I was in Montreal, Quebec recently with my husband, just for fun, just to see it. I love traveling, but don’t particularly care for being a tourist. What happens, then, is a whole lot of wandering, getting lost, looking at buildings, and generally marveling at how lovely/wonderful/hectic/serene it would be to live in such a place. I should have studied a bit of French before going as everything is in French, with English subtitles.

The first day it rained. The second day was incredibly windy, but fully bathed in sunlight, which made ducking into cathedrals and church buildings that much more wondrous as the daylight illuminated every hue and variation in the stained glass windows. The third day we started out at St. Joseph’s Oratory, located on the southwest side of Mont Royal. Constructed largely during the first part of the 20th century, it is truly remarkable in its modern aesthetic. Wending up the hill alongside the dome is a garden with the stations of the cross. The statues reminded me a bit of socialist art both in scale and scoured simplicity. Each station was nestled back off the path, some a short ways, others were recessed more, and still others, like the Pieta, were tucked into the landscaping. Usually, this station is referred to as “Jesus is taken down from the cross” or the Lamentation. However, here is an intimate moment between Mary and her son, the crucified Jesus.

Montreal was originally called “City of Mary” (Ville-Marie), and it was amazing to see her everywhere. One of the grand cathedrals downtown is called Mary, Queen of the World, and it is majestic. While I am awed at depictions of Mary in art, having been raised mainline Protestant, I never quite know what to do with her. Yet I’ve seen her included in contemporary theologies even if merely to debate her significance and the virgin birth of Jesus. Similarly, there seems to be an openness to considering her among the disciples in biblical studies, which is certainly better than removing her from the narrative altogether. Too often Protestant / Evangelical commentators focus on moments when Jesus turns away from family, placing an emphasis on the Christian virtue of forsaking all–even family–for Christ Jesus, to which I have to ask, what then of the commandment to honor father and mother? The image of Mary with Jesus crucified is powerful, and an essential corrective to our forsaking of Mary, mother of God.

Recently I read the Vatican II document on the church, the Lumen Gentium, which ends with some comments on how the church is to revere Mary. Just as she is the mother of Jesus, so is she also seen as a “type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.” The faithful are encouraged to meditate on and contemplate Mary in light of the Word made flesh (in her), and by so doing, enter into the mystery of the Incarnation. (Such a small excerpt doesn’t quite do the document justice, so I recommend reading it in context.) It got me thinking, in seminary we talk a lot about incarnational ministry and being missional communities, yet there is one aspect of the Incarnation which we consistently overlook: Mary, handmaid of the Lord God. Her response to the messenger truly is a model for us all; ‘God, I don’t know how You’ll make it so, but do as You will.’ Yes, one could argue that she didn’t have much of a choice, and that would be true as well. Of course she never imagined witnessing the gruesome death of her firstborn, but from the beginning she pondered the words of Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna in her heart. She must have been respected enough in the early church to have the words of the magnificat given to her in the gospel of Luke. Has she somehow fallen that we Protestants ignore her?

Perhaps it’s time for the Protestant side of the house to bring Mary back into the picture, and not just in the nativity scene.