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Christmas: A Time to Praise Mary or God? (Luke 1:28-42)

Tis the season for praise and worship. As I was looking into the praises we sing at Christmas time, I was shocked to find a whole collection of praises to Mary called the Marian prayers.  After 1050 AD, parts of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) took Luke 1:28-42 to justify the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer, which reads: 

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”[1]

The RCC’s official belief on Mary can be traced all the way back to The Catechism of the Council of Trent. Remember, this RCC Catechism was just 20-30 years after the Reformation of Martin Luther in 1517 and stood as an attempt to solidify their beliefs against the teachings of the reformers. In its section titled ‘For the Blessed Virgin Mary’ it reads:

The first part of the Angelical Salutation. When we say by way of prayer: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women,’ we render to God the highest praise and return him most grateful thanks, because he accumulated all his heavenly gifts on the most Holy Virgin ; and to the Virgin herself, for this her singular felicity, we present our respectful and fervent congratulations. To this form of thanksgiving the church of God has wisely added prayers to, and an invocation of, the most holy Mother of God, by which we piously and humbly fly to her patronage, in order that, by interposing her intercession, she may conciliate the friendship of God to us miserable sinners, and may obtain for us those blessings which we stand in need of in this life and in the life to come. Exiled children of Eve, who dwell in this vale of tears, should we not earnestly beseech the Mother of mercy, the advocate of the faithful, to pray for us? Should we not earnestly implore her help and assistance?‘[2]

There is so much written in this catechism that seems like Mary is being given the praise that only God deserves. But how should we respond to the RCC’s position on Luke 1:28-42:

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” ... 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”

Nowhere in Scripture do any of the 12 Apostles, NT writers, or disciples pray or instruct us to pray to Mary.

  1. Respond with Grammar = In Luke 1:28 ‘Favored One’ is a Perfect, Passive, Participle and literally means ‘full of grace’. The passive voice indicates the action is upon her as the recipient of God’s favor. This means that the Angel Gabriel is putting the focus on God’s work and not Mary. Luke reminds us again in Luke 1:37 when he says ‘For nothing is impossible with God.’ The best way to translate this would be to put the focus on God: ‘Favored one of God.’ Also the Perfect passive participle implies a past completed action (by God), and one that continues in favor, which continually focuses us on the power of God the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit as the active agents. God the father found favor on Mary, God the Son was born to bring salvation to His elect, and God the Holy Spirit allowed Mary to immaculately conceive.

  2. Respond with the Immediate Context = Elizabeth, the relative of Mary, is excited because of God the Holy Spirit filling her with joy for Christ’s conception (1:41). The context magnifies Christ and not Mary. Nothing indicates this is a prayer or call to Mary for any power or position in regards to providing salvation or intercession. The scene of the text implies God is at work, not Mary.
  3. Respond with the Broader Jewish Context = Elizabeth says ‘blessed are you among all women’ (1:42) to convey the blessing that comes from child-bearing, a common blessing in Jewish culture.  We see this cultural greeting in Judges 5:24 with Jael. And we would expect Mary, being the mother of Christ, to have the greatest of cultural greetings. Nothing of this demands greater attention to Mary, but only greater focus towards the Lord in her belly.  

  4. Respond with the Whole Counsel of Scripture = Nowhere in Scripture do any of the 12 Apostles, NT writers, or disciples pray or instruct us to pray to Mary. Instead, Paul says “that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (YHWH), to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). Paul’s mention of ‘Lord’ is referencing Jesus as co-equal to YHWH, and when we praise and confess that fact, we bring God the Father praise. This is a great way to remind us that glory and praise belongs to God, not to one another (John 5:44).

  5. Respond: Hail God! = As we understand the authors intention in Luke 1:28-42 we must remember that God the Son is at the center. It is important to remember that the purpose of the Church is Soli Deo Gloria (for the Glory of God alone). We must hail God the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit in praise (Eph. 3:20-21). We fail to give God the glory when we give it to the Church or any other figure (a Pastor, Pope, Priest, or Mary). God alone receives the praise for His plan of salvation. We can’t give Mary any credit, praise, or an office of intercession through Marian prayers (i.e. Hail Mary), when the office of intercession belongs soli to God the Son (Rom. 8:34). We must remember the God we Hail: The God of glory (Acts 7:2). The God who declares His glory in the works of His Creation (Psalm 19:1; 104:31). The God who is over His creation as the King of Glory (Psalm 24:1, 7-10). The God who revealed His glory in His plan for salvation (Rom. 9:23). The God who deserves all the glory, praise, and admiration for salvation (Eph. 1:12). The God who Glory belongs to fully and eternally (Rom. 11:36)
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. - Ephesians 3:20-21

In this Christmas season, let us join together in praise as we Hail our King of Glory: ‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen’ (Rom. 11:36).

[1] Marian prayers: https://msj.edu/student-life/campus-ministry/Marian-Pilgrimage-resources.pdf. [2] Catechism, p. 293: http://www.saintsbooks.net/books/The%20Roman%20Catechism.pdf

David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.

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