Is it important that Mary be relatable? In class we discussed what it meant to be religious. Although there may be many ways of doing so, a clearly primary answer is to praise God. Being a Christian by definition means devoting oneself to Christ and thus God. But then why is the relatability of Mary of such importance? As we all saw and discussed, almost everyone preferred an image of Mary that was personal to him or her. I also feel this way. I find the image of Mary as the grieving mother particularly touching and appealing. But then the question must be asked: Why is it important for Mary to seem personal? We all answered that it was because this made her relatable. So then why is the relatability of Mary important and the way by which we seem to measure our closeness to her?
Just as the Virgin Mary can act as intercessor for God to reach us, she can also act as such for us to reach God. We certainly cannot relate to God. He is the uncontainable, the incomprehensible, and the indescribable. We see from the texts that we read for today and for the past few classes how scholars and devotees see Mary as inextricably linked to God. We have heard her referred to in many ways joining her to God in this way, and we have seen images anywhere from her being the staircase leading to God to the bride of the Trinity. Even if one considers her simply as the mother of Christ, she is singular as the container of the uncontainable and the birth giver to the Word. At the passion, she is often seen as being so connected to Christ that she is seen dying in soul as Christ dies in body. Biel brings this particular idea to a new level, stating that Mary “participated in his self-sacrifice by suffering under the cross, thus cooperating in the redemption of many,” making her “corredemptrix” (Oberman 303). John Duns Scotus also believes that Mary has a special connection to God and claims in his Four Questions on Mary that, as Christ acts as mediator for all men, "with respect to no person did he have a more excellent degree than as regards Mary” (41). Conrad of Saxony even says “that whatever is worthily said of Our Blessed Mother rebounds wholly to the praise and glory of God” (prologue). Mary is thus seen as being inextricably linked to God, and it makes sense that praise to Mary would also be praise to God.
This special connection to God also gives her a unique status. As Conrad says, Mary has “immunity from any fault” (Ch. II). This includes freedom from original sin, not only in birth, but also in conception. This also means she is free from the normal bodily decay at death and thus her assumption. This spotless-ness is certainly unique from the rest of humanity. And in fact, because of this, Mary is Queen over humanity, … and the saints, … and the angels… and everything that is under God. She is, as Conrad says, the Lady Sovereign in Heaven, on earth, and in hell” (Ch. III), second only to God. But then the question arises: If Mary is so special that she is second only to God Himself, then how can we relate to Mary any more than we can relate to God? And as some scholars worried, including Gregory, in putting Mary on such a high pedestal, are we in fact doing a dishonor to Christ by lessening his exceptionality?
Mary is ultimately distinct from God – an obvious statement but an essential one nevertheless. Christ is a man-god. He is a son of Adam and thus human, yet he is the Redeemer and thus God. Mary, on the other hand, is merely human. This means that she can never reach the same purity that God can. Biel, in his defense of the Immaculate Conception, argued “there is a form of purity that allows for her Immaculate Conception without making her the equal of Christ in purity. Adam and Eve in paradise, before the fall, were without original sin and yet were not equal with Christ in purity” (Oberman 293). Thus while Mary is human therefore accessible to us, she is close enough to God that, through her, we can reach Him.
Perhaps God intended for us to have such a figure that we can relate to and through which we can access God. As the omniscient being that He is, God has brought it about that we have Mary who stands in this very unique role as the human Queen of Heaven. Why did He need to elevate Mary in such a way, unless to allow us such an intermediary?
The point of religion is to praise God, but the question is how do we do this adequately? Over and over again, we hear from our authors that it is impossible to do so. Indeed, they say it is impossible to adequately praise His human mother, let alone He Himself. There seem to be two different main branches of devotional texts. One emphasizes accessibility, simplicity, simplicity, and instructive, while the other is more complicated, obscure, demanding, and enigmatic. The implication is that the former excites emotions while the latter inspires intellectual contemplation. While the assumption is that the former is more concerned with relating to Mary and thus God, I do not think that this is necessarily so. Why do these scholars and monastics puzzle over the Ave Maria? To attempt to better understand the divine. Why does they want to understand God? So that they can better praise God. While understanding something and relating to something are different, they ultimately have the similar result of making God more accessible. Perhaps the only way to truly praise God is to understand Him. And if relating to Him in some way helps us to understand Him better, then perhaps relatability is necessary to religious worship. Of course, in the end, we can never understand God, and that is what makes Him so praiseworthy. So it seems the most we can hope for is to continue adding rocks to the mountain of devotion and drops to the sea of praise.