Mary - Mother of the Church
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". . . the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin . . . and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you! . . . Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor wit God. And behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus . . .' And Mary said, 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her" (Lk 1:26-28, 30-31, 38).
These words from St. Luke describe the Annunciation and mark the first reference in the Gospels to Mary, the mother of Our Lord. It is appropriate that we should first see her in this scene, since our salvation depends in a great way on this event. Mary was not forced to become the Mother of God. God announced to her through his messenger Gabriel that she had been chosen for this role. Yet his choice required her consent. This consent is beautifully and simply given by Our Lady in her words, "Let it be done to me according to your word."
At the moment of Mary's fiat (the Latin word for "let it be done") the "Word became flesh". In other words, the Son of God was conceived in her womb. Mary feely accepted God's will for her and gave life to the Son of God so that we might share in his divine life. Thus, our very salvation depended upon Mary's obedience to the will of God.
The New Eve
Mary's importance for our redemption is reflected in the title frequently given to her by the Fathers of the Church - the "new Eve". Christ has been called the "new Adam", because by his death he undid the harm done by Adam, the first man. So, too, we can speak of Mary and compare her to Eve. "Eve" means "The mother of all the living". Eve helped bring sin into the world by tempting Adam. Mary, however, helped to bring salvation from sin by listening to and accepting the invitation of God and then becoming the Mother of God. Eve brought death into the world, but Mary brought life - eternal life through Christ. Mary's faith and obedience to God's will correct Eve's pride and disobedience of God's command. Mary, by submitting herself perfectly to God's will, returned to mankind what had been lost to us through original sin.
Mary, Our Mother
As Eve was the physical mother of the human race, Mary is our spiritual Mother. While hanging on the Cross, Our Lord spoke to Mary and the apostle John. He said to Mary, "Woman, behold your son!" And then he turned to John and said, "Behold, your Mother!" (Jn 19:26-27). These words were meant not only for Our Lady and St. John, but for all of Jesus' followers. Jesus gave his own Mother to all of us. When Jesus said he would not leave us orphans, he also meant to leave us his Mother. Her care for us is evident in many ways. We call Mary "Our Blessed Mother". Like any mother, Mary has a special love for every one of her children. She leads us into her Son's presence. She watches over each and shares in each one's joys and so In turning to Mary, as we would to our own mother on earth, we draw closer to God.
In addition to being a spiritual Mother to each of us as individuals, Mary is also the Mother of the whole Church. As Mary was the Mother of Christ's physical body, she is also the Mother of his Mystical Body - the Church - of which we are members through our Baptism.
Mary's role in our redemption goes beyond giving birth to Christ. Her cooperation in God's will began at the Annunciation and continued to the foot of the Cross. There, Mary willingly accepted the death of her Son and joined with him in that suffering. The graces that Christ won for us come to us through Mary. It is for this reason that we can say, "to Jesus, through Mary".
Privileges Given to Mary
Because Mary was chosen by God to be the Mother of his divine Son, he gave to her several privileges. Three of these are (1) freedom from original sin, (2) complete and perpetual virginity, and (3) freedom from having body and soul separated until the end of the world.
Free from Original Sin
We know that all human beings have inherited original sin from our first parents, Adam and Eve. When they sinned, they lost for themselves - us - the great gift of sanctifying grace, God's life in our souls. While we are not personally responsible for original sin, we bear the effects - especially being weak and easily tempted to sin.
Because God wished Mary to be worthy to become the Mother of God, she was created free from all sin. God prepared Mary so that she would be worthy to carry the Son of God in her womb. In the same way, the ark of the Covenant was built in the Old Testament to be a fitting receptacle for ten Word of God. God instructed the people through Moses, that the ark should be built of a rare wood and elaborately decorated with gold. In this way it would be an appropriate symbol of God's presence. How much more fitting was it, then, that God should prepare Mary, who would contain the Word of God himself, not just a symbol of God's presence. Mary is, then, the "new Ark of the Covenant".
Besides Our Lord, Mary is the only human being created without original sin. As the poet Wordsworth so beautifully put it, she is "our tainted nature's solitary boast". From the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, Mary was filled with divine life. Because she was without original sin, she was free from our weakness and inclination to sin. She truly was, as the archangel Gabriel said, "full of grace". This great privilege is called the Immaculate Conception.
This doctrine has been taught by the Church but was not formally defined until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX. This was an occasion when papal infallibility was invoked. Our Lady herself confirmed this doctrine four years later. When she appeared to St. Bernadette in the grotto at Lourdes, she identified herself by this title. When asked who she was, Mary replied, "I am the Immaculate Conception."
The feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8, has become a Holy Day of Obligation since the doctrine was defined. This feast is particularly important for Catholics in the United States, for it is under this title that Mary was declared patroness of our country.
A second great privilege given to Mary was that of perpetual virginity. This doctrine means that Mary was always a virgin: before the conception and birth of Christ, during the birth and after the birth of Christ.
While Our Blessed Mother is mentioned only a few times in the Gospels, her virginity is explicitly mentioned by both St. Luke and St. Matthew. In St. Luke's Gospel, Mary tells the angel that she is a virgin and has promised God to remain one. The angel confirms this. In St. Matthew's Gospel, Joseph confirms that the fact that he is not the father of the Child in her womb. They are both told that the Child is conceived of the Holy Spirit.
And Mary said to the angle, "How can this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:34-35).
When his Mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; . . . an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, ". . . that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit . . ." (Mt 1:18-20).
Mary's virginity is given further testimony in the creeds. In the Apostles' Creed, we proclaim our belief in Jesus Christ, who "was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. . . " Similar statements are found in the Nicene Creed, as well as in many other prayers. This doctrine was formally defined at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D.
Assumption into Heaven
The third great privilege of Our Lady that we will discuss here is the doctrine of the Assumption. The Assumption means that Mary was taken, at the end of her earthly life, body and soul to Heaven. As in the case of her Immaculate Conception, she was unlike all other human beings in this respect. When we die, we know that our soul is separated from our body, and so we are not complete. We must wait until the end of the world for God to restore our bodies, in a glorified state, to us. This is one of the consequences that we bear because of original sin, it is fitting that God chose to spare the Mother of his Son this consequence of it.
Like the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, this doctrine has been part of the Church's belief from the beginning. Since about the fifth century, the Eastern rites of the Church have celebrated the feast of the Assumption on August 15. However, it was not until 1950 that this doctrine was formally defined. ember 1 of that year, Pope Pius XII infallibly defined this doctrine. The feast of the Assumption, celebrated on August 15, is now a Holy Day of Obligation.
Mary in Our Lives
"Mary has by grace been exalted above all the angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most holy Mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ; she is rightly honored by a special cult in the Church" (LG, 66).
In the Litany of Loreto we proclaim Mary as the Queen of angels and the Queen of saints. She has been exalted by God above all other creatures and now holds a place second to her Son, Christ, the King. Why should Mary be placed above even the angles? She has earned this honor because of her role in our salvation and her fullness of grace since the beginning of her life.
Because of Mary's place at the right hand of her Son, she should receive the proper veneration from us. We do not adore Our Lady, since adoration, or worship, is reserved for God alone. Rather, we venerate her above all other creatures because of her special place in our salvation. We believe that she is "full of grace" and as such is "blessed among women". Because of her place, it is fitting, as she herself proclaimed, that "all generations will call [her] blessed" (Lk 1:48).
In honoring Mary we also recognize that she is, as St. Pius X wrote, "our sure way to Christ". As our Mother, Mary intercedes in Heaven for us, as she did for others when she was on earth. Recall the story of Our Lord's first public miracle. Jesus and his disciples, together with Mary, were at a wedding in Cana. The host ran out of wine, and Mary turned to her Son, asking him to do something about it. And, as we know, Jesus granted her request; he would not refuse his Mother.
This episode teaches us an important lesson. Mary will continue to intercede with Jesus for her children. And Jesus, as he did at Cana, will listen to her pleas for us. Let us remember, the, to turn to Mary in prayer, asking her to give us through her Son the graces we need:
"O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us, who have recourse to thee."
"Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. " (Lk 1:48)
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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