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Our readers asked:

Is the song “Mary, Did You Know?” against the teaching of the Catholic Church?

Ginny Kubitz Moyer Answers:

The lyrics of “Mary, Did You Know?”, a popular Christmas carol, were written by Protestant songwriter Mark Lowry. It’s a beautiful song that wonders whether Mary knew in advance about the way that her son’s life would unfold. The only part that could possibly be construed as “un-Catholic” is the verse that asks Mary:

“Did you know that your baby boy/Has come to make you new?/The Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”

Catholics, of course, believe in the Immaculate Conception – that Mary was conceived without sin and remained sinless her entire life. In light of that, some might look at the above verse and think that it goes against Catholic teaching. After all, if Mary is sinless, she wouldn’t need her son’s deliverance, right?

Well, not exactly. The Church still believes that Mary’s sinlessness is the result of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice; in her case, though, her deliverance from sin happened before anyone else’s, and in a very unique way ( at the moment of her conception). The Catechism explains it thus: “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.” (CCC 411) Seen in this light, the lyric is consistent with Catholic teaching.

In a way, the part of the song that most appears to challenge Catholic teaching is the word “soon,” as in, “Will soon deliver you.” If Mary was sinless at the moment of her conception, then she has already been delivered, right? Again, there is another way to interpret the lyrics. Mary was sinless, but she, just like all of the rest of us, was dependent on Christ’s redemption to bring her to eternal life. If the song is describing a time before Christ’s death, then yes, it is correct to say that he will “soon” deliver her into heaven.

Bottom line: Don’t worry about the song’s theology. Enjoy its haunting melody and its intimate look at Mary, who “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

The Author : Ginny Kubitz Moyer
Ginny Kubitz Moyer is the author of the award-winning book Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area and blogs at randomactsofmomness.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Chris

    This song should not be played during Mass as the theology can be misconstrued. The devil simply needs a small opening to work his way in.

  • Redeemed

    Absolutely not true. The Bible makes it clear that ALL have sinned. Mary was not excluded from this ALL, regardless of what the Church may claim. There is NO bible-base evidence of her “sinless” life.

    • Chris

      There is also no mention in the Bible that reads one must have a “personal relationship with Jesus” however, it is still acknowledged that we must have a relationship with Him. Just because something isn’t “in the Bible” does not mean that it doesn’t hold water.

      Do you honestly believe that God would allow Himself to be brought to life on Earth through a sin-stained vessel? Of course not, and this is why He had the forethought to create Mary in her mother’s womb immaculate.

  • David Austin

    Forget whether she needed his grace (of course she did), the bigger issue with this song is the absurd implication that she didn’t know who the father was. Hello, can you suggest that of any woman without getting slapped? And this is Mary, the holiest woman who ever lived, the mother of the Son of God. I know Lowry didn’t intend this implication, but there it is none the less and the implication is horrible beyond belief. Let’s just face that very plain and obvious fact and be done with the thing. If you must sing it, change the words for heaven’s sake to something less offensive. Of course she pondered what the angel told her, and of course she didn’t immediately look in the temple to see whether he was about his literal father’s purpose when he was lost. This doesn’t mean that she disbelieved the angel and thought His father might have been Joseph or someone else. Let us not forget who she was. Preserve that honor, and shun this song in it’s current form.

  • Kabeer Das

    “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.”

    Where’s all that from? Some Hadith sort of stuff OR you guys made it up?

  • Paul Nienaber SJ

    Isn’t this one of those, “how could one ever know…” issues? When the contemplation is at a certain level (say, in an imagined colloquy with Mary, discovering the affective part of her — and therefore our — life with Jesus), it’s helpful and prayerful. The metaphor can, though, easily be crushed under the weight of unanswerable speculation — “what were you REALLY thinking, Mary?” is ultimately impossible to answer definitively.

  • Mark53034@yahoo.com

    I love the tune. It is very haunting…..but I do have the inward need to answer ‘yes’ everytime it asks if Mary knew. She certainly ‘knew’. Not only did a heavenly angel (Gabriel) appear to her–which would have shocked the living daylights out of most anyone–but her cousin also stated, upon Mary’s arrival, and referred to her as ‘the mother of my Lord”. If Elizabeth ‘knew’ (by the prompting of the Holy Spirit) then Mary certainly did. And Simeon’s prophecy, at his presentation, only confirmed what Mary said in her fiat. I want to shout ‘yes!’. She knew enough to answer ‘yes’, to God, didn’t she? I mean, she wouldn’t have doubted God, to have given a definite response. She is portrayed, in Protestantism, as a clueless vessel….but she was so much more. She was indeed a humble handmaid–but she was also hand-selected for her role, and even ‘more’ precious than the Ark of the Old Covenant, which held the Word of God in stone tablets. The Ark was precious. How much MORE precious and special is the Ark of the New Covenant?

    • laura

      But…she was confused when Jesus was lost for three days. She and Joseph were searching and searching for him and asked why he had done that. This shows to me that perhaps Mary didn’t “know” everything. But, we know that she accepted things as they were and pondered them in her heart. She was never separated from the will of God.

      • David Austin

        It means he was a child, and grew up as a child, and that she saw him as every mother sees their child: a child … not a rabbi (in fact he would normally be required to reach the age of 30 before he did was he did in the temple that day). In fact, she knew enough who his real father was that he told her “know not that I should be about my father’s business?” She knew who he was talking about or he would not have said it that way. She knew … so to answer the song: You bet she knew! She knew.

  • Anders

    Mark Lowry is not Catholic, so he probably does not believe in the immaculate conception. He most likely belives that Mary, like everyone else, was born into sin and that she can only be saved by the acceptance of Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. In this context, I doubt he wrote this song to apply to the immaculate conception.

    • David Austin

      No, believe me, this song is very offensive to many non-catholic christians like myself. You don’t have to be catholic to believe Mary was the most chosen and pure and holy of all women born to this earth. And that has nothing to do with her being immaculate … “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. It has to do with her knowing what the Angel Gabriel said to her, and the fact that she had been with no man – so of course SHE KNEW who he was and what he would do. Lowry, like many song writers, christian or otherwise, did not fully think through the implications of the words that he was writing when he penned those lyrics. Song writers are not theologians, and are far from being authorities on doctrine. They are artists and sometimes the art gets a little wacko when the artist presumes everything they write is right. It isn’t.

      • Redeemed

        Where is your Bible proof that Mary knew what Christ would do, other than what she had been told by the Angel? Yes, she knew she was birthing the “savior of the world,” and she no doubt knew that he was God incarnate. Beyond that, she hadn’t a clue that he would be healing the sick, the lame and the blind. If you think otherwise, please provide book, chapter and verse. Thanks.

      • Fr. William Lugger

        Mary had to experience the Passion death and Resurrection of Jesus before she could completely understand who Jesus is was and always will be

      • PGMGN

        …and yet the very question, “Mary did you know?” begs a Catholic response. The answer is yes, Father. She knew the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus would occur…by way of Faith.

        Think of the wedding at Cana. Did Our Lady know Jesus would be able to provide wine? Yes. Did she know exactly how? Perhaps. But she knew very well that what she indicated would be accomplished.

        This emphasis on personal experience being necessary is highly misleading.

    • Redeemed

      Protestants, which Lowry is, DO believe in the virgin birth of Christ. There is NO scriptural basis to support the Church’s claim of her “immaculate conception.” Mary was a sinner like ALL of mankind (“For ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of Christ,” says scripture.)

  • Ginny

    Hi Ann — Thank you for the gentle reminder. Yes, Buddy Greene wrote a gorgeous melody and definitely deserves a shout-out here. Peace!

  • Ann Campbell

    Hi Ginny,
    Thank you for writing about this song. Please note that the song was written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene. While Mark wrote the lyrics, and Buddy wrote the music, a song should always be credited to both the lyricist and the composer. I also felt it was worth commenting on since you mentioned the melody in your closing statement.
    Thanks again for your thoughts,
    ~Ann Campbell

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