490 To become the mother of the Savior, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role."132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as "full of grace".133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.
491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.135
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
I have a confession to make this sparkling Advent Season: I have a soft spot for the popular Christmas song entitled Mary, Did You Know. There, it’s good to get that off my chest. Invariably this time of year, well-intentioned Catholics begin to attack this song as being anti-Catholic. As the song was written by a Protestant, Mark Lowry, it might seem strange for a Catholic to be running to its defense, but that’s exactly what I’m doing.
If you read the Annunciation as told in the first chapter of Luke, one is struck with Mary’s profound response to Gabriel. She humbly replies, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.” Where Eve said no to God, Mary said yes. What is not said here is also worthy of reflection. There’s nothing about Mary’s response that suggests she expected this holy visit. This young woman is clearly placing her heart and faith in God ahead of any degree of mental comprehension. While I suggest that the Incarnation was not something Mary quickly understood or grasped, she does quickly respond to the news with a spirit of perfect acceptance, a complete openness to God’s will in her life. Like we read in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” Mary is the perfect example of this.
Well-meaning Catholics may point to the dogma of Immaculate Conception and suggest that Mary, Did You Know is heretical, because of the song’s line “This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.” While, of course, it’s unlikely that Mark Lowry believes in the Immaculate Conception, I don’t believe there is anything here beyond what could be described as poetic license. Because, strictly speaking, the line is true. Likewise, it’s also true that Mary was “redeemed at the moment of her conception.” You may be inclined to suggest that the one appears to contradict the other, but I would argue this is not so: truth lies within the apparent paradox.
One of our frequent problems as believers is that we tend to try to put God in a box. When I was Protestant, for instance, I remember many conversations along the lines of, well, they won’t go to heaven, because… This kind of judging, however, is not what it means to be a follower of Christ. We have to accept mystery and wonder as it comes; we don’t have all the answers. One dimension of this concerns the nature of time itself. It is true that God redeemed Mary at her birth, but how? Like the saints before us, she was redeemed by the blood of Christ on the cross. Knowing the future, God predestined the Blessed Virgin Mary for this special role, setting her apart as a holy and sinless woman of to be the mother of her own savior. I quote again from The Catechism of the Catholic Church. (See my added emphasis.)
492 The "splendor of an entirely unique holiness" by which Mary is "enriched from the first instant of her conception" comes wholly from Christ: she is "redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son."136 The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" and chose her "in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love."137
493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God "the All-Holy" (Panagia), and celebrate her as "free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature."138 By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.
This by no means diminishes Mary’s place of honor. On the contrary, it opens our eyes to Mary’s own humanity. (For me, at least, this makes Mary seem more accessible.) If you read through from the Annunciation in the first chapter of Luke to Christ in the temple within the second chapter, you see a young woman who is trying to understand the miracle and divine purpose of the Incarnation. If you then turn to the second chapter of John and read of Christ’s miracle the Wedding Feast at Cana, you catch a glimpse of a wiser and more mature Mary. Her words to Jesus suggest that she has begun to understand the divine mystery of her Son and the purpose of the Incarnation.
Mary, Did You Know is a song and not a theological essay. Even as simple Christmas music, however, it does a fine job conveying the beauty and profound mystery of the Incarnation. Yes, there is some poetic license taken within the lyrics, but much less than is taken within innumerable other songs we are asked to sing regularly—Sing a New Church, for example. Instead of finding fault with this creative piece, written by our separated brethren named Mark Lowry, I suggest we accept it as an imperfect, yet beautiful, expression of God’s love for all of us. As Ginny Kurbitz Moyer wrote for a Catholic program called Busted Halo, “Bottom line: Don’t worry about the song’s theology. Enjoy its haunting melody and its intimate look at Mary, who “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)