Mary as Priest, Prophet, and King: Article Review

Summary

McGregor opens by pointing out that Mary is a member of the church. As Mary is a member of the church, she must then therefore participate in Christ’s kingship, prophet-hood and priesthood, just like all the other members of the church participate in these things. McGregor in his article goes on to examine how and in what special senses Mary participates in these three offices.

McGregor identifies some relevant difficulties and ambiguities in the magisterial source texts Lumen Gentium and the Catechism, and he then goes on to survey what these church documents have to say concerning the notion that disciples of Christ are also prophets, priests and kings. He establishes that priesthood is the primary one of the three roles with respect to Christ, and it is therefore also the primary role which Christ’s disciples participate in. From this, McGregor argues that the offices of prophet and king are subordinate (or subsequent) to the office of priest.

McGregor goes on to discuss how Mary is also anointed, in a similar way to Christ himself.1 He points to Mary’s immaculate conception as the moment when she was anointed by the Holy Spirit. Immediately following this, McGregor discusses with scriptural examples how Mary is a Prophet, Priest and King. In a footnote he makes it clear that he is truly speaking here of Mary as a king, not a queen, as the latter title carries all sorts of deep traditional and theological connotations which he does not want to evoke. McGregor devotes the rest of the paper to examining some episodes in Mary’s life as case studies of Mary as priest, prophet and king: The Annunciation, The Visitation, The “Pondering” of Mary in Her Heart, and the Wedding at Cana.

Comment

I found the most interesting and radical part of this paper to be McGregor’s meditations under the heading “The “Pondering” of Mary in Her Heart.” Due to the influence of secularism, atheism and materialism on our culture and education, I have often understood the mind and intellect to be nothing more than the brain, and in a similar way I have often understood the heart to simply be “that which pumps blood around the body.” Whereas in this paper, McGregor succinctly and powerfully explains the full theological force of the term “heart;” he theologically defines it to be far more than the physiological blood pump located in a persons torso:

As the affective center of the human person it is the locus of the passions. As the intellectual center of the human person it is the locus of thought, understanding, doubt and questioning, deception and belief. As the volitional center of the human person it is the locus of intention and decision. The heart is also the locus of imagination and memory. As the moral center of the human person it is the locus of virtue, including theological virtue. It is the locus of conscience. It is the locus of that holiness which is normally called singleness or purity of heart. It is the locus of relation with other human persons. According to Sacred Scripture, the heart thinks, chooses, feels, imagines, and remembers. If it does all these things it cannot simply be any one of these things, but must be the union of all these things.2

Such a rich description of the heart is compelling, and a powerful antidote to any materialistic leanings. How could a simple blood pump also be responsible for all of these important theological functions? McGregor also quotes Ratzinger on this theme:

The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough. In order for man to become capable of perceiving God, the energies of his existence have to work in harmony. His will must be pure and so too must the underlying affective dimension of his soul, which gives intelligence and will their direction. Speaking of the heart in this way means precisely that man’s perceptive powers play in concert, which also requires the proper interplay of body and soul, since this is essential for the totality of the creature we call “man.” Man’s fundamental affective disposition actually depends on just this unity of body and soul and on man’s acceptance of being both body and spirit. This means he places the body under the discipline of the spirit, yet does not isolate intellect or will. Rather, he accepts himself as coming from God, and thereby also acknowledges and lives out the bodiliness of his existence as an enrichment for the spirit. The heart—the wholeness of man—must be pure, interiorly open and free, in order for man to be able to see God.3

One part of this which jumps out at me is “The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough.” This would be an interesting area for further research, seeing as the western tradition (particularly in Aquinas) seems to place lots of emphasis on the intellectual beatific vision of God. It would be curious to mine the Christian traditions both east and west in order to examine the relative emphases on the heart and the mind in different quarters of the Christian world. As one example, the eastern saint Isaac of Nineveh (who was a member of the far eastern Syriac church) has this to say:

And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart burning for the sake of all creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and every created thing; and by the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears. By the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and by his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in his heart in the likeness of God.4

Personally, I find the idea of Mary as Priest, Prophet and King to be quite strange, even if – as the paper demonstrates – it is a valid way of thinking. I would tend to prefer to emphasise Mary’s distinct roles and feminine offices, rather than try and shoehorn her character into the more masculine offices and roles of Christ. Irenaeus’s developed theory of recapitulation is helpful here, as it emphasises the distinct ways that Adam and Eve each contributed to original sin, and the correspondingly distinct ways that Jesus and Mary contribute to the salvation on human kind. Both Mary and Christ participate in salvation and recapitulation, but in their own distinct ways;5 Mary recapitulates through her life of virginal motherhood,6 whereas Christ recapitulates through his life of sinless priesthood. This observation is relevant to the “female priests” debate; arguably, women ontologically cannot be priests in an analogous way to how it is ontologically impossible for men to be mothers. Arguably, the analogue of Christian priesthood for men is Christian motherhood for women. Understood in this way, the sacrament of marriage could be understood as a sort of “female ordination,” where the bride is “ordained” to the “Holy order” of motherhood.7 In this sense, Christian men are called to participate in the priesthood, prophet-hood and kingship of Christ, while Christian women are called to participate in the purity and motherhood of Mary.8

Conclusion

I don’t actually dispute or disagree with any of the ideas McGregor puts forward in his paper, but I just find the question of “How is Mary a priest, prophet and king?” to itself be somewhat of an “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” enquiry. I propose that it is far more important to focus on Mary’s virginity, motherhood and her being a faithful spouse to Saint Joseph. While it is true that all members of the Church participate in Christ and his mission (McGregors article is a good demonstration of this point), I propose that it is more appropriate for female members of the church to take Mary as their role model, while male members of the church should instead look to emulate Christ. Just as Mary and Christ had different and distinct roles in the story of humankind’s salvation and recapitulation, so too Christian men and women have different roles to play in the mission of the church. Mary – and Christian women in general – do indeed participate in Christ’s priesthood, prophet-hood and kingship; however I think it is more important to focus on Mary’s unique role and her feminine offices (Mother, Virgin, Wife, etc), rather than trying to shoehorn her into the masculine offices (Prophet, Priest, King) of Christ.

1Recall that the title “Christ” literally means “anointed one”

2McGregor, in Mariology at the Beginning of the Third Millennium, page 177.

3Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism, 92–93.

4St Isaac of Ninevah, Ascetical Homily 71

5Recall the Marian titles “Co-redemptrix” and “Mediatrix of all graces”

6Cf 1 Timothy 2:15

7In saying this, I am assuming the theology of marriage which holds that marriage, sexual consummation and children are all three sides of the same coin.

8This idea is not developed here, but tentatively outlined. I would like to do further research on this theme one day.

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