Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mary, Did You Know?


 Perhaps I'm the wrong person to be weighing in on this, because I simply don't like the song very much, but I was pleased by Jake Tawney's line-by-line analysis of the pop worship anthem "Mary, Did You Know?" at Roma Locuta Est.
The Charge Mary, a faithful Jewish girl, was guilty of ignorance regarding the facts about the coming Messiah… her own Son, Jesus the Christ.
The Prosecution Your Honor, I call Mary to the stand.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary Yes, I did. The Old Testament foretold that “He alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the crests of the sea.” (Job 9:8)
The Prosecution Did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Mary Yes, I did. The Lord told our prophets, “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; With divine recompense He comes to save you.” (Is 35:4)
The Prosecution Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new… that this child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you?
Mary Yes I did. The angel Gabriel greeted me saying, “Hail, full of grace (kecharitomene – Lk 1:28),” so I knew I’d already been delivered, actually. I then told my cousin Elizabeth that, “My spirit rejoices in God, my savior.” (Lk 1:47)
It's a Protestant song, and so it's no surprise that it reflects an incomplete Marian understanding, but it does seem a bit twee to suggest that Mary might have been surprised by the divine origin of her son, considering the circumstances of His conception. ("How can this be, since I do not know man?")

(Darwin was recalling last night how in his Confirmation program, the teachers were very fond of the "They Didn't Know!" school of theological speculation. "What would Jesus think if he could have seen 2000 years into the future? He didn't know there would be this huge church!"

"Well, yes he did," the teenaged Darwin replied. "I mean, he is God."

There was silence. "Yes, but did he really know?" insisted the teacher.)

Melanie Bettinelli feels that Jake is taking things too seriously, though, and comes through with an interesting defense of the song.
The rhetorical questions don't really imply that Mary didn't know the answers. Sure, on a literal level they are directed to Mary; but I think the listener isn't so much meant to linger on the state of Mary's knowledge so much as be drawn toward contemplation of the mystery of Incarnation. It reminds me of the list of rhetorical questions in Pink Floyd's "Mother". The "mother" character isn't really the point of the song, we're not meant to think about who the mother is or what she will think or how she will answer; she's just a rhetorical device. 
The song moves the listener away from the iconic scene of the Mother and child in the stable and toward the rest of the Gospel story. In a post-Christian culture where most people never move beyond the Christmas card picture to think about Who that little baby is, this song tries to get them to do that. 
I don't think the song needs rebuttal because it isn't really making the claims you say it's making about Mary. The one detail that I agree is off is the line about "the child you've delivered would soon deliver you" and yet I can forgive the bad theology. First, because it's a pop song and not a hymn. Second, because the focus of the line is a play on the word "deliver" not on the "soon". And last but not least, Christ's sacrifice on the cross did happen in time, a specific moment that fell after the moment of Mary's conception, obviously. The grace of that act saved Mary outside of time. I think it is well within the bounds of poetic license to juxtapose the moments and is a bit tendentious to impose rigorous theological language and categories upon a song.
I don't think there can be any conflict, however, that this is not an appropriate song to play at Mass (and yes, I've heard it there), because it is not at all "tendentious to impose rigorous theological language" upon the words sung during the liturgy, especially when they conflict with a Catholic understanding of basic doctrines of the faith.

10 comments:

Chris Burgwald said...

For the record, it's worth noting that while we often presume that Mary knew that her son was God Himself, that needn't be the case: the virginal conception does not conceptually require that it was God Himself who would come to be in Mary's womb. Mary's son *could* have simply been the great-but-only-human Messiah that the Jewish people were waiting for. Even the words which Gabriel spoke to Mary could've been understood by her that way: the titles he used had been applied to OT kings.

Certainly at some point Mary came to recognize the divinity of her Son, but it wasn't necessarily immediately at the Annunciation.

bearing said...

I think the whole "did Mary know?" or "did Jesus know?" speculation only seems twee.

The question of how much did either of them know is a very interesting theological question which has been grappled with by many great minds. God is omnipotent and omniscient; man is by nature limited in power and knowledge; so how is it that Jesus is both fully God and fully man? It is a mystery so there is no wonder that people "wonder" about it.

I think what is giving you trouble is that people are not using this apparent paradox as a jumping off point to dive into the theological depths of reasoning, or even to investigate further by asking "what have scholars said about this?", but merely to toss off a badly-thought-out statement or two in song form without pausing to think through the implications of their solution. It's been done before.

Christina said...

grr...I think I killed my comment.

This song doesn't give an answer to the questions, but instead gives the opportunity to meditate on Mary's contemplation of her Son. Perhaps she did know all the answers, but perhaps she didn't (she isn't God after all). But either way, to meditate on Mary's understanding of her Son is exactly what we are called to do in the Rosary.

I find it amusing that when most protestants would never touch a rosary due to misunderstand, yet they will still enter into that contemplation through this song. It's like Mary is giving her children who, through no fault of their own, would avoid a devotion to her a way back to her (and through her to her Son).

Brandon said...

I'm pretty much in agreement with Melanie here. I would go even farther and deny that the line "the child you've delivered would soon deliver you" is particularly bad theology; it admits of a reading that is perfectly orthodox, as Melanie sort-of gestures at, and the problem is merely that it also admits of an unorthodox reading. It's ambiguous phrasing, not bad theology; and if we're going to throw out songs that have lines that can also be read in unorthodox ways, we are going to be getting rid of a lot. Even the Church Fathers, doing their very best to be precise, found it difficult to say things that couldn't be taken in a heterodox way.

The increasing Protestant interest in Mary has become quite notable; there was a time when this song, or Amy Grant's "Breath of Heaven," would have been considered way too Romish to be sung at all.

MrsDarwin said...

Oof, you all have very thoughtful answers to an essentially snarky post. Now I'm nervous about telling you all what I thought when I heard the song "I'll Be Spending Christmas With Jesus Christ This Year" on the radio the other day.

Melanie B said...

Mrs D, I would definitely have a different reaction to this song had I first heard it at Mass or even, as a commenter at Roma Locuta Est claimed, as part of a ceremony of carols before midnight Mass. Definitely not ok for liturgical use. I liked it well enough as a pop song when I heard it on a cd of blatantly protestant music inspired by the Passion of the Christ. Though I'll be the first to admit it's a matter of taste, I suspect context and first impressions has a lot to do with that taste. I was surprised to find something so very Marian coming from non-Catholics.

I can be pretty snarky about bad music at Mass, though.

bearing said...

"I was surprised to find something so very Marian coming from non-Catholics."

Well, it's "the Christmas season," when it's suddenly okay to have a statue of Mary on your mantel. As long as those three wise men are there to keep her in line.

MrsDarwin said...

Melanie, I've heard it as pre-midnight Mass music several years in a row at our old parish, and Jake Tawney (who lives a few blocks from me) tells me that it's also a standard here. Humph. I first heard it at least fifteen years ago, before it was covered by everyone - that's why I picked a video with Mark Lowry singing it, because it's his song.

Is this song really a proof of a newfound Protestant interest in things Marian? If anyone can find evidence of "Mary, Did You Know" leading a non-Catholic to true devotion to Mary, I'll not only retract most of my quibbles with the song, I'll record it myself and post it for all to hear. Mind you, it has to be convincing evidence.

Foxfier said...

Now I'm nervous about telling you all what I thought when I heard the song "I'll Be Spending Christmas With Jesus Christ This Year" on the radio the other day.

Is that the one where a poor little boy dies in a photo-Santa's arms?

Jeff Miller said...

By the way the source of the line-by-line analysis is by Mark M of "A Dei in A life" - as stated in the post you linked to.