Skip to content

What Can Mary Teach Us About Marriage?

February 22, 2011

As a cradle Catholic turned Protestant turned Catholic again, there are some areas of the church’s teaching that I am still working through. Most of my theological study and training focused on the Reformers and liberal theologians of the nineteenth and twentieth century so it’s taking me some time to dig deep into the rich history of church teaching and “get there” on some issues.

That is not to say that I am skeptical of the doctrines of the Catholic Church. Time and again, as I dig deep into the teachings of the Church, there is a truth that rings forth and seems to speak to the inmost parts of my spirit saying, “this is truth.”

It is no surprise or mystery to the audience of this blog that I have particularly connected with Catholic doctrine and teaching on human sexuality and the human body itself. Over the past two years, I have closely examined the teaching of Pope John Paul II on those issues, dubbed his “Theology of the Body,” and recently, I began looking at the whole of his teaching anew.

When sharing this with a good friend he offered me a book to read alongside of JP II’s teaching, entitled, The Virgin Mary and Theology of the Body. I have to admit that, when seeing that title, I thought to myself, “What does the Virgin Mary have to do with Theology of the Body?”

That question might sound completely crass and, for that, I apologize. While I have begun to embrace the spirit of Marian reverence and devotion, I still get a little itchy with some of the Mary stuff knowing that, throughout history, people have taken their devotion to Mary to the point of worship, rather than looking at her as a model of devotion to Christ. Even in today’s church, I hear people say things that, as a theologian, make me a little uncomfortable. But, that is a blog post for a different day.

Although I still have much to read and learn, my post today is an effort to answer the question for myself, “What does the Virgin Mary have to do with the Theology of the Body,” or, put in terms that might be more universal, “What does the Virgin Mary have to do with marriage?”

Mary, the New Eve
One of the ways that Catholics talk about Mary is to call her the new Eve. Making the complete biblical case for Mary as the Eve of the new covenant would take more time than I have here but, if you want to have your mind blown, go read the first couple of chapters of the Gospel of John, which seems to echo Genesis, beginning with the words, “In the beginning…” Count how many times the Gospel writers says, “and the next day,” or “two days after that,” adding up the days and comparing those with the number of days that occurred in Genesis before the creation of humanity. Then, look at the first word spoken to Mary by Jesus at the Wedding at Cana, as Mary comes to tell Jesus about the party running out of wine and he responds, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?”

Biblical scholars have placed great emphasis on John’s echoing of Genesis and the fact that, just as the first words spoken to Eve by Adam were his proclamation of her as “woman,” so too was Jesus’s first recorded word to Mary the word “woman.”

But, you might be thinking, why does this matter?

If Mary is the new Eve, we have to ask ourselves what she has in common with the old Eve. We know that the purpose of the New Covenant was to fulfill the Old Covenant and redeem the relationship between God and humanity. Thus, while the relationship between God and humanity was severed by the actions of not only man, but woman as well, God uses a new Eve (Mary) along with the new Adam (Jesus) to institute his ultimate plan of salvation.

The original Eve, for the short time before the fall, lived a perfect life of devotion and love to her husband Adam. When the writer of Genesis says that the man and woman were both naked but knew no shame, he alludes to what John Paul II calls the “spousal understanding” of the body that existed between the man and the woman. That, ultimately, is a fancy way of saying that Adam and Eve didn’t look at each others’ bodies as something to be possessed (a mindset that so often informs our sexuality today). Rather, Adam and Eve looked at their own bodies as a gift to be given to the other.

Thus, Mary, the new Eve, in reflecting the first Eve should embody this same spirit, the desire to commit her whole body as a gift to another. The logical conclusion of this, of Mary committing her womb and her body to carrying the Christ child for the purposes of God should be clear enough. In this way, Mary stands as a perfect example of the life we are called to live in the sacrament of marriage, giving ourselves as a gift to our spouse.

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary
When looking at Mary in this way, it begins to shine some light on the teaching of the Church that, while Mary gave birth to Jesus as a virgin, she also remained a virgin the rest of her life.

Although I haven’t disagreed with the church’s teaching on this issue, I have often wondered, “Why?”

“What,” I wonder, “would it matter if Mary lived out the remainder of her life in a normal marriage with Joseph, perhaps even having more children?”

The answer to this question is rooted in the concept of Mary as having given herself in the spousal relationship to God. Quite simply, Mary was no longer available to give herself to Joseph because to do so, she would have to sever the relationship she had already formed with God. If the church were to teach that Mary dissolved her spousal relationship with God and entered into another spousal relationship with Joseph, it would undermine the basis of Church teaching on marriage as a whole and open the door for anyone to do the same.

Just as husband and wife are of one body, through the giving of self, Mary became one body with God and committed to living her life with her body as a gift to him.

I hope that this lengthy post serves as one more reminder of who Mary, the mother of Christ, truly was, and the many ways in which contemplation of her life can serve as an inspiration and encouragement to all of us as we seek to follow Christ in perfect discipleship.

Although it has, in the past, been easy for me to shy away from Marian devotion, I am finding, once again, that when I let my mind and heart get wrapped up in the mystery of God as revealed through the teachings of the Church, I always come away more fully enriched in my faith. In this regard, contemplation on the example of the Blessed Virgin is no exception.

My challenge this week for married couples to sit down and pray the rosary together, focused on the contemplation of Mary’s sacrifice of her body to the spousal relationship with God. In prayer and meditation, ask God to build up in your own heart a spirit of self-giving and self-sacrifice for the good and love of your spouse.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: