Re-post from last December
I read an article [last year] by a Catholic apologist who slammed the song, Mary Did You Know?, for what he considered a rejection of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the line: “…this child that you delivered will soon deliver you.” As I love that song, and find its lyrics theologically rich among so many impoverished Christmas songs, I was moved to respond to his argument. Here’s what I wrote him (edited some for this context, in purple):
I just wanted to comment briefly on your article that offers a critique of Mary Did You Know? I write with all due respect…
While I certainly agree with you that the song was likely written with a Protestant understanding of soteriology [theology of salvation] vis-a-vis Mary, in view of trying to honor the good that this song has done for so many people it seems that trying to re-interpret the song’s lyrics in a Catholic way is a more helpful approach. Using it as a catechetical moment and not simply as an easy apologetics slam dunk. I’d say:
“Mary did need a Savior, as her Magnificat says so beautifully sings (Luke 1:47), and as Pius IX said clearly in his proclamation of the dogma in 1854: “[the Virgin Mary,] in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin…” In other words, preservation is itself a redemptive act of God. As Catholics we confess that the saving act of Jesus on the Cross and in the Resurrection redeemed Mary preveniently, preventing sin from defining her being from the very beginning. She is not the Great Exception to salvation, an anomalous human being without sin, but she is the Great Exemplar, as God saved her from the taint of sin out of the superabundance of saving grace wrought by her as-yet unconceived Son. But again, Mary is not just some freakish time-warp in God’s action, but the preeminent sign of God’s saving economy that places the death and resurrection at the re-creating center of all history.
How wonderfully does the song, Mary Did You Know?, place before us the paradoxical beauty and mystery of the time-bending Providence of the eternal God that has made Christ’s paschal mystery the saving fountain that flows back into history and forward to the end of time. Mary was indeed delivered by her Son’s death, in a supremely radical and singular way. And she, as New Eve at the dawn of the New Creation, was radically saved in a proto baptism. So she is a sign that we, too, are called to be saved to the roots of our being, i.e. to be made holy and immaculate.
So yes: the child Mary delivered and held in her arms would soon, in time, save her. And this thought really dazzles my mind: she was permitted to witness with knowledge the very events that would make her who she was. Her Son was truly “God my Savior” (Luke 1:47) to her. He was the one who gave her the name that she joyfully spoke to St. Bernadette at Lourdes: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Not “I was immaculately conceived,” because she is who he made her: the immaculate image of the Great I AM, pure and simple (Col. 1:22). Wow […leaving rest out]
I have found over the years in my catechetical work in explaining the song in this way that people find it even more powerful, and are able to see better the difference between Catholics and non-Catholics in a more positive way, i.e. that Catholics and Protestants have a common understanding of Jesus’ universal work of salvation that applies to all humanity, Mary included. Yes, we have a different application of that understanding, but we must be clear that we all confess, with Mary, that God is her Savior. How good that this song’s text allows us to taste of the many sweet paradoxes that animate and enflame our mind-bending faith!