Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review: Why Mary?

Building a Relationship with Our Mother

For centuries Mary’s precise role in salvation history and her relevance for individual Christians has been heatedly debated between Catholics and Protestants. Catholic doctrine concerning Jesus’ mother is generally misunderstood and rejected by non-Catholics. Encouragingly, Protestant theology has grown more open toward Mary in recent decades. The difficulties that remain usually involve finer points of theology which are best explained in scholarly debates and theological journals. But what is sometimes missing from these technical arguments is the lived experience that Catholics have of Mary as our true spiritual Mother. This intimate relationship with Mary cannot be reduced to doctrinal statements or dogmatic pronouncements; it is an integral component of our lived faith.

A small booklet entitled Why Mary? cuts through the theological complexities of Marian doctrine by starting from a simple premise: As adopted brothers and sisters in Christ, our relationship to Mary must hinge on her role as Mother. Through baptism we enter into a common spiritual family. Having such a familial bond with Jesus we must have a corresponding relationship with Mary…as His Mother and ours. The words of Jesus from the cross to John (the beloved disciple) – “Behold your mother” – lay the foundation for Catholic devotion to Mary as our spiritual Mother. Fittingly, author Kenneth J. Howell opens his brief book with the concept of “family” at the center of his case for Marian spirituality.

To fully understand Catholic doctrine we must view Mary in this context of family and motherhood. This does not mean that doctrine and theology are unimportant or that technical arguments should not be addressed. These things must be involved in any complete discussion of Mariology. However to the ordinary Protestant mind, such technical jargon is generally off-putting. The Protestant perceives Catholic Marian doctrine as “standing in the way” of Christ. To combat this reaction, Mr. Howell places an emphasis on personal relationships and successfully describes Mary as a key figure in our own association with Jesus. In this way, the Protestant notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is brought to a new level when we see Mary’s vital role in our own salvation.

Why Mary? is not devoid of theological arguments. Included in the text are brief explanations of the four major Marian doctrines taught by the Catholic Church: 1) Mary as Mother of God, 2) her perpetual virginity, 3) the Immaculate Conception, and 4) Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. Biblical evidence is brought to bear on each of these as well as the witness of ancient Christianity. Perhaps most interesting is the testimony of some of the major Reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who held to the Catholic view on many aspects of Mariology. It is difficult to argue against Catholic Marian spirituality when Protestant founders so clearly supported these doctrines.

A more thorough examination of Catholic belief can certainly be found in larger works concerning Mary. But the purpose of Why Mary? is not to offer a detailed defense of every aspect of Marian doctrine. At only 24 pages, this booklet serves simply as a brief introduction to our Mother for those in the family who may not understand or appreciate her role. Once a personal relationship with Mary has been established (in and through our bond with Christ) further reading may follow to deepen this relationship with our Mother. I would recommend Why Mary? for non-Catholics seeking a better understanding of the Catholic faith, as well as Catholics who may not be well informed about Church teaching. Kenneth Howell’s work aids us in fulfilling Christ’s command: “Behold your mother…

[This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Why Mary? and be sure to check out their great selection of baptism gifts while you are there.]

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