Composed in the 1990s, the modern Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?” has swept both churches and radio airwaves, quickly becoming part of the annual Christmas music canon. (Watch Pentatonix perform it here.)

From what I can tell, two basic concerns come from Catholics.

First, there’s a concern the song falsely claims Mary did not know who Jesus was when the Bible says the angel Gabriel told her.

While she certainly knew who Jesus was, Mary was not omniscient and may not have known everything Jesus would do. In any case, one could interpret the song as less about what Mary knew and more as an expression of Mary “pondering all of these things in her heart.”

The second concern, however, is a more serious charge: Does the song deny the dogma of the Immaculate Conception?

Here’s the concerning lyric: “This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

“Will soon deliver you” says that Jesus will soon save Mary. According to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mary was conceived without original sin by God’s grace. So, the objection goes, Mary does not still need to be delivered by Christ at that point in time. Hence, the song denies the Immaculate Conception.

I believe this objection misunderstands the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Here is the dogmatic definition from Pope Pius IX’s 1854 encyclical Ineffabilis Deus:

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

The key line to note is that Mary is preserved from original sin in view of the future merits of Jesus Christ on the cross. In order words, when Jesus saved the world from sin on the cross, he also saved Mary, though she had already received its benefits.

The Protestant writers of the song certainly do not believe in the Immaculate Conception.

But given a proper understanding of the Immaculate Conception, I don’t see why the words of the song cannot be interpreted in a way fully consonant with Catholic teaching.

What do you think?

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