Baptists, and Protestants in general, have not known what to do with the Catholic preoccupation with Mary. We just do not get the nuances of the Immaculate Conception (different from the virginal conception of Jesus) and the Bodily Assumption, two significant affirmation of that venerable tradition.
When possible, we gather at Conception Abbey for the annual faculty retreat. It is an important time for assessment of our previous work and planning for the new academic year. This welcoming Benedictine monastery invites us into the rhythms of prayer and table hospitality, and we leave refreshed for having been there. We also live into the Spirit of Jesus’ prayer “that they might be one.”
While at the Abbey this past weekend, the community observed a major feast day, the celebration of “Mary being taken up into heaven,” the Bodily Assumption. In this affirmation, Roman Catholics have added tradition to the spare scriptural narratives about Mary, thus elevating her role in the story of redemption.
The hymns and chants portrayed her as the “New Eve,” the one who had reversed the curse brought about by the mother of the race. There was no mention of Adam and Christ in these pieces, which startled me theologically. And the incense was as thick as the cloud that carried Mary upwards.
After Vespers, the Abbot and I had a chance to catch up for a bit. After regaling each other with our tales of travel and fund development, he inquired about how our group was engaging the Marian piety on display, knowing of our Baptist sensibilities. I wryly noted that the scriptural warrant seemed a little thin, but simply stated our respect for our differences.
In further reflection, I wished I had said that our Baptist expression of the Body of Christ could do well to make more of the life of Mary. After all, she was the first disciple. She believed that the Messiah was coming and that she was God’s unique instrument in the story of salvation. Her adolescent trust rightly earned the description of “blessed.”
Her unselfish sharing of her Son, even when she did not fully understand the nature of his ministry—and certainly not his death—remains an exemplary model of faith. Indeed, giving prominence to Mary has been a means for Roman Catholics to include the role of the feminine in God’s salvific purpose.
It is time we find more room for Mary in our preaching, giving her more than a nod as she sits wordlessly in the Christmas tableau. Her trust and resilient faith have much to teach us, also.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.