Editor’s note: The following column is a response from Father Michael Shields to a reader (Suzy) who took issue with several points from his December column “After a bad start finish your life well.” The reader questioned whether there was any scriptural support for the Catholic teaching that Mary is the “Queen of Heaven.” She also drew issue with a section of Father Shields’ column in which he recounts how a man prayed to Mary. The reader claimed that praying to the saints is unbiblical. To read her comments in full go to catholicanchor.org/forum/bad-start-finish-life-well.
Catholics and Protestants share the Bible (except for a few books in the Old Testament that were removed during the Protestant Reformation). These Sacred Scriptures come to us from the Holy Spirit and from the councils and wisdom of the Catholic Church.
In other words the church was first, and then came the formation and canon of the Bible. That does not mean the church is over the Word of God — it means the church has a role given it by Jesus who said that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The church is charged with presenting a truthful understanding of the Gospel.
Historically the Catholic Church gave the Bible to the world. This means that there is nothing in the Bible contrary to the Catholic faith and there is nothing in Catholic faith contrary to anything in the Bible.
As a Catholic I believe everything the Bible teaches, but I might disagree with someone’s interpretation of these teachings. If forced to choose which interpretation to follow I would look to the Catholic Church.
To claim that an idea is “unbiblical” assumes that everyone is in agreement on what is in fact “biblical.” That is not the case. There are 30,000 Protestant churches today that all claim to be “biblically based.”
If it is so easy to determined whether an idea is biblical, why is there such disagreement among Protestant churches? We need an authority that can definitively and accurately pass down Sacred Scripture and its interpretation.
The Catholic Church was founded by Christ and has existed for more than 2,000 years. I trust this church, which first circulated the letters of Saint Paul. I trust this church that ensured the Gospels were preached in the first churches. I trust this church that held historic councils and determined what books and what Gospels truly represented the authentic revelation of Jesus Christ to the world.
Jesus taught that when a conflict arises we should take it to the church because the church is the Body of Christ holding his message and proclaiming his authentic salvation to the world.
In regards to the “Queen of Heaven,” she is found in the Bible. In Revelations (Ch. 12) we read of a woman clothed with the sun and moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of stars (a queen). She gives birth to a son who will rule all nations (Jesus). The devil tried to kill this son and the woman protected him.
Now is this woman really the Blessed Virgin Mary — Queen of Heaven? Some say she represents Israel. But a closer reading reveals that the woman cares for the son. Jewish leaders tried to kill him. Some say the woman is the church, but nowhere do the Scriptures call Jesus the child of the church. Why? Because Jesus came before the church and established the church.
As to the question about the role of the saints, they are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. Romans is especially interesting, where Saint Paul writes, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.” And saints are ready to assist us. The letter to the Hebrews notes that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” cheering us on to finish our life well.
A saint is an example of someone growing in holiness. We can imitate them. Saint Paul said this of himself: “Brothers and sisters join in imitating me and observe those who live according to the example you have for us.” (Phil.3;17). This is what we are doing when we look to the saints living in heaven. They are more alive in Christ and we want to imitate them to have the same powerful life of grace and faith.
With regards to the question about whether we can ask others to pray for us, the Bible includes many examples of this. The saints are alive, but in heaven with Christ. Just as we can ask people on earth to pray for us, how much more can we ask the Virgin Mary and the saints in heaven to pray. This takes nothing away from God’s glory.
In asking the Virgin Mary to pray for us we get to know Jesus better and follow him more deeply. God chose Mary from among all woman and she was highly favored and graced to give the Savior of the world to mankind. I think she might have something to say to us.
This does not detract from Christ as our one, true mediator. Christ has, however, chosen to use his body (the church and her members) to mediate God’s grace to the world in and through him. Thus, the church is Christ in this world. Different members of the church mediate various graces in accordance with their respective gifts while the whole body functions to bring Christ to the world.
I end with a statement from famous Swedish protestant charismatic pastor who entered the Catholic Church last year. He founded thousands of churches from the late 1980s. Ulf Ekman explains the reasoning behind his conversion to Catholicism in an article in Charisma magazine:
“I discovered how little I really knew about [Catholics], their spirituality and their beliefs. Unconsciously I carried many prejudices and bad attitudes and have been quick to judge them without really knowing what they actually believed. It has been good to discover and to repent from nonchalant and shallow opinions, based not on their own sources but on their opponents, and to discover a very rich heritage, a strong theological foundation and a deep love for Jesus Christ among them.”
He added that, in the Catholic Church, he has “seen a great love for Jesus and a sound theology, founded on the Bible and classic dogma. We have experienced the richness of sacramental life. We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood, that keeps the faith of the church and passes it on from one generation to the next. We have met an ethical and moral strength and consistency that dare to face up to the general opinion, and a kindness towards the poor and the weak.”
Thank you for your comments, Suzy. If you want to know more about the church, we have a great resource called the Catholic Catechism which is deeply biblical and easily read.
Blessings and prayers.
The writer is a missionary priest from the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, who serves as pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.