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.