder to understand how someone can ignore such a mountain of biblical evidence.

Stephen Beale

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Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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