I have always been interested in the significance of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic faith. The figure of Mary seems to be key to the faith but I have never understood exactly why. As mentioned by Professor Anderson in class, there exists among many people a misconception concerning the significance of Mary to the faith. Many believe that Catholics worship Mary, misplacing a reverence due God and Jesus. I can identify with this because as a person looking in from the outside, it sometimes appears that Mary is placed on a pedestal and worshipped in a way. I think that some Catholics even pray to her (not sure about this though). Because I have never attended Catholic mass or done much extensive research on the Catholic faith, I have drawn all conclusions from experience and observation, which can often lead to misunderstandings. While visiting some very beautiful Catholic cathedrals in various parts of Spain, for example, I noticed some consistencies in the decoration and adornment of the cathedrals. In many of them, the figure of the Virgin Mary was more prominent than that of Jesus. Whether depicted in a painting or a carving or statue, it was obvious that, for the architects and church leaders of the day, Mary deserved a central position in the cathedral. There was always a figure of Jesus as well, but often placed in a more obscure section of the front panel, and many times the figure of Jesus was much smaller and less ornate than Mary’s. Why is this? Jesus is the Son of God and He is divine. Mary is the mother of Christ, but she is still only human. So, why is she placed in such a central position?
I understand that Mary led a holy life and served God, but is she more important than Jesus? Although I still don’t understand her exact degree of importance, I don’t believe that Catholics would place her above Jesus. Professor Anderson briefly addressed the significance of the figure of Mary in class. He explained that Mary is a complicated figure and that the common assumption that Catholics worship her is false. She is an example of chastity and purity and we should view her life as an example. Professor Anderson also said that Mary is an example of how to see Jesus. I found this particularly interesting because it is easier to try to imitate the life of a human woman than to try to imitate the life of Jesus, who was completely sinless. I am still wrestling with my understanding of the importance of Mary and how she fits in the big picture because I think a clearer understanding of the role of the Virgin Mary will enhance my understanding of the poem. Dante must have viewed her as an important figure because stories of her life are a recurring theme throughout the Purgatorio.