Shall We Sing of Mary?

 

 

It’s Christmastime, and I’m enjoying my library of Christmas music. Choirs and symphonies remind me of Christ’s birth, saving death, and victorious resurrection and return. I love it.

Occasionally, Montovani plays dreamily to me of a white Christmas, Nat King Cole croons about chestnuts, and Bing Crosby waxes eloquent on Rudolph. I’m good. Even Karen Carpenter can make me smile.

Now Placido Domingo and the Vienna Boys Choir are singing Ave Maria. Hmmm. The quality of the music has peaked here. It’s beautiful. Cultured Christmas. Nice. So why am I agitated? Well, they’re praying to Mary. That’s a problem for me, even when it’s done so exquisitely. So I move on to the next song.

Now, I think Protestants tend to overreact to any mention of Mary in song or verse. The fact that something mentions Mary favorably and is recited in Latin doesn’t make it Roman Catholic. The Magnificat is Scripture, after all (Luke 1:46-55). Singing of her important role in the birth of our Savior is appropriate. I can appreciate songs like Mary Did You Know (which, though not originally a favorite of mine is actually becoming a permanent fixture, appearing even in classical concerts) or the Getty’s new version of the Magnificat. In fact, I’m not even afraid to use the term “Mother of God” with the understanding that Mary’s son Jesus is indeed God. It highlights the wonder of God being born as a man, which is shocking. It’s biblical truth.

Ave Maria, however, goes beyond biblical truth. Contrary to it, in fact. Whereas in The Magnificat Mary prays for her own redemption (Luke 1:46-47), the Hail Mary (which is what the Ave Maria is—a prayer that’s a key part of the Roman Catholic Rosary) asks her to help us with our redemption—to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” It adores her as “holy,” not just blessed.

So while I appreciate the music most often associated with Ave Maria (both Bach’s and Schubert’s tunes were written for other texts), I prefer to enjoy it instrumentally. I can live without hearing the prayer itself, even by Placido Domingo. That’s not to say that I break my neck running across the room to skip it. I don’t melt CD’s. I’m not on a crusade. But I generally skip it. Were I to use it in a service or concert, I’d do so with an alternate Christ-centered text (available with other interesting information about Ave Maria here).

I’ll sing of winter. I’ll sing of Frosty, and Rudolph, and even Santa. They’re all fantastical and fun. But if I sing of Mary—or even to her, in a literary way—I’ll not ask her to help in my salvation. Only Christ can do that, which is the point of the gospel. Jesus brought salvation from sin even to the blessed virgin Mary.

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6 Responses

  1. I didn’t know any of the words to Ave Maria. It was only a few years ago that I learned it was about Mary. Kind of sickening to know a song that I always thought sounded so beautiful could be full of words that are so deceitful.

    I like the song “Mary Sweet Mary”….I would say it’s similar in style to “Mary Did You Know?” I don’t know who it’s originally by but I’ve heard Selah sing it.

  2. Chris,

    One hymn I’ve fallen in love with is “Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth” (Ambrose of Milan)

    I think it’s sung mostly in Catholic circles. It doesn’t pray to Mary, but to Jesus. However one verse does make me wonder if there is Catholic theology behind it.

    “The virgin womb that burden gained
    With virgin honor all unstained;
    The banners there of virtue glow;
    God in His temple dwells below.”

    While I agree with the words, I wonder if there is something pointing to the perpetual virginity of Mary hidden in the text that might mean something different to a Roman Catholic than to me.

  3. […] Shall We Sing of Mary? Christ Anderson shares balanced, perceptive thoughts about this famous song. […]

  4. I agree that it is acceptable to include Mary in our singing if we keep our theological ducks in a row. At the same time, I wonder sometimes about the enormous attention Mary receives in song. Granted, Mary found special favor in God’s eyes, but so did Jael (Judg 5:24), not to mention Noah and Abel and Hezekiah–and we don’t sing about them. That Mary gets proportionally so much attention strikes me as suspicious. If it were not for Romanism and feminism, would we still sing about Mary as much as we do today? We can never know, of course, but I wonder.

  5. Hey, Mark. Always glad to hear your perspective.

    Mary is related so closely with the incarnation that her gaining more attention than others you listed (even in a passage like Gal 4:4) makes sense. But there the adoration is of Christ, not Mary, and we’re certainly prone to cross that line. That’s probably a good test: is what’s being said of Mary underlining the wonder of the incarnation or distracting from it?

  6. No prayers to Mary, but you will sing of divine qualities attributed to a make believe character? ;) Strange place to draw the line. Just ribbing you, man! Good post.

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