Thursday, January 1, 2015

It's New Year's Day - Why Am I Supposed to Go to Mass?

Besides offering this new year to the Father in union with Jesus (the best start to a year imaginable), today's liturgical feast - Mary, the Mother of God - gives us a whole lot to contemplate! The God Who brought this universe into existence, who ordained the orbit of our planets before a single atom was formed, took flesh inside a young woman in Palestine. She was the most beautiful creature He ever created - although those living around her day-in and day-out didn't see it. "The LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). He did not bring her into being to act as a home for a brief nine months, but to be His Mother - the person to whom He would entrust Himself, whole and entire. She was not simply the person from whom He took the flesh and blood He used to redeem the world.  She nursed and warmed Him with her body. She was His diaper-changer, roommate, nutritionist and chef, educator, sounding board, prayer partner and confidant.  She was His Mother - God has really, truly become a man! Jesus, our God, truly has a Mother - a Mother He formed for Himself!  And not for Himself alone.  As He said to John, our representative there at the foot of the Cross, "Behold, your mother!" (John 19:27).

Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, may the Holy Spirit make you our companion, our most faithful companion, as we set out to journey through this next year. We give ourselves entirely into your arms, as the Incarnate Word Himself did, knowing that we shall find Him there, nestled against your heart. May His Spirit flood our hearts with that same love with which He flooded yours. Amen. 

Bonus:  Today is also the 8th Day of Christmas, the day we celebrate Jesus circumcision (entry into God's covenant with Israel) and His naming by St. Joseph.
Thank you to "On Call with Wendy Wiese" for this image!


  1. Shane,

    I would convert to RC (and was supposed to be received this Easter) but for the fact that I cannot get beyond the notion that the Church has elevated Mary to goddess. I am very sad about it.

    Why is it necessary for the immaculate conception to be dogma? Christ never required such dogma to be one of His followers. In fact, Mary isn't mentioned much at all, either in scriptures or in the time when we would most expect it, the first 400 years. But now, even on your blog tags, I note that Mary is mentioned with the same frequency as Christ.

    I ask this question in earnest.

    1. Dear GTD,

      I just came back from a walk, and wanted to be sure to respond quickly (since Blogger had already kept you waiting for your comment to post, until it was approved). That said, I hope I can give a somewhat brief reply, which still respects the seriousness and importance of your question.

      I can tell from your comment that you already understand the Church's position that Mary is most definitely not a "goddess," although you fear that the honor we show to Mary treats her as if she was one.

      My blog tags certainly do mention the Blessed Mother quite a bit, but in my own mind - besides the outright goofy things I mention every now and then - all of my tags ultimately refer to Christ. Even if I am speaking of something evil, such as abortion, I only address it because it is in opposition to Christ's will. (I think I talk about the Blessed Mother a great deal both because I love her, and I realize that many people have big questions about why Catholics have this devotion to her.)

      Chances are, in your investigation of Catholicism, you came across the writings of Dr. Scott Hahn, the well-known convert from Presbyterianism. Years ago I heard him explain Catholics' tremendous devotion to Mary in two points, and I continue to find this incredibly insightful:

    2. (1) Jesus lived a perfect human life. That means that He lived all of God's commandments perfectly, including "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother." The word we translate as "honor," is "kabod" in Hebrew, and means to "glorify, bestow honor upon." Jesus fulfills this commandment more perfectly than any human being who has every lived. In fact, no matter what honor or esteem you and I show for Mary, it will never (and objectively speaking) COULD NEVER equal the glory that her Son bestows upon her.

      (2) Our whole Christian life consists in imitating Christ. Whomever He honers, we honor. Jesus is the Head, and we are the Body. The mother of the Head, is also the mother of the Body (See Rev.12: 1-5, 17) We also recall what St. Paul told us, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),“that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Eph.6:1-3).

      As the Church has formally recognized dogmas regarding Mary, the Church does so both for what it says about Christ, as well as you and me. You mentioned the Church's first 400 years, so I'm sure you are familiar with the first Marian dogma to be recognized - that Mary is Theotokos, or "Mother of God" - at the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.). Ephesus recognized this, of course, because of the heresies so prevalent in the early centuries regarding Jesus's nature as both true God and true Man. And so Ephesus, spoke of Mary as "Mother of God" to reaffirm the orthodox Faith that God had become incarnate in her womb - that God really became a man who was born and nursed and raised by a mother.

    3. Of course, Jesus and the Apostles after Him "never required such dogma to be one of His followers." Do you see where I'm going? At that point in history neither Jesus nor the Apostles had to require use of that formula since the heresies that called it forth had not yet arisen. But the dogma was IMPLICIT in what had been revealed and to which assent was required at that time, "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." Heresy over what those words meant called forth the dogma that God became so truly one of us that, as a man, He even has a mother on whom He depended for nourishment, care, experiential education, etc. This was of course a dogma that all Christians since that time have continued to insist must be believed to be in union with Christ and His Revelation (the RC, Greek Orthodox, Luther, Calvin, etc.)

      The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is another one of these formulations of the truth - implicit within our Faith (see my blog post "The Woman is the Ark") - that was made explicit at a later point in history. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception ultimately says something both about Jesus and us, the members of His Church that He saves from sin.

      In my book "Through, With, and In HIm" I share the following quote from St. Louis DeMontfort, whose own Marian devotion made me EXTREMELY uncomfortable when I first encountered it twenty years ago. This was part of his response to those who criticized him (me among them) that I have come to find very challenging (in a good way!):

      "“With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hand of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, ‘I am he who is' ..." DeMontfort then took his compatriots complaints against him to Jesus in a series of rhetorical questions, "Does Mary keep for herself any honor we pay her? Is she a rival of yours? Is she a stranger having no kinship with you? Does pleasing her imply displeasing you? ...Is love for her a lessening of our love for you?” Put like that, the answer seemed obvious to me.

      GTD, I realize that each little thing I have shared can easily spark whole, other conversations. If I can be a sounding-board for your thoughts, or even hazard to answer some of your questions, it would be a great honor to journey alongside you. Please feel free to email me at "" Thank you for your comment; I promise to pray for you as you struggle with these matters. Even though it has been over 20 years, I remember that feeling all too well - it's like no other. But I'm convinced that to wrestle with the truth is an act of love for the Truth, and He appreciates our willingness to undergo that pain.

      Your brother in Christ,