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May2018

DE MARIA NUMQUAM SATIS

Many of us who are converts to Catholicism were already in the habit of praying to our blessed Lady long before we became Catholics. Those prayers were undoubtedly a means of grace for us.

But then, having entered the one fold of the Redeemer, we came to understand better than before that devotion to the Mother of God is not an optional add-on. It is a constitutive component of the Christian religion rightly understood and rightly practised.

People sometimes ask where the doctrines about our Lady come from. Are they from the Bible? Yes they are. Are they from the earliest days of the Church? Yes they are.

Before exploring the relevant biblical texts (there are many) we need to be clear about two rather more basic points regarding the deposit of the faith.

First: public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. Ever since then, the Catholic Church has transmitted whole and entire the revelation it received from Christ and the Apostles. There are no new truths still waiting to be revealed.

Second: the doctrines which flow from that revelation can and do develop. A fuller understanding of the truth already revealed can emerge as and when providence directs, according to the needs and circumstances of the time.

In the case of our Lady, there are no new Marian dogmas to be revealed. However, it is possible that in God’s good time the Church may decide to define more clearly than before what we already know about our Lady’s role in the economy of redemption.

For example: what do we mean when we address our Lady as Mediatrix of all Graces?  If any further clarification were given on this teaching it would be in order to provide a deeper understanding of the already known facts: (a) that Christ is the source of all grace, and (b) that He chose to enter this world and make His grace available in and through the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is no new truth to be unveiled. Nor is it a matter of sentiment.

Blessed John Henry Newman has much to teach us regarding the authentic development of doctrine in the unfolding life of the Church. Throughout his own spiritual and theological pilgrimage he was convinced that mere sentiment plays no part in the content or development of the Church’s doctrines.

In his Apologia pro vita sua (1864) he wrote this:

    “From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion, as a mere sentiment, is to me a dream and a mockery.”