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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Believe It or Not

Today is the Feast of the Assumption! Let's have cake!

We probably won't have any cake. I think Sister St. Aloysius is going to make some peanut butter cookies if it doesn't get too hot today. Or....maybe I can talk her into making them anyhow, even it if gets really hot out, and we can offer up our suffering when the oven heats up the whole house for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

The perfect day to tackle this question. It's a doozy.

Hello, Sister! In your earlier post about the "Killer Baby Jesus," you say the following: But...the thing is....a lot of the story of Mary comes from these same gospels that were thrown out. The Mary stories have become what we call Sacred Tradition. When the church uses the word tradition with a capital "T" it means they want you to pay attention.

So yes, to the story of Mary, no to killer baby Jesus.
I am interested in which stories of Mary these are. I've heard some pretty fanciful ones about Mary that were never "officially" included, but made people happy in the Middle Ages, like the cherry tree one, or the one I've heard on the History Channel about the midwife who was called to verify Mary's virginity after the birth... You know, I feel like I should head for Confession after repeating that one, but I didn't make it up or hear it from a naughty boy on the playground, I promise!

I think I've done everyone a terrible disservice in describing the stories of Mary's childhood as Sacred Tradition. The Assumption of Mary into heaven is Sacred Tradition. The stories of Mary's childhood, although the nuns always told them with great glee, are what we might call Catholic tradition. Small 't'.

To answer your question very simply, the baby Mary stories come from one of the Gnostic Gospels that was rejected in the 4th century, the Protevangelium of James. Every fanciful thing you've heard about Mary is in there. Enjoy!

I'll wait while you have a good read.

Wasn't that fun? It's fun to think of Joachim and Ann, so thrilled with their perfect daughter that they never let her feet touch the ground and Joseph stepping up to the plate to take care of this pure young girl. Lovely.

Here's where the rubber meets the road though, so hold on to your hat.

Sacred Tradition refers to things that we absolutely know are true, that aren't found in Scripture spelled out for us word for word. Does the Bible say that Mary was conceived, unlike the rest of us, without the stain of Original Sin on her soul? Nope.


When the Angel Gabriel shows up to tell Mary that she has been picked to be the Mother of Jesus, he says, "Hail Mary, full of grace..." (ring a bell?) She can't be full of grace if she has Original Sin on her soul, now can she? She hasn't been baptized because neither Jesus nor John the Baptist is around to take care of that. So...voila. Sacred Tradition tells us that this is what the Angel Gabriel meant.

When Mary appeared to Little Bernadette at Lourdes and Bernadette asked Mary who she might be, Mary replied, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Straight from the horse's mouth.

That should seal the deal. But...

You don't have to believe Bernadette. You don't have to believe in any private revelations. Believing Bernadette, or believing that Mary appeared to Bernadette or getting your hands on some Lourdes water, that's Catholic tradition. Small 't'. You don't have to even think about Bernadette. But you do have to believe that Mary is the Immaculate Conception.

Catholic tradition is really the most fun part of being Catholic. The saints and their stories, our statues and holy cards, advent wreaths and Christmas trees, St. Nick and Halloween, rosaries and incense, how dull we would be without them. It would be like dumping our other fun cultural traditions like birthday candles and cake and throwing the bouquet after the wedding . And then where would we be? We'd be out marching around with the birthdayless Jehovah's Witnesses. Sad.

So why is Killer Baby Jesus gone altogether (although there is one lingering story of Him bringing a baby bird back to life that I've even seen in some Jesus movie that was on TV) and Baby Mary still around? Because the Baby Mary story tries to enhance our ideas about Mary and the idea that Mary was so very pure. End of story. It's a sweet story of love and devotion, where the Killer Baby Jesus stories are just stories of a powerful child run amok. My favorite part of the Killer Baby Jesus stories is when the neighbors beg the Holy Family, "Please....Moooooove....."

Mary's story has made it into Catholic tradition if for no other reason than that we still call Mary's parents by those names, Joachim and Ann. This thrown out gospel is the only place we discover those names. And since the rest of the story is, well...a sweet fiction written 150 years later...
We know Mary had two parents. I'm good with calling the Joachim and Ann.


Anonymous said...

I am an engineer.

I never planned it, it just sorta happened.

If you want to be comforted by tradition, who am I to rock your boat?

I enjoy Science Fiction, others enjoy romance novels.

But the truth about God and his Son is far from tradition.

That is why, during World War One, when the battle used 11,000 trains of artillery shells to make the European battlefield look like the surface of the moon, grinding men's bodies and blood into the mud of war, with a million French and Germans dying in one year, in one place, most of the combatants on both sides killing each other ...were Catholic.

This is a historical fact.

This is what happens when Christianity chooses "traditions".

...just a thought from an engineer that would be mortified (perhaps literally...) if Jesus Christ inspected the Earth while he was celebrating Satan's birthday party...Halloween.


Noreb said...

Two thousand years ago Sister Mary would have been marching around with the birthdayless Jesus Christ; !How sad!

Anonymous said...

Why is another reader calling Hallowe'en Satan's birthday party, when as far as I learned that it was All Soul's Eve and we are celebrating one of the beauties of diversity in our Catholic and Christian traditions? We are ALL called to be saints, however, whoever, and wherever.

Jade Dunlop said...

I love the picture of the angry angry baby! It made me laugh!

DaveW said...

A very good post explaining the roots of Marian teaching in the Catholic Church I thought.

As someone raised protestant that is attending RCIA some of the Marian devotion struck me as very strange. And you cannot dodge Mary if you are Catholic or studying to be one. The beginning of this journey for me was a daily rosary after all.

Over time I've figured enough of it out to be comfortable with it - and anyway I can't argue with the results.

Heh. Your lower case verse upper case explanations continue to be very helpful for me.

bill7tx said...

Mary is amazing. "The omnipotence of God the Father raised Mary's soul so high above every other creature that, after God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, she has the greatest power in Heaven and on Earth." She is the Mother of God and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Her soul is filled with the sweetness, love, tenderness and mercy of all three Persons in the Trinity. Her will and the will of God are the same.

And yet at the same time, she is one of us. She spent 72 years on this Earth. She suffered the heat of summer and the cold of winter. She knew homelessness, hunger, illness, the pains of old age, poverty, and rejection. She knew joy and happiness. She scrubbed floors, made meals, and dealt with being a widow. There is nothing that we suffer that she did not know in her time here. She still suffers from the insults and disrespect of people, even though she is in Heaven, body and soul.

It is good to honor Jesus through Mary, and to offer reparation to both their Hearts.

Jade Dunlop said...

Oh yes...Exactly what is a "Marian Catholic Church"? As a Roman Catholic, can I attend mass there/recieve communion? Are there any spectacular differences in a Marian church?

bill7tx said...

theintrepidpie: The "Marian Catholic Church" is not in communion with Rome. Communion in the Marian Catholic Church is not recognized as valid as far as I am aware. The Marian Catholic Church describes itself as "A Mix of Eastern & Roman & Orthodox Catholic`s Who all so accepts The Unaltered Augsburg Confession (1530) and Martin Luther's Small Catechism." There's more, but to me it looks like a mixed-up mess. You can Google "Marian Catholic Church" and see for yourself.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I didn't realize Satan was so young! All Hallows Eve is a Catholic tradition (small t!) where the kids have a fun time mocking death which, we all know, is conquered by Jesus! Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the top exorcist from Rome, says that Christmas Eve in Italy is when all the satanic mischief happens where in Great Britain and America it is Halloween. Besides, to say that Satan is bound by one day and one event is pretty naive.

Anonymous said...

This is your area anyway, so I'm sure it'll be a cinch! Last night I dreamt I was in one of those Catholic stores with all the books and saintly prayer cards...in my dream, I was looking for and I found the card of a saint who was the patron saint of beaches. I keep getting images of beaches, the ocean, either Australia or some kind of tropical climate. The problem is, I don't know who this saint actually is! In my dream I did though. Could you possibly help me?!

bill7tx said...

jezz -- There could be a lot of saints to choose from. Every coastal town in the world has its patron saint. Saint-Tropez in France, for example, is named for Saint Tropes, a martyr. Even St. Augustine might qualify (there's a story in The Golden Legend about him seeing an angel on a beach while he was trying to figure out the Trinity).

But probably the best choice is La Virgen del Carmen, known in the English-speaking world as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She is the patroness of sailors and fishermen, and of hundreds if not thousands of beach towns in the tropics (and some not-so-tropical towns). Another name for her is Stella Maris -- the Star of the Sea. Sister Mary Martha can tell you how she got to be the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, and beaches, and she can explain the name Stella Maris. I just saw your question and thought I'd jump in with my two cents worth.

Dan L. said...

Mary was the absolute best of the best. Why, in her freedom from sin, would we question her Assumption at all? There was Elijah, there were others mentioned....

Mary was God's own Mother, gee whiz, duh, end of story!

--Dan L.

Anonymous said...

On a related note, is there a special benefit to saying a rosary on a blessed rosary vs. a just been bought at the store rosary? I don't understand the whole blessed items idea. Can you explain some time when there's room in your blog please? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

When I first learned about how we now know that fetal stem cells remain in the mother's body forever, my immediate thought was that that's why Mary *had* to be assumed into heaven. Mary wasn't just some empty-headed "chosen vessel" who birthed the Savior and then just got on with the rest of her life. She's amazing :)

bill7tx said...

There is an indulgence attached to using a rosary that has been blessed. If the rosary was blessed by a priest, it's a partial indulgence. If it was blessed by a bishop (including the Bishop of Rome -- the Pope), it's a plenary indulgence (under "the usual conditions").

Every sacramental (medal, scapular, crucifix, holy water, etc., as long as it's been blessed) carries a partial indulgence when used with piety.

Literacy-chic said...

Okay, I understand now what you meant! Thanks for the long answer. :)

If I could ask another (short) question... the answer could be lumped in with the answer to other questions about sacramentals: Is there any reason why a Roman Catholic could not/should not use as a sacramental a blessed object (icon, medal, crucifix) of the Eastern Orthodox or Russian Orthodox traditions? Thank you!

Literacy-chic said...

P.S. - It so happens that I have a daughter named after St. (H)Elena. Not so easy to find a Roman Catholic medal for her. You know? But I was thinking of Theotokos and others.