Was Mary as pious as she looks in most statues?

If you think about any statue of a famous person, like a president or general in a park, you know that these statues are usually designed to celebrate the most admirable qualities of that person. You rarely see statues of George Washington looking confused or doubtful, for example; instead, most sculptors make him look confident and commanding, even though we know that he, like anyone, must have had his moments of weakness. Similarly, statues of Mary highlight what the Church has long admired about her: her total willingness to do the work of God and to make herself an instrument of God’s grace to others. That’s why so many images of her show her in an attitude of pious humility, a posture that is meant to indicate that she let herself be the handmaid of the Lord, and was willing to follow the will of God (Luke 1:38).

Did Mary have her moments of confusion, doubt, frustration, sorrow? Absolutely. Though the Church teaches that she was conceived without original sin and stayed sinless her whole life, those feelings themselves are not sins. Mary certainly had to face plenty of confusing and frightening experiences (having to give birth on the road, fleeing to Egypt, losing Jesus in the temple) that must have made her look anything but calm. And certainly, not all statues show Mary looking piously serene — just Google images of Our Lady of Sorrows or the Pietà to see images of Mary racked with grief at the death of her son.

But even though Mary was not always as serene as she looks in those traditional blue-and-white statues, they do highlight and celebrate one of her most salient qualities: the willingness to humbly put her own plans aside and to go with God’s plans instead. She did this at the Annunciation, in which she agreed to become the Mother of the Savior, and she continued to do so as her son was born and raised. That’s a quality that is worth admiring and celebrating.