If you had asked me about Catholicism when I was growing up, I would probably have told you lots of things which I have since discovered aren’t true. Top of my list of misinformation would have been that Catholics ‘worship Mary’. There was an elderly man in our church who took every opportunity (and I really mean every opportunity) to accost Catholics and demand why they worshipped Mary.
Devotion to Mary is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Protestants who are attracted to Catholicism. I still found this aspect of Catholic teaching challenging, even though I had been married into a Catholic family for many years before I even thought about becoming Catholic.
When I met my husband, I was far too much in love with him to worry about religious questions. After meeting his family, who included several nuns and priests, I realised that although they had a special respect for Mary, it was clearly Christ who was at the centre of things.
For years, I thought of it as a cultural thing. Every Christmas we went through a bit of a pantomine at home. My husband bought Christmas cards with reproductions of classical paintings of the nativity. The Virgin and child were, of course, in the centre of the picture. Even if they hadn’t had the address of a Catholic charity on the back, I wouldn’t have sent these cards to my relatives, because they were just, well, a bit too Catholic looking.
My church was so reformed that Christmas and Easter, the two biggest Christian festivals, were not celebrated, which was not to say that the Christian teaching behind them was not spoken about. Our minister might happen to preach a sermon on Christ’s birth in July, whilst we were taught about Christ’s death on the cross in practically every sermon. However, if you were to visit our church on a Sunday towards the end of December, the sermon would almost certainly not include any mention of the birth of a child in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
When we were young, my parents didn’t want us to feel left out, and so we celebrated Christmas as a commercial festival. In keeping with this, I sent my Protestant relatives garish pictures of snowmen and Santa Claus, while my husband sent his Catholic relatives classic nativity scenes of the virgin and child. It was something which we teased each other about. However, it now seems symbolic. Mary brought Christ into the Catholic Christmas, whilst the focus of my ultra-reformed Protestant Christmas was getting new toys and eating too much food.
When I was coming close to making a commitment to become Catholic, I felt that other aspects of Catholic teaching such as saints and transubstantiation and marriage as a sacrament, had clicked into place. However, I still didn’t feel that I really understood at a heart rather than head level the role of Mary in the church. I asked Father K if it was all right if I said I was prepared to trust the church on their teaching on Mary in the hope that I would eventually understand it better. He said that this would be fine, and after that, there really were not any major reasons why I couldn’t become Catholic
Going back to where I started with the Christmas cards, in all the traditional paintings of the nativity, Mary is pictured with Christ. God could have found some other way to parachute his Son into the world, but he chose to do it through a woman. Through praying the Rosary and meditating on the Gospel mysteries, I’ve thought more about Mary’s role. It hasn’t brought me closer to feeling any strong devotion to her, but it has brought me further in my devotion to Christ.