This image, "Immaculate Conception" by Velazquez, is a powerful one for me.
I have in recent months become much interested in questions about the Virgin Mary's place in the faith of the Church. I have no problem honoring St Mary more highly than any other saint described in Holy Scripture on account of her "fiat" in response to the archangel's message that she would bear the Savior. Likewise, I have no problem with the council of Ephesus' confirmation of her title as "Theotokos," God-bearer--it is, after all, a Christological affirmation in essence. I am even comfortable with asking the Blessed Virgin to pray for me. It seems a reasonable inference from the existence of the "communion of saints" that we can ask the saints who have already left this earthly life to pray for us, just as we can ask those who are still here with us to do so. Thus I can pray a "Hail Mary" without serious theological qualms. (Though I sometimes get the feeling that this prayer might be based upon the questionable idea that the Lord Jesus will listen to his Mother when he wouldn't listen to me if I petitioned him directly.)
But there is much in the Marian teaching of the Roman Catholic church that I am puzzled by. Both the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption make me uncomfortable, due to their very weak (or non-existent) Scriptural foundations and lack of early attestation. I am also a bit troubled by the very exalted nature of some eastern liturgical hymns to Mary, which seem to encroach upon the divine perogative at times IMHO. Still, I am eager to learn and arrive at better-informed opinions on these questions. I would very much appreciate reading recommendations from any reader of this blog for well-informed and well-reasoned treatments of Mariology, especially those from a "high church" Anglican perspective. Thanks much in advance.