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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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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