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In our continuing series on 10 things every Christian should know, we turn our attention to the Roman Catholic Church and its beliefs about the Virgin Mary. 

(1) Rome believes that when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother she was preserved and protected from the taint of original sin. This is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This dogma was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1854. We read this in the Catholic Catechism:

“Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854 – ‘The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (CC, 491).

(2) The RCC also teaches that "in consequence of a Special Privilege of Grace from God, Mary was free from every personal sin during her whole life" (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 203; this view was endorsed by Augustine). Again, the Catechism declares that “By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long” (CC, 493).

(3) Rome also believes in the perpetual virginity of Mary. The dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary was proclaimed by the Council of Trent in 1545-63. The Catechism affirms the following: 

“The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth ‘did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.’ And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the ‘Ever-virgin’” (CC, 499).

(4) When Protestants object to Mary’s perpetual virginity by pointing to those texts that refer to the brothers and sisters of Jesus (Mt. 12:46-50; 13:55-56; Mark 6:3; John 2:12; 7:1-5,10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19), Rome responds in this way:  

“The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus,’ are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary’ [cf. Mt. 28:1]. They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression [Gen. 13:8; 14:16; 29:15]” (CC, 500).

(5) Even if Mary did not have other children, this does not prove she remained a virgin all her life. This doctrine would also require us to believe in the perpetual virginity of Joseph! This idea would appear to be based in part on an ascetic, un-biblical view of sex, according to which sexual relations within marriage are defiling or demeaning.  

(6) Rome also teaches the dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption. This belief about Mary was officially defined by an “infallible” declaration from Pope Pius XII in 1950. The Catechism explains: 

“Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (CC, 966). 

(7) Mary’s role in the redemption of sinners is explained in this way. We read in the Catechism that “Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a ‘preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church’; indeed, she is the ‘exemplary realization’ of the Church” (CC, 967). Because of her singular cooperation with God “she is a mother to us in the order of grace” (CC, 968). This motherhood of Mary continues even today: “Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (CC, 969).  

Again: “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death; it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion:

“Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim, born of her . . .” (CC, 964).

(8) Lest people think that Mary’s role in redemption is on a level with the role of Jesus, the Catechism says: 

“Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it. No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source” (CC, 970). 

(9) The Roman Catholic Church’s devotion to Mary “is intrinsic to Christian worship” (CC, 971). Mary is honored with the title “’Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration” (CC, 971).

(10) So-called apparitions or appearances of Mary are not considered official public revelation on a par with either Scripture or apostolic tradition: “The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (CC, 66). Nevertheless,

“Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church” (CC, 67).

The following are the more prominent among the many purported apparitions of Mary. 

On December 9, 1531, Mary supposedly appeared to Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant (hence, “Our Lady of Guadalupe”). This occurred @ five miles north of Mexico City. She identified herself as the “ever virgin, Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains it in existence.” It is said that within six years of the apparition more than nine million natives were baptized. 

On September 19, 1846, two young cattle herders named Melanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud reported seeing a beautiful lady near La Salette, France.  

At Lourdes, France, on February 11, 1858 on the Feast of the Annunciation, to 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous. Mary is purported to have said: “I am the Immaculate Conception,” a title Bernadette reportedly had never before heard. This occurred four years after the idea of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was made official Catholic dogma. The “Lady” appeared 18 times and gave Bernadette three secrets. Countless miracles are reported to have occurred in connection with Lourdes and this apparition. 

In Fatima, Portugal, between May and October of 1917, Mary reportedly appeared six times to three children, aged seven to ten and spoke, among other things, of the impending rise of Russia and the devastation it would bring if the country were not consecrated to her immaculate heart. [The Miracle of the Sun]. 

Since 1981 six children have reported witnessing several apparitions of Mary near Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia.