The Growing Protestant Mary
Your mailbox, like mine, can be the source of childlike joy, throbbing pain, and every emotion in between. The better surprises are postcards from friends, letters from home, early-tax refunds, and in my young family these days; free diaper samples. But I will never forget what I found laying quietly in my mailbox in Winter of 2003.
Plastered on the cover of the December issue of Christianity Today, (an Evangelical Protestant magazine), the cover story read “The Blessed Evangelical Mary; Why we (Protestant Christians) shouldn’t ignore her any longer”. After I picked my jaw back off the ground I ran inside to show my wife what I had discovered. We sat it on the table and just stared at it as if a small alien had just landed unconscious in our back yard.
For those who have grown up in the Catholic Church, the veneration of Mary is a logical religious practice rooted in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. But we must understand that separated Christians, largely view the veneration of Mary with great suspicion and often times contempt. For many Protestants, veneration of Mary is nothing less than idolatry, what some call Mariolatry. At one evangelical university in Indiana, Catholic students filed complaints after other Christian students spray-painted sexually derogatory slogans regarding Our Lady on their lockers. In my own experience as a Protestant before conversion to Catholicism, I never heard one sermon, Sunday school lesson, or conversation in church regarding the Mother of God in the twenty-five years that I was an active Protestant. As another convert to Catholicism has stated, “ We unpacked her for the nativity during Christmas, but as soon as Christmas was over we stuffed her back in the box and never heard from her again until the following year”. As odd as it sounds, the sermons about Ruth and Naomi, Sarah, Esther and even Jael and Bathsheba could be heard every year, but never did we hear about Mary, the Mother of God.
Why has so much of Protestant Christianity rejected most anything Marian, including her perpetual virginity? It does not appear that the early Protestant reformers are directly responsible for the rejection of such Marian Dogmas. Martin Luther states, “Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb… This was without the cooperation of man, and she remained a virgin after that.” Other early reformers such as Calvin, Zwingli and even John Wesley echoed the position of Luther, frequently stating that Mary remained a virgin until the end. So why does Protestantism eventually throw Mary from the train? While there are perhaps many more subtle reasons, the most glaring is a reaction to the promulgations of the Marian Dogmas in 1854 and 1950. While the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary were already widely held beliefs in orthodox Christianity, many Protestants reacted to these now official Dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church by condemning Mary to silence in their own traditions.
However, we can all now breath a sigh of relief as the pendulum is swinging back to a more balanced and scriptural view in recent years. Mary is once again being restored to her proper role in much of Protestantism. If you haven’t seen it already, you will begin to notice evidence of this resurgence of Marian devotion in some of the least expected places. Time magazine, in the March 21 issue, devoted it’s cover and a number of pages to this growing phenomenon of “Protestants finding their own reasons to celebrate the Mother of Jesus”. The Christian Century ran an article entitled “St. Mary for Protestants”. One group of Christians has even adapted the Rosary into a Protestant format found at www.ecumenicalrosary.org. And to top it all off, millions of Protestants shed tears after watching Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which views the Passion of our Lord mostly through the lens of Our Lady. This has no doubt had an impact on the resurgence of Marian spirituality in the separated churches.
In the end, this beautiful resurgence of Marian spirituality in Protestantism could lead to great progress in Ecumenical dialogue. No longer is Mary being viewed only as the Mother of Catholics but the Mother of all Christians. Perhaps God is once again asking Mary, in her beautiful obedience, to be the vessel of His Divine Providence and Mercy in this special task of bringing Christians back to the unity that Jesus prayed for. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for all of us!