Wednesday 7 February 2007

Hail Mary?

The Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler has made this remark about the Virgin Mary: “It is not strange but right and proper that [Mary’s] meaning should be declared and her praise sung from a Protestant pulpit. If we can find it in our competence to honor the witness to the faith of Augustine, of Luther, of Calvin, of Wesley – how grudging before the gifts of God never to utter an ‘Ave Maria: Hail Mary’.”

I must admit, I myself find it enriching to pray the Hail Mary from time to time. What do you think? Should Protestants pray the Hail Mary? And if so, should it be incorporated into our liturgies – or should it simply remain a matter of private devotion?


Kyle said...

For that to work, you'd have to carefully teach about prayer. Most prots I've known think that any words addressed to somebody who's not physically in the same room is a "prayer." Were I to ask Our Lady or Thomas Merton or Ben Myers to intercede for me, for some reason the first two requests are prayers, and the third is just a request, and since one "should only pray to God," that's considered no good.

Anonymous said...

Certainly as Protestants honour Augustine et. al., a fortiori they should honour Mary Theotokos - and I hope most of us do. But Sittler's conclusion that Protestants therefore take on board the Ave Maria is logically disingenuous and theologically irresponsible. On this line of thought, why not an "Ave John Wesley" ("Indeed!" I can here Methodists responding :))?

The point is that the Ave Maria is a prayer to Mary, indeed asking for her to intercede for us, and although I am all for revisiting this issue with post-Reformation equanimity and generosity, and with openness to Protestant metanoia, it must be done in the context of Mariology as a whole, with particular reference to the 1854 and 1950 papal pronouncements, and indeed in the wider context of the veneration of and prayers to the saints.

I am sure that Roman Catholics themselves would not want Protestants rushing into the Ave Maria without due consideration. After all, lex orandi, lex credendi.

One of Freedom said...

Ben I had a really nice discussion going over at my mySpace blog. That's the one I use to chat with a few more fundamentalist friends in the States. I like to push them so we chatted about Mariology. There is still a lot of baggage around Marian devotion, I personally would like to see an integretion of hagiography, led by Marian devotion, into our ecclesial life. But I'm not sure the liturgy is always the place for it. I don't find the Hail Mary or the hymns to the Theotokos, from the Eastern traditions, helpful. I think something new is called for, something to really capture our religious imaginations.

Fred said...

The Hail Mary is not a part of the Liturgy of the Word or the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And it's not a part of the Liturgy of the Hours, either. It is a part of the Rosary, which is a kind of alternative to the Liturgy of the Hours (and the Rosary puts the Hail Mary at the service of meditation on Christ's life).

In Catholicism, the Hail Mary (especially as part of the Rosary) holds a place in public devotion and has been recommended as preparation for the Liturgy while being essentially outside the Liturgy.

It's meaningless to borrow something without being sensitive to its context. Otherwise, one ends up with postmodern absurdities like the goddess rosary. Blech!

If Protestants are interested in the Hail Mary, I would recommend that they start with the ancient form, which is entirely Biblical and does not include the request for intercessory prayer: Hail [Mary], full of grace, the Lord is with you!


Chris Tilling said...

Kim wrote: "I am sure that Roman Catholics themselves would not want Protestants rushing into the Ave Maria without due consideration."

I suppose this is why I would personally not be comfortable praying the Hail Mary. I'm all for keeping an open mind, but my prayer is reserved for the Triune God. In the NT it was part of a pattern of God/Christ devotion. Besides, the intercessor for the Intercessor business makes me most uncomfortable. Is this Fundie? Uninformed? Help me out, here!

Jordan Barrett said...

At first I was convicted, thinking of how much I value those mentioned (Augustine, Luther, etc.) and how I have never valued Mary in this way. But then I realized that I do not see Mary IN this way: as a reformer, theological giant, and so on. She does not even belong in the same category as those mentioned. This not because she doesn't deserve recognition, but because they are categorically different.

I agree with those who have distinguished the difference between praying to Mary and have reverence for her. The challenge to praise her appropriately is needed, but I don't believe it goes so far as prayer, and I believe she should be valued differently than those like Augustine, Calvin, and others.

Fred said...

A couple of days ago, my pastor preached about how we Catholics can use prayer to insulate us from Jesus. For example, if we prefer to pray in front of a statue of Jesus instead of directly to Jesus in the tabernacle; or if we prefer to talk in prayer with petitions and novenas and never listen to Jesus in reading Sacred Scripture. - so the criticisms of Protestantism are valid.

Christ is indeed the Intercessor between God and man. He is also the Intercessor between man and neighbor. It is communion in Christ that enables me to pray for your needs; and it is communion in Christ that puts me in communion with the Church in heaven. Prayer to/ with the saints is thus an expression of mutual charity in Christ (much as it may offend American efficiency and pragmatism!). This is why Catholics typically begin and end prayers to the saints "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" - a laudable context for any who would look to Mary or the saints.


Anonymous said...

How would you classify the Confiteor? Is it a prayer? And if yes to whom?
I don’t understand your point about becoming ‘insulated’ from Jesus… “For example, if we prefer to pray in front of a statue of Jesus instead of directly to Jesus in the tabernacle.”
In what sense is one direct and the other not? It seems to me that all prayer (indeed all Christian acts, like Christian love) is mediated, either in words or thoughts in words, like through a glass darkly. It is the intention (always God) that matters, not how the intention is intended.

But the Confiteor, though. I hope it is a prayer because I think it is perfect…..

I confess to almighty God
And to you, my brothers and sisters,
That I have sinned through my own fault,
In my thoughts and in my words,
In what I have done and in what I have failed to do;
And I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
All the angels and saints,
And you, my brothers and sisters,
To pray for me to the Lord our God.

Guy Davies said...

Yes, we should honour Mary as the mother of Jesus, but pray to her? I can't really see how a Protestant holding to sola scriptura and solo Christo could say,

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

Why would I need to pray like that when I am assured that Christ ever lives to make intercession for me?

Fred said...

The Confiteor is indeed a beautiful example of the rule Kim cited, that the law of prayer is the law of belief. It is also the main Marian prayer of the Mass. As such, it is more suited for liturgical use than the Hail Mary.

As for how prayer and other religious acts can push God away, the lectionary was Mark 7: 1-13 in which Jesus criticized the dedication of money to God in order to get out of honoring father and mother.

Father was not saying that one should never pray in front of a statue, but only that it would be odd if someone invited you into his house and you preferred to only talk to a picture of that person.

I'm suddenly reminded of the cell phone commercial where the father is at table with his family and insists on texting them to get them to pass the salt. Within the tabernacle Jesus is present: body and blood, soul and divinity. A picture is just a representation of Him.


Anonymous said...

"Should Protestants pray the Hail Mary?"

Well, maybe a better question is: "May Protestants pray the Hail Mary?" Even many Roman Catholics wouldn't insist that this is a "should".

Aric Clark said...

I find it interesting that things such as this become such an intense debate. I find there to be intelligent reasoning on both sides and can easily see why a protestant might be convicted to say that the Hail Mary was an innappropriate form of prayer or catholics might be convicted to say that the Hail Mary was not only appropriate, but commendable. What amazes me is that anyone holds either point of view so strongly.

These things deserve a light touch. No one is going to hell for saying Ave Maria and no one is going to have a bankrupt spirituality simply because they choose not to.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Fred.
Yes I see your distinction between the real presence in the tabernacle and the picture that re-presents. But even the real presence, it seems to me, is mediated to me in the form of bread and wine, else how do I know it is actually there at this time in the tabernacle. However, this mystery of both real presence and representing form at the same time is, you know, a mystery.
The point I was trying to make was that when it comes to prayer, there seems to be two aspects: the intention (communion with God) and the intending (the means/mode with which this is achieved/not achieved). When I say the Our Father, the intending/means/mode is constituted by the words, their meaning and the quality of attentiveness/understanding/hopefulness/faithfulness/etc that I intend). When I say the Hail Mary, the intention is also communion with God, but the intending is different in so far as it is additionally/otherwise constituted by the invocation of my relationship with Mary, which may be as real to me as any prayerful attitude I bring to the Our Father. In a sense I do not pray to the Blessed Virgin, but through her and with her.

Fred said...

I don't know, Anonymous. Your description of prayer sounds oddly Cartesian to me . . .

Anonymous said...

Hi Miner.
It might well be though that someone may avoid hell by saying the Ave Maria and that someone else might deepen their spiritual life by doing so. A light touch in relation to a salvation sought in fear and trembling? I don’t know, it makes me nervous. Maybe I’ll make a special prayer to Saint Dymphna.

Hi Fred.
Descartes! That’s put me in my place. There I was thinking I sounded more like Paul Ricoeur.

Fred said...

I think I figured out Ricoeur once, but then I promptly forgot it. Alas.

Anonymous said...

I do like the meditative aspect of the Rosary, but I still have doubts the Hail Mary, so I prefer the Anglican rosary (a.k.a. Anglican prayer beads).

Patrick said...

But do we sing "Ave Augustine"? I don't anyway. :-) Obviously we should have great respect for her, but saying "Hail Mary, full of grace" is too far in my opinion. We don't praise any other saint that way.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Believe it or not, Luther actually wrote an evangelical commentary on the ave Maria (A "right/orthodox" way to pray the Hail Mary).

As a Lutheran pastor and one who is convinced that the Book of Concord of 1580 is a true and faithful exposition of the Holy Scriptures, I myself have no problem honoring Mary as the Blessed Virgin, along with other saints. I honor her by following the example of her humility and faith in the Word of the Lord, but I do not ask her to intercede for me, to pray for me, nor do I use exalted language for her in my prayers. This is where I become very uncomfortable with the content of several prayers from Eastern Christendom (and Western Catholicism) that use language about Mary that should only be used of God.

No, certainly there is nothing wrong with honoring the saints, remembering their faith, their example of piety and godliness with thanksgiving to God, but to call upon them in times of trouble is idolatry, in my opinion. For God alone says: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you shall honor me."

Anonymous said...

This is where I become very uncomfortable with the content of several prayers from Eastern Christendom (and Western Catholicism) that use language about Mary that should only be used of God.

What language would that be, for example?

- John

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Here is one example:

Kontakion to the Theotokos:

To Thee, the Champion Leader, we thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos; but as thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do thou deliver us, that we may cry to thee: Rejoice, thou Bride Unwedded!

Most glorious, Ever-Virgin, Mother of Christ God, present our prayer to thy Son and our God, that through thee He may save our souls.

*All my hope I place in thee, O Mother of God: keep me under thy protection*.

O Virgin Theotokos, disdain not me a sinner, *needing thy help and thy protection*, and *have mercy on me*, for my *soul hath hoped in thee*.

My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit: O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee.

Meet it is in truth to bless thee, O Theotokos, who art ever blessed and all-blameless, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious without compare than the Seraphim, who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, verily Theotokos, we magnify thee.

Me: The parts that I enclosed with asterisks are the extremely problematic parts for me. "All my hope I place in thee..." for example, is sheer idolatry.

Fred said...

Pastor Biesel,
I suppose the language of Luke 1:28, 42 would be ok?

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Certainly. There is a difference between calling someone "Blessed" (Jesus says this of the Church: blessed are they when...) and saying "all my hope is in thee." Don't you agree?

Fred said...

Pastor Beisel,
Oh, yes, I agree that there is a difference. I also respect your reasons for avoiding prayers for intercession and the particular language that you mention - even as I would point out that the value of any particular languge depends on its place within the totality of the expression of faith (which is a good reason for folks not to borrow items in a willy-nilly po-mo kind of a way).

Anonymous said...

Pastor Biesel.
Yes you are quite right, the parts of the Kontakion you identified sound quite idolatrous. For to say “All my hope I place in thee, O Mother of God” implies that my hope is only in Mary and there is none left to place in Jesus, say.
By a similar cast, if a man loves God with all his heart and all his soul and all his mind and all his strength, then it must follow that he can hardly love his wife and children and neighbour, simply because he has no heart, or soul, or mind or strength left over for this love. Wouldn’t you agree?
But what is “all the hope” that is placed in the Mother of God? Well the Kontakion tells us that the hope is not Mary, but that the hope is the Father.
The incarnation that founds the Christian’s hope is the incarnation of God, by the Spirit, in Jesus, and through Mary. This incarnation, as Barth reminds us, required a genuine human permissive fiat, or else the love poured into the darkness where there was no love could not have entered the darkness, and this is clear if one takes Luther’s simul Justus et peccator seriously.
Mary's place is integral to God's offer of salvation in Jesus. The Kontakion recognizes this in its expression of hope directed through Mary, in Jesus, by the Spirit and for the Father.
By the way. In your original post you expressed discomfort with the content of prayers found not only in Eastern Christendom but also Western Catholicism. I would be interested to know what “Western Catholic” prayers you are referring to. Thanks.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I've gone round and round with others on these very things, members of my communion who have crossed the Bosphorus so to speak. And they bring up the exact same arguments as you have.

The problem with what you are saying is that no where in the SCriptures does God ever teach us to speak about Mary in such exalted language, either by word or by example. I gladly call her the most blessed among women, the Blessed Virgin, etc. because the Scriptures ascribe to her such honorable titles. Suppose it was not idolatrous to say things like, "All my hope is in thee." To me it sounds utterly foolish. For I know not if Mary can hear me, much less do anything for me besides pray for me. I do know that God has promised to hear me through His Son, and that He can actually help me. That is why I say in the opening versicles of Vespers: "Make haste, O *GOD*, to deliver me." Not, "Make haste, O Mary, all-holy mother of God, to deliver me."

I simply like to pray as the Word of God has taught me to pray. For that is where I have certainty that my prayers are pleasing to God and are heard by Him.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Beisel.
Well, speaking of foolishness, I find your view pretty trivial at least. You’ll gladly call her the “most blessed among women” because scripture ascribes to her such an “honourable title.” And that seems to be the extent of what this scriptural truth means for you. A mere title. If you were asked what the difference between being the most blessed and the second most blessed was, you would probably roll your eyes to heaven and say who cares, what a silly question, it doesn’t mean anything in practical terms, it’s just a title. A titular truth. Not a truth to be stored in the heart and pondered, not the sort of truth to pierce or magnify one’s soul. From henceforth all generations will call her blessed, but you can’t be sure that she’ll be able to hear them, because for all you know she is still dead and buried, this Mother and Bride of God, awaiting the general resurrection like the rest of us, because while she was most favoured by God, we can’t be sure she was that favoured. And sure, she did intervene successfully with her Son and God, before his time, and instructed the servants to do as he said even though he had already seemed to refuse, but lets not read too much into this Scriptural truth, for heh, it’s just a story, like the one at the foot of the cross - see, even in his last agony he was still thinking about his poor mother and who would take care of her, what a thoughtful son. No let’s just be calm and sober about this and ‘honour’ her, like we would the Queen Mom or Mrs Martin Luther.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Now, no need to get snippy. I have always taken her blessedness to be tied to the fact that she, and not another, was chosen to be Theotokos. This election of God's was not due to any merit of hers, but based on his own favor. That is why she is so surprised in the Magnificat. And yes, her body awaits the resurrection like the rest, though her soul is no doubt among the white-clad saints who worship the Lamb day and night. What other evidence do we have to the contrary save tradition? I think you read too much into those real, factual events in the Gospels.

I just don't understand why Orthodox folks are so intent on defending this kind of Marian devotion, when the language of these prayers is, at least on the surface, very idolatrous sounding. I just read another Psalm the other day saying that God was "my only refuge and strength." Psalm 118:8, for example: "It is better to take refuge in God than to put your trust in man." How does one justify taking this kind of language and ascribing it to one of God's creatures?

Chris Laning said...

A visitor to my blog Paternosters pointed me to this discussion, which is fascinating.

Those who are interested might also like to look at the series of posts on Protestantism, the Virgin Mary and the rosary here. (Links to earlier posts in the series are at the bottom of the one linked here.) I was brought up in a Congregationalist (United Church of Christ) background and became a Catholic as an adult, and I find the dual understanding very helpful, especially to the extent that it enables me to try to explain why some of the points of the argument just go whizzing by the other side's heads.

I would actually recommend parts of the Catholic "Angelus" prayer as something Protestants might find prayable in the context of acknowledging Mary's greatness:

"An angel of the Lord appeared unto Mary, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me accoring to Thy [God's] will.' And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Grace into our hearts; that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ, thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."

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