Is Marian devotion biblical?

Photo: The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner/Google Art Project Photo: The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner/Google Art Project

Q: Is there a biblical basis for devotion to Mary?

A: I grew up in the middle of the Bible Belt, where many people were suspicious of Marian devotional practices because they falsely believed that Catholics worshipped Mary. I was actually somewhat embarrassed by these erroneous perceptions. As a result, I tended to focus my faith and prayer only on Jesus.

It was not until my post-graduate studies in biblical theology that I developed an adult Marian devotion. I discovered not only that Mary played an important role in the life of Jesus, but that Jesus gave her an enduring ministry in the life of the church. We are missing important opportunities for spiritual growth if we are not accessing the graces Jesus wants to offer us through his mother.

The Annunciation and Visitation scenes in Luke 1:26–56 introduce Mary as a model disciple who teaches us how to hear the word of God and obey it. Mary is also presented as a model missionary who brings Jesus to others as she visits her cousin Elizabeth, who declares, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

These verses also display Mary’s contemplative spirit. This important quality of mature discipleship is highlighted again in Luke’s accounts of the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple and the Finding in the Temple (“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”). (Luke 2)

The Gospel of John also esteems the example and ministry of the Blessed Mother. In the Wedding at Cana, John introduces Mary’s ministry of intercession when she tells Jesus, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3) It is in response to her intercession that Jesus performs his first miracle. We should not underestimate the power of Mary’s intercessory prayer for us. This passage also shows Mary’s utter trust in the word of Jesus when she says, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

The Gospel of John also reminds us that Jesus has shared his mother with us so we can experience the same love, affection and care from her that our Lord experienced. This gift of Mary’s motherhood was given from the cross when Jesus said, “Woman, behold, your son” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother.” (John 19:26-27)

This was not an isolated event but the beginning of an enduring relationship in which all disciples are invited to participate. Just as the beloved disciple took her into his idia (a Greek term meaning thoughts, affairs, world, decisions and so forth), so we are invited to give the Blessed Mother a place in our daily life.

Finally, the Acts of the Apostles clearly identifies Mary as being with the disciples in prayer as the Holy Spirit descends and the church is born. Her accompaniment of the disciples is an enduring image of her presence with the church throughout history. She is a mother who cares for us as her spiritual children and who always desires to lead us to her son, Jesus.

It is through these biblical passages that I discovered a graced relationship with Mary.

During October, make time to deepen your appreciation for and devotion to the Blessed Mother by praying the rosary and seeking her intercession for those most in need. Read the passages referenced above and ask God to reveal how Mary can inspire you to become a missionary disciple and lead you deeper in your relationship with Jesus.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - October 2019

Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg

Daniel Mueggenborg is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle. Send your questions to editor@seattlearch.org.