Mary Silenced. Mary Erased. Mary Rejected
and Roman Catholics
A Perspective by Agnes Sam
© Agnes Sam 2016
In an earlier post on my website www.agnessam.com I wrote ‘The Roman Catholic Church and the Ordination of Women’.That post related to my understanding of the difference between Faith, Belief and Practice (or Procedure). It described changes in procedures Catholics had to adapt to and that those changes may lead to misconceptions and be perceived to be a gentle introduction to the ordination of women. In a later post I will give my understanding of the crucifixion and refer you to my post on the Shroud of Turin at www.shroud.com. My post is entitled ‘The Language and Sensibility of Research Papers in Sindonology’. Sindonology is the study of the Shroud of Turin. Although I have not seen the Shroud, I have studied the research papers. In the present post my focus is the Mary the Mother of Christ and the possibility that Mary has been silenced, erased, and rejected by Roman Catholics hopefully, inadvertently. I put forward no reasons, simply my interpretation of how this is being done. The piece is about Catholic Faith, Belief and Practice. I will, however, begin with Joseph and Mary.
1. Joseph of the Lilies.
St. Joseph is the man singled out to be the husband of Mary the Virgin by the lilies on his staff. From this miraculous signal we have the flowers named ‘St Joseph Lilies’. In the narrative passed down to us, Joseph discovers Mary is already ‘with child’ as they euphemistically refer to in the Bible. When he decides to return her to her parents, an angel appears to him in a dream and he accepts Mary knowing the child is not his and believing the angels explanation. Before the child is born Joseph is warned to take Mary to safety, which he does. He is present at the birth of the child in Bethlehem. When the child is lost both parents return and find the child preaching in the temple. The child says ‘I am about my father’s business’ when Joseph without being named, we expect, is present.
We hear nothing about Joseph after this. He apparently does not witness the first miracle Christ performs at the marriage feast in Cana. During the sermons and the miracles, Joseph and Mary are never mentioned. When Christ is baptised by John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit descends the two crucial people in his survival are not witnesses. More significantly, during the passion, crucifixion and death, Joseph is absent and Mary is present at the foot of the cross.
We assume Joseph died with Mary and Christ at his bedside because for some Catholics, Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. Yet I cannot recall a reference to Joseph’s death. This appears to be a singularly strange omission. His faith in the messages of the angels is not confirmed.
2. Mary Silenced.
The appearance of the angel to Mary the Virgin is powerful. In Old and New Testaments angels appear as strangers, travellers, visitors, in dreams or passing through at night. With Mary, however, the appearance of the angel differs. It is clear. There can be no misunderstanding and no misinterpretation:
‘An angel of the Lord appeared unto Mary’. Then the greeting of the Angel to Mary is moving because it surprises her:
‘Hail Mary full of grace.’
Where else do we find such a greeting? The angel asserts without hesitation to Mary that she is filled with grace. She could not have known this. Grace from the Holy Spirit has already filled her.
Then the angel informs her that the Lord is with her.
‘Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee’,
Would she have known this? How could she?
Then the angel refers to her as ‘Blessed’.
‘Blessed art thou,’.
The greeting does not end there. The angel continues, Mary is not simply ‘Blessed’, she is Blessed amongst women.
‘Blessed art thou amongst women’,
Naturally she is filled with terror by the apparition.
Besides her terror, she must be astonished by the greeting. Had the apparition been in a dream, she may have accepted it, but it comes when she is awake.
The greeting and the words ‘filled with Grace’, ‘the Lord is with thee’, ‘Blessed are thou amongst women’ are surely unique in the Bible.
Then the angel adds to Mary’s fear by informing her that the fruit of her womb will be named ‘Jesus’. If Mary assumed the Lord has approved Joseph as a husband for her, and that she may remain a virgin within marriage, she is corrected. She is already ‘with child’ but she is not yet married to Joseph. She cannot understand this because she is a virgin.
Catholics repeat this graceful, respectful greeting innumerable times in the manner of the angel to Mary, because it forms the first part of the Hail Mary and the Rosary. We respond to the Angel’s greeting with a request to Mary:
‘Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.’ This prayerful request for Mary the mother of Christ to pray for us is an element of Catholic practice, in the same manner that we pray to saints when other Christian communities have no recourse to Mary or to the panoply of saints that we have.
But Mary the mother of Christ appears to have been silenced and this silencing may lead to her being erased and rejected from Catholic minds and memories, perhaps unintentionally.
Consider the stigma and the fate of an unmarried young Jewish girl two thousand years ago who is ‘with child’. Fifty years ago in this country and around the world, children were given up for adoption, or the foetus or embryo aborted because the mother or family could not live with the stigma associated with unmarried mothers. Two thousand years later, we still hear reports of women threatened and being stoned for pregnancy outside of marriage.
Yet Mary, aware of the shame and humiliation that will accompany her and that Joseph will most certainly return her to her parents, responds to the angel, when given the explanation coming from the Lord. Mary says: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done unto me, according to Thy will”.
These are the words, this is the voice of the woman the angel described as ‘Full of Grace’, ‘Blessed’, with whom the ‘Lord is with’. Yet in saying the rosary we the Roman Catholics, silence Mary. We never repeat her words in any prayer, let alone during the recitation of the rosary, or the hail Mary. We never have occasion to repeat her words. Why is this? Why is Mary’s response to the angel not part of the Hail Mary? Was it ever a part? If it was ever a part of the Hail Mary, when was it removed? If it was never part of the Hail Mary who created the prayer we call the Hail Mary, and why has her response never been part of it? It may be inappropriate for men, for priests, and other clergymen to repeat Mary’s words, but it is appropriate for nuns, for mothers and daughters in a family, for women amongst the laity to repeat Mary’s response to the angel of the Lord. It may be appropriate for men to say the Our Father, and for all the congregation or the men in the family saying the rosary, to say the ‘Glory Be’. But with the ‘Hail Mary’ as it is, some of us may interpret it as the silencing of the Mother of Christ.
3. Mary Erased:
The Latin Confiteor begins like this:
‘Confiteor Deo omnipoténti
Beatae Mariae semper Virgine
Beato Michaéli archangelo
Beato Joanni Baptistae
Sanctis apostolis Petro et Paulo
et tibi, Pater
i.e. We are confessing to God, and then to Mary, then to Michael the Archangel. Mary precedes the archangel Michael.
Mary precedes John the Baptist. Mary precedes the apostles Peter and Paul. Mary precedes all the saints
Then we mention the priest. ‘And to you, Father,’ because a priest hears our confession privately
The new Roman Catholic English version of the Confiteor is this:
‘I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters’.
Mary and all the angels and saints are erased from the new Confiteor.
Who are we laity, clergymen and women, that we are put in the place of the ‘Blessed’, ‘Graceful’, Mary with whom the Lord is present? Are we higher? Are we on a par with Mary? Have angels appeared to us? Whoever designed the ‘Public Confession’ should attempt to answer these questions.
4. Mary Rejected:
The devotion to Mary that Roman Catholics especially a very wide range of religious orders, priests and friars have – is not shared wth other Christian communities. The rosary is one of the signs of that devotion. Fr Patrick Peyton campaigned for the rosary to be said in the homes of Catholics with his slogan: ‘The family that prays together stays together’.
The rosary consists of the Pater Noster i.e. Our Father, the prayer Christ taught the apostles when they asked Him to teach them how to pray. It contains the Glory Be to God, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, i.e. the Trinity Roman Catholics believe in that other Christian communities may not share. Then there are the ten Hail Mary’s referred to as ‘decades of the rosary’, There are fifteen decades. This constitutes the rosary. (five decades were added lately).
When we pick up the rosary we anticipate the recitation of the rosary. If we pick up the rosary, however, and recite other prayers on the rosary beads, it is a symbolic rejection of Mary, the mother of Christ. There is no rule or regulation (to my knowledge) that prevents anyone from creating a string of beads for the recitation of any number of prayers, be they Pater Nosters, Litanies to the name of Jesus etc. But to pick up the rosary, however, and not say the rosary even as it is said today without the repetition of Mary’s words: ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy will’, – I perceive as a rejection of Mary the ‘Blessed’, ‘Graceful’ mother of Christ with whom ‘the Lord is with’.
© Agnes Sam 2016
(Agnes Sam received a Roman Catholic education at school and at Pius XII University College, administered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, in Roma, Lesotho before it became the National University of Lesotho).