It seems like quite a while since Mark Shea first mentioned he was writing a book on Mary. I remember his long blog vacation as he went to full time work on it and had been patiently waiting for the release. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Mark’s other books which were usually in the frame of an Evangelical finding the truth of Catholic teaching.
When it was announced that it would be issued as three books I was somewhat disappointed. I imagined that they would be pamphlet sized works. It turns that indeed these are three volumes each running close to 200 pages. I then wondered how he was going to pull off an apologetics works of this size that was readable. As a convert I have been exposed to plenty of apologetics works concerning Mary and have listened to untold hours of Catholic Radio/TV. As an ex-Atheist coming into the Church, Mary was not a problem for me really. Once you get over the “There is a God” and the fact that the Church teaches the fullness of the truth, understanding the Church;s view of Mary’s role is not that hard to see. I have also heard plenty of testimonies of ex-Protestants and the difficulties they had with the Marian aspects of the Church. But I had some trepidation of this book just being for Protestants.
What Mark Shea has done in this three volume set is really quite amazing and it certainly deserves a much wider audience than only Protestants trying to comes to terms with Marian doctrine. He doesn’t just come in with scripture versus blazing, but spends the necessary time setting up the context. Mark as an ex-Evangelical understands the mind blocks that prevent many Protestants from seeing the true role of Mary. But even if you show Protestants the parallelism of the verses on the Ark of the Covenant and the verses on Mary and how they match in so much detail, it certainly won’t convince them. They have been taught a tradition that minimizes Mary even to the extent of her only being an “incubator.” The prejudice against the Marian doctrines was built up over time after the Reformation and mostly as a separation against Catholics. As so many have shown, including Mark Shea in this book. the Protestant reformers had no such animus against Mary. What he has concentrated on is removing those philosophical road blocks and handling all the arguments that get in the way.
Mark Shea’s own journey included having all of the common biases against the Blessed Virgin Mary and his coming to question so many of the underpinnings of what he believed. The first book discusses a lot of what Mark calls “psuedo-knowledge” those bits of information that everybody believes is true, but are in fact nowhere close to being true. Psuedo-knowledge is a blockage to so many things. Protestant pseudo-knowledge such as how the Catholic Church Paganize Christianity is very prevalent. Though I guess this bit of false knowledge is also part of the secular and even Catholic circles. I remember an uncle of mine who is not a Christian and a bit into the new age telling me all about how Catholics stole things from Pagans and that Christmas was based on a Pagan feast. This pseudo-knowledge was really quite exciting for him to tell me even though I was a young atheist who had no idea what a Catholic was in the first place. One of the most interesting parts of this work is how Mark discovered while researching that it was the Pagan feast that came after Catholic’s already celebrating Dec 25th as the Birth of Christ and was likely a case of Pagans trying to usurp a Christian feast. What Mark shows is most interesting is not proving the day Jesus was born on, but why the very early Church thought he was born on this date. The whole idea of Catholics baptizing Pagan things has merit in the small things such as wedding rings and evergreen trees but in the big things such as the Church’s theology an her Marian doctrines there is no merit or connection at all. Mark in his many examples amply demonstrates this in the first volumes as his prepares the way to going deeper into the Marian dogmas.
The second volume deals with the four Marian dogmas and spends considerable time on them. I have often heard how these Marian dogmas protected the Incarnation. I had also heard that these dogmas were declared at the time when there was some controversy concerning Jesus or when the Church considered them a proper cure to a current error – and not just theological errors. The details of just how true this is is staggering. So we get both a history and context for these dogmas, but also answers to the common objections to each of these dogmas.
The third volume deals with the devotional aspects. Getting to the point that you accept the Marian dogmas does not mean that you instantly are ready to jump into the Marian aspects of the devotional life. Problems bringing belief into practice is something shared by more than just converts. Marks advice in this area is quite sensible. He goes on to devote some time to the Rosary along with providing some thoughts/meditations on each of the mysteries. Of course any book addressing Marian devotion has to look at some of the oddities that make the news such as the Virgin Mary in the grilled cheese sandwich. This chapter shows just how sensible the Church is when it comes to private revelation and the simple fact that even when the Church does “bless” some particular apparition it is only to say that it is “worthy of belief” and no Catholic is required to accept them. The following appendices provide a list with a narrative of some of these apparitions “worthy of belief.”
All of my hesitations about a three volume apologetics book set on Mary were dispelled. Mark’s writing is informative and much of it with a smile behind it. His writing is not adversarial in any way and so any Protestants reading his book will not get any sense of “us against them.” Like so many ex-Catholics, Mark is quite positive about his time as a Protestant, but is also very good at showing the cracks that he started to see when he questioned some basic assumptions or psuedo-knowledge. So I think these are great books to read both as an apologetics work and/or spiritual reading.