I grew up worshipping Mary along with Jesus. This was not her fault. I asked her a thousand times, if I asked her once, to pray for me: "Blessed Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." That's because I was in the choir from fourth through eighth grade, and May and October were the official "months of Mary" when we prayed the rosary every night in church. In fact, we did it in the language of God:
"Je vous salut Marie, pleine de grace. Le Seigneur est avec vous. Vous etes benie entre toutes les femmes, et Jésus, le fruit de vos entrailles, est bénis. Saint Marie, mere de Dieu, priez pour nous, pécheurs, maintenant et a l'heure de notre mort. Ainsi-soit-il."
I attended Assumption College, in Worcester, Mass., whose name commemorates the bodily assumption of Mary (still a virgin) into the heavens, in like manner as Jesus had been "assumed." Then (skipping some chapters in between) I became a Protestant and never heard a word about Mary again.
I believe that C.S. Lewis was right when, speaking on another subject, he wrote: "For my own part, I hate and distrust reactions not only in religion but in everything. Luther surely spoke very good sense when he compared humanity to a drunkard who, after falling off his horse on the right, falls off it next time on the left" (The World's Last Night).
Those who worship Mary (or angels, for that matter) are mistaken. "But a thing does not vanish-it is not even discredited-because someone has spoken of it with exaggeration. It remains exactly where it was. The only difference is that if it has recently been exaggerated, we must now take special care not to overlook it; for that is the side on which the drunk man is now most likely to fall off" (Ibid).
We've just celebrated Mother's Day, and I would like to give Mary her due, both as a mother and as a saint worthy of emulation. The evangelist Luke takes pains to arrange the material of his letter so as to give her maximum honor. He juxtaposes her with the priest Zechariah, to her elevation and his debasement. Both personages receive a visit from an angel announcing the coming of the Christ. Zechariah responds in disbelief unless he can have proof (Luke 1:8-23). Mary believes (Luke 1:26-38).
I might add that Mary believes at much more risk to herself than Zechariah would have incurred. She will be the mother of "the Son of God" (v. 35), true. But she is not a stupid girl. She knows that a very costly discipleship will be required of her if she accepts this assignment. We must not romanticize the circumstances: Mary's story of how her son was conceived will not be bought by the village baker's wife. She could be stoned. Go see The Stoning of Soraya M for a reality check about small town mentality.
And by the way, why do you think Joseph takes Mary with him to be enrolled in the census (Luke 2:1-7)? Kenneth Bailey, a Middle Eastern scholar who grew up in Egypt and lived in Jordan as an adult, says women didn't make such trips-let alone women "great with child."
What thoughts occupied Mary's mind as her body was jostled and buffeted on that donkey ride? Did she not think, "This is only the beginning"? By the time old Simeon (Luke 2:35) took her aside in private, looked her in the eye, and prophesied that a sword would pierce her soul one day, had she not already felt those stabs in daily walks to fetch water at the well in Nazareth?
What kind of mother is this, who held back from the limelight when Jesus was the latest sensation, but who followed close behind the crucifixion procession, not heeding the danger to her own person, when the disciples had scattered? And finding herself just one disciple among the 120, was obedient to Jesus' instructions to stay in Jerusalem and pray till the Holy Spirit came?
And so I say again: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women, indeed.