Some thoughts about the song, Mary Did You Know

This particular music video of Mary, Did You Know has been played over 174M times since it was published in November of 2014. It’s a popular song, and this particular version of it is extremely well done. The singers are talented and they harmonize really well. The candles give it a feel like Easter vigil, welcoming Mary into their midst.

A couple days ago I came across a Catholic critique of the song and it seemed a bit over the top. I’ve actually seen a number of Catholic critiques of it, and they all focus on answering the questions in the lyrics, one by one. As a Catholic writing about a Protestant song about Mary, I totally get that inclination but it seems a bit defensive. We don’t have to go on defense with the song, do we? I am not inclined to do that.

Plus, the lyrics might only be rhetorical questions, which are questions that don’t require an answer. In fact, I am pretty sure that is the case. The lyrics just don’t seem to need an answer, and I mean that in good way. It’s like listening to a poem set to music. Sure, we could dissect the poem, but another option is to simply take in the whole thing, as is.

It’s not my favorite song, and I do understand the theological problems in the lyrics from a Catholic perspective. However, I am glad that Protestants like it. It is a prayer to Mary, and this Catholic does not object to that.

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The relationship between Scripture and the Church

There is a mysterious connection between Jesus and the written scripture. They are not identical, as far as I can tell, yet the connection is real. In the same way, there is also a mysterious connection between Mary and the Church.  I don’t understand these connections, but they are there.

While in the shower yesterday afternoon, I asked the Lord to show me the relationship of the Scripture to the Church. An image immediately flashed into my mind, which surprised me since I wasn’t expecting it. I have recreated the image below, and I admit that I have a lot of questions about it. It shows a parallel between Jesus-Mary-Jesus and the OT Scripture-the Church-NT Scripture.

christ mary christ diagram

Each is sort of like a timeline, but they are not exactly parallel in time with each other.

What is notable to me is how the NT Scriptures come out of the Church. Also, we see that Christ precedes Mary, yet comes into the world through her.

Anyway, I wanted to share it here, because my prayer in the shower is related to a larger issue that I hope to write more about soon. Once I get it all worked out, I will probably circle back to this diagram.

Positioning Eternal Security within the context of Catholic teaching

My intent with this post is to clearly situate the Evangelical doctrine known as eternal security (also called once saved always saved) inside of Catholic teaching. I am not arguing against that doctrine, and I am not defending it. I am simply taking it as it is, and positioning it inside of Catholic teaching. I think the results are interesting.

First, the steps to achieving salvation according to what I call the once saved always saved pattern, are present in Catholic practice. The once saved always saved pattern corresponds to Catholic initiation rites and I wrote about that here. If once saved always saved is true, and if those steps can be found within Catholic practice, then this shifts the debate. For example, Evangelical sites like CARM argue:

If a Roman Catholic believes in the official Roman Catholic teaching on salvation, then he is not a Christian since the official RCC position is contrary to Scripture.

This is contrary to the once saved always saved pattern. That pattern consists of three steps:

  • Confess that Jesus is Lord
  • Believe that God raised Him from the dead
  • Sincerely ask Him to forgive us of our sins.

According to this pattern, what an individual believes apart from sincerely following these steps is irrelevant. For example, if somebody sincerely follows these steps and believes that Martians have taken refuge at the bottom of our oceans, that person is still saved. Thus, the sincere Catholic is saved according to this doctrine since he undertook those steps in the process of becoming Catholic. It is interesting to note that the pattern does not require belief in Jesus as God (only as Lord), the Trinity, the virgin birth, or other Christian doctrines. Presumably these come later but they are outside the scope of what is required to be saved, according to this doctrine. Any additions to those steps would violate the Simple Gospel principle that Evangelicals have embraced. So it is an interesting conundrum because there is no step four, “Believe that these steps work/will save you/are sufficient.” Are those steps sufficient? If somebody does them yet doesn’t affirm that they are enough to be saved, does God still save the person? Does forensic justification still occur? As far as I can tell, the answer Evangelicals and other Protestants would give is yes.

Second, Catholics will say that we can’t infallibly know whether or not we are saved, but this neglects a significant exception that I think Evangelicals might find interesting. According to the Council of Trent, certain individuals can know they are saved because God has revealed it to them. At the Sixth Session, Canon XVI, Trent says:

“If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.”

I asked a priest about the phrase “special revelation.” He said that when Trent says “special revelation,” it means “private revelation.” In Catholic parlance, this means that the person knows they have the grace of final perseverance (they will remain in a state of grace until they die), because God revealed that to them. For example, Steven D. Greydanus at the National Catholic Register argues that St. Mary:

connected what God was doing in her with her own salvation. At the Visitation, responding to Elizabeth’s joyful greeting and hailing her as ‘the mother of my Lord,’ Mary sings in the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

magnificat
“Our Lady Sings Magnificat,” from the Book of old English songs and ballads, c. 1920 (public domain)

St. Mary had a certain level of assurance regarding her salvation. Did she know it infallible? Well, I don’t know but I do know that she made a prophecy in that Magnificat that is still coming true today. I wrote about that here.

For me, I’ve had quite a few dreams and other experiences that could be seen as me having the grace of final perseverance. And perhaps I have that grace, but if I do it is not clear to me. I am not Catholic because it tells me, right now and with 100 percent certitude, where I will spent eternity. I am Catholic because I believe it is true.

This exception is an exception. Not everybody who is saved will know ahead of time, and some who believe they are saved won’t be.

Purgatory as an accountability mechanism

I think Purgatory makes a lot of sense. It explains what happens to us when we die while retaining love and/or attachment to sin not leading to death.

There are two kinds of sin, sin that leads to death and sin that does not lead to death.

Each kind of sin has its own result, which means there are two kinds of results for sin. The sin that leads to death has everlasting suffering as its result. The sin that does not lead to death has temporary suffering as its result. The death of Christ remits the everlasting result (if we accept what He did according to His conditions), but not the temporary result.

When we die, there are two alternatives. I will call them Alternative 1 and Alternative 2. There can be no sin and no love of or attachment to any kind of sin in Alternative 1. If we die while retaining some love for and/or attachment to our sins that did not lead to top loading washing machine public domaindeath, we must relinquish that love and attachment before we can experience Alternative 1. Let’s call this relinquishment process The Accountability Machine. If we are in The Accountability Machine, it means that we have accepted Christ’s conditions for Alternative 1, but there is still a process we must undergo due to our love for and/or attachment to sins that did not lead to death. It is an unpleasant process because we love and are attached to those sins (the sins that don’t lead to death)–we struggle with giving them up. We are still saved—there is only one way out of The Accountability Machine, up (it’s a top loader, lol). Christ’s death and resurrection does not automatically mean we have relinquished our love and attachment to sin that doesn’t lead to death. We will be held accountable for it, but not in an everlasting way.

If we die but have not followed Christ’s conditions for Alternative 1, then we will experience Alternative 2.

I am not certain how Catholic this explanation is, but I think it works pretty well under a Catholic paradigm. Typically, Catholics talk about two kinds of punishment for sin. But punishment has a purpose. Suffering can be the result of temporal punishment (due to our love for and attachment to sins that don’t lead to death), but its purpose is to help us let go of that love and attachment. See, for example, Hebrews 12.

The question is: if we are otherwise saved, what happens to us when we die with our love and attachment to sin still intact?

My song this morning: Christ be our light

I woke up with this song playing in my mind:

I took it, and made it a song of praise in my heart.

Then when I got up, I read today’s mass readings, which included these verses:

Reading 2 Eph 5:8-14
Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Verse Before the Gospel Jn 8:12
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.

Gospel Jn 9:1-41
As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see…

There are many versions of this song available on Youtube. I picked that one because the people look so full of light and happy!

It seems that I do receive a lot of signal graces from the Lord. I wonder if it’s because He knows how hard it is for me to believe that He is absolutely committed to me.

The parents’ magisterium for guiding the domestic church

Holy Family
The domestic church of the Holy Family.

It occurs to me that parenthood confers a type of authority that is analogous to a magisterium. I looked at a few different definitions of the word, and they all said something along this line:

The authority of the church to teach religious truth.

Some of them specifically mentioned the Catholic Church. Others provided an etymology that indicated that the word comes to us from the Latin magister (ma-ji-stare), which means master.

It is not a stretch to say that parents have authority to teach religious truth to their own children. Who else is going to teach it? Who else should teach it? Should parents just wait for religious leaders to teach religious truth to their children? I think all Christians of good will can see that this would be a bad idea, even a dereliction of duty.

We also have the idea of the domestic church:

From the beginning, the Church was formed from believers “and their whole household.” New believers wanted their family to be saved (Acts 18:8).

In our modern world (often hostile to religion), religious families are extremely important centers of living faith. They are “domestic churches” in which the parents are the first heralds of faith (Second Vatican Council). In the home, father, mother, and children exercise their baptismal priesthood in a privileged way. The home is the first school of the Christian life where all learn love, repeated forgiveness, and prayerful worship.

Another source says:

The Christian family IS a church, the smallest and most vital cell of that Body. The extended church community is a family of families. This understanding is more than piety–it is sound ecclesiology, solid anthropology, in fact it is reality for those who are baptized into Christ Jesus…

There is almost a liturgical sameness to the pattern that emerges after so many years- by practice, developed spiritual purpose, and just plain ordinary human repetition. But it can all become transforming when lived out “in Christ”. It is here, where the “rubber hits the road” for most Christians. It is here that the universal call to holiness, in all its real, earthy, incarnation is lived out-in all of its humanness and ordinariness.

Regarding parental authority, there is some controversy surrounding the phrase, “Because I said so.” But I think it is a legitimate response in certain contexts. For example, a very young child might ask why but not be able to understand the reasons. Or in a crisis, the parents might not have time to explain why. I think explaining why is a courtesy parents give to their children; it is not a requirement imposed upon them by the children. The phrase highlights the nature of parental authority. Children really do have to obey, even if they don’t like, understand, or know the reasons why (assuming good will and nothing nefarious on the part of the parents).

If there is a “domestic church,” then it follows that there is a domestic teaching authority invested in parents, which we might infer is a domestic magisterium. This magisterium must be obeyed.

Catholics are not subject to the Tu Quoque objection

This post is pretty much for my own clarification. It’s pretty long, so you don’t have to read the whole thing. If it interests you at all, you can scroll down and read my summary at the end.

Catholics often criticize Protestants for exercising their own absolute right to private judgement. Protestants retort by saying that Catholics do the same thing. This objection is known as the Tu Quoque. It is when the person defends against a criticism by saying, “You do it too, so it’s OK.” I’ve intuited that this retort is wrong but wasn’t very clear on why.

I came across a post at Called to Communion that addresses the subject. I got more out of the comments than the original post. If you are so inclined, read the post and the comments. There is a lot of good stuff there, but the entire comment thread is extremely long.

One of the commentors said:

… the object of Catholic assent is fundamentally different in kind from the object of Protestant assent, even if the process of inquiry leading up to the assent is otherwise very similar in form and diligence…

Later this same commentor says:

Tomb of st peter
Tomb of St. Peter, in St. Peter’s Basilica

…what distinguishes Catholicism from Protestantism is the sort of assent each involves. Since the Protestant recognizes no individual or ecclesial authority as infallible under any conditions, even when he considers Scripture inerrant (which not all Protestants do), the Protestant must inevitably regard as provisional any assent he might render to doctrinal statements, whether those statements are offered as mere expositions of Scripture or go beyond that. If he considers Scripture inerrant, he will of course say that his assent to the truths contained in Scripture is absolute not provisional. But to the question what the truths we can extract from Scripture actually mean or imply for doctrinal purposes, he can answer only by citing expositions and interpretations that represent his own or others’ opinions. Affirming that Scripture is inerrant, therefore, affords the Protestant as such no basis whatsoever for saying that we know what, exactly, God is revealing to us through Scripture in a manner that can be expressed by doctrinal statements. He might of course glean, from his own reading of Scripture and the work of his preferred scholars, a pretty fair idea of what the human authors of Scripture intended by their words. But given his rejection of infallible interpretive authority, the Protestant leaves himself in no position to distinguish reliably between de fide doctrines—i.e., the doctrines to which God calls for our assent—and the theological views of both authors and interpreters. Hence the Protestant as such has no way in principle to distinguish clearly the assent of faith, which is a divine gift involving assent to statements made with divine authority, from mere human opinions about what various “sources,” primarily Scripture, actually transmit to us as divine revelation.

This means, among other things, that the Protestant sees something called “the Church” in a fundamentally different way from Catholics. Given how he conceives assent to divine truth, the Protestant cannot see something called “the Church” as a sure guide to discerning it. Since “the Church” is fallible under all conditions, her orthodoxy is to be judged by what this-or-that person or group takes to be the doctrinally correct interpretation of Scripture (and other sources too, on some accounts), rather than vice-versa. Ultimately, the Protestant’s assent involves submission not to “the Church” but to himself as his most reliable guide to discerning divine revelation. “The Church,” from this point of view, is simply the set of people who ascribe to the “correct” interpretation of the sources, where what’s “correct” is what the individual believer provisionally accepts as such. The claims of this-or-that church to a certain kind of authority thus form no part of the deposit of faith; rather, what counts as “the Church” depends on its conformity to the deposit of faith, when said deposit is understood in a manner logically independent of any ecclesial claims to authority. Thus “the Church” is not strictly necessary for knowing Truth himself. It might be educationally useful for some, and is certainly pastorally useful for many. But that’s about it. In principle, it’s quite possible to read the Bible alone in a room and thereby learn all that God wants us to know for our salvation. Of course that sort of thing yields a variety of opinions whose holders like to call “doctrines” given by the Holy Spirit. Many of those opinions are, of course, mutually incompatible. That’s why we have more Protestant denominations and sects than anybody, including Protestants themselves, can agree on how to count.

When the Catholic, on the other hand, makes his assent of faith, he is among other things assenting to the claims made by a visible, historically continuous body that it is the Body of Christ on earth, authorized by him as her Head to teach in his name and thus, when speaking with her full authority, protected by his Spirit from requiring belief in propositions that are false. Accordingly, the Catholic does not, because as such he cannot, claim to know the deposit of faith in a manner logically independent of the claims the Church makes for herself. He does not, because he cannot, claim to know the “true doctrine” from the sources without depending on the authoritative certification of the sources as such by the Church, and the authoritative interpretations thereof by the Church. Thus for the Catholic, faith in the risen Christ, acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God, and faith in the teaching of the Church as that of the Body of Christ are logically inseparable from each other. And so the Catholic does not judge the orthodoxy of the Church; rather, he submits to the Church as, among other things, the judge of his orthodoxy.

We are now in a position to address the question why the Catholic mode of assent

prayer bible
Sacred Scripture

should be preferred to the Protestant’s. But we cannot settle that question just by learning the historical dataset and deciding, with our own human judgment, whether it best supports Catholicism or some version of Protestantism. Most people are in no position to take in all the relevant data, and even those who are in such a position disagree on how to interpret it for the purpose at hand. From a historical point of view, the question is which hermeneutical paradigm (HP) to adopt for the purpose of interpreting the data: the Catholic, or some Protestant version.

Now the question which HP to adopt cannot be answered by appeal to the dataset itself, for the question is precisely which manner of interpreting the data is preferable. The question can only be answered, I believe, by asking ourselves which HP is better suited to distinguishing the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation itself—assuming there is such a thing as divine revelation—from mere theological opinions, and thus to facilitating the assent of faith as distinct from that of opinion. Now as you say, if Catholicism is true, the answer to that question is obvious. But if Catholicism is false, we are left only with provisional opinions. And if we are left only with provisional opinions, then we have no reliable way to distinguish from human opinion that which God actually wants us to believe.

Later, he says:

… once the assent of faith in the Catholic Church is freely made in light of such an opinion, one cannot see oneself as assenting merely to an interpretation, as if it were just one legitimate interpretation among others incompatible with it. For what one is assenting to is either altogether and perniciously false, or divine authority itself. If one doesn’t see that, then one has not yet chosen to make the assent of Catholic faith.

Much later, the author of the original post writes:

… just because one initially uses one’s interpretation of Scripture, tradition and history to find something, it does not follow that one retains ultimate interpretive authority. Whether one retains ultimate interpretive authority depends on the nature of what one finds.

Tu QuoqueMy summary:

  • The process of interpretive inquiry leading up to assent is the same or very similar between Catholics and Protestants.
  • The objects of assent between Catholics and Protestants are very different. This is the reason the Tu Quoque objection does not apply to Catholics–the two groups are not doing the same things with the objects of their assent.
  • Object of Protestant assent: Protestants assent to Holy Scripture as the Word of God, and their own ability to understand it according to God’s will. “The Church” is the set of people who ascribe to the doctrines and dogmas that the individual Protestant believes to be the correct interpretations of the Scriptures. No interpretation of Scripture has divine authority, not even the inquirer’s own interpretation. No creed or confession is binding. The Holy Scriptures are of divine origin but interpretations of them are not.
  • Object of Catholic assent: the Church founded by Jesus Christ, visible, historically continuous, protected by the Holy Spirit from requiring belief in propositions that are false. Today’s Catholic bishops are the direct successors of the Apostles. The Catholic conforms his beliefs to what the Church teaches. The nature of what he found means that he is no longer the final interpreter–he no longer submits only when he agrees. He has found something objective, outside of himself, of divine origin.
  • If Catholicism is true: then the inquirer has found the true Church and can absolutely rely upon her in matters of faith and morals.
  • If Catholicism is false: then the inquirer has fallible opinions about the meaning of Scripture (including his own), and has no objectively sure way to know God’s will regarding the correct interpretation of Scripture. He can’t be certain of the difference between faith and opinion.

Another commentor remarked that going from Protestant to Catholic was like the difference between dating and marriage. I have often felt the same way. There was certain surrender that happened when I became Catholic.

This is all to say that Catholics are not subject to the Tu Quoque objection. This is because Catholics and Protestants find something different at the end of our respective inquiries. Because we find something different, Catholics don’t “do it too.” The “it” being “retain personal and final interpretive authority over the Scriptures.”

(This post is not a defense of the Catholic magisterium, apostolic succession, etc. It only shows how Catholics aren’t subject to the Tu Quoque objection.)

Image credit: Holger Weinandt

My Lenten practice this year: Act of Confidence in Divine Mercy

I’ve been praying  this prayer every day during Lent. It’s called the Act of Confidence in Divine Mercy, written by St. Claude de la Colombiere:

st claude de la colombiere public domain
St. Claude de la Colombiere

Lord, behold a soul that is in the world so that Thou may exercise Thine admirable mercy to make it shine forth before heaven and earth.

Others glorify Thee by showing, through fidelity and constancy, the power of Thy grace and how sweet and generous Thou art to those who are faithful to Thee. As for me, I will glorify Thee by manifesting how good Thou art to sinners. In me Thou will show that Thy mercy is superior to all our malice, that nothing can exhaust it, and that no relapse, however shameful and culpable it may be, should make a sinner lose hope in Thy salvation.

My beloved redeemer, I have offended Thee gravely. But it would be worse still if I add to my offenses the horrible outrage of thinking that Thou art not so good as to forgive me.

In vain Thine enemy–who is also mine–sets new snares for me daily. He may cause me to cast away everything except the hope I have in Thy mercy. Even though I fall a hundred times, and my sins were a hundred times more horrible than what they are, I will always continue to hope in Thee.

This is from a little prayer book that is distributed by the Miles Christi priests of San Diego. This is the one I’ve been praying mostly, but I’ve also prayed others that I’ve found online, such as this one.

It begins and ends with the grace of God

“It begins and ends with the grace of God.”

…deep within the Catechism there awaited a high hurdle.  Even if Cardinal Newman convincingly demonstrates how the development of doctrine accounts for those Catholic doctrines that make Baptists bristle and Calvinists cringe, there awaited the Grace and Justification section of the Catechism.  Wasn’t that the real key?  Hadn’t we been taught that Catholics were “working their way to heaven” or “earning” their own salvation?  Wasn’t that why Martin Luther had to rescue the gospel in the sixteenth century?  Rome was preaching another gospel, as Paul warned the Galatians, deserving the anathema, right?

To my shame and embarrassment, I discovered that idea to be false; born of ignorance at best, maybe anti-Catholic prejudice, or worse.  Even if I had picked it up innocently, and repeated it naively, I cannot justify my own ignorance and sloth.  To my surprise, I discovered in the twenty-first century what Saint Augustine discovered in the fourth: “Great hope has dawned; the Catholic Faith teaches not what we thought, and vainly accused it of[.]”  Indeed, the Church has been maligned and slandered, starting not in the sixteenth-century with the Reformers, but from the beginning.  Like Augustine, when I discovered the truth of the Catholic Church, by God’s grace, I could not stay away.  In fact, the Catholic Faith teaches what I have long believed:  our salvation begins and ends with the grace of God – – based on the life and death of the God-Man, Jesus Christ; His cross; and His triumph over the grave by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Then quotes from the Catechism on grace and justification appear. You can read them on the Vatican website here, if you wish)

apostle paul rembrant
The Apostle Paul, by Rembrandt.

There is no daylight between the Catholic Faith and Sacred Scripture on Grace and Justification.  Martin Luther had legitimate complaints about the practices and discipline of the Church in the sixteenth century.  However, his expressions of sola Scriptura and sola fide were error.  He had no authority to break from the Church, or to set himself up against Her…

In short, Rome does not have a works-based religion.  Catholics are no more “working” or “earning” their way to heaven on their own merit than the Philippians, to whom the Apostle Paul exhorted: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” (Phil. 2:12-13, NAB, Revised Edition).  It begins and ends with the grace of God. There is no Scriptural authority to divorce my faith from my actions.  You and I know each other’s faith when we see each other’s works…

From With My Own Eyes