Mary, known as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Mary, Mary Mother of God and the Virgin Mary, is the greatest of all saints. The Virgin Mother “was, after her Son, exalted by divine grace above all angels and men.” St. Paul wrote that “God sent His Son, born of a woman,” to bring about the union of the human and the divine in Christ. As Christ possesses two natures, human and divine, Mary was the Mother of God in his human nature. This special role of Mary in salvation history is shown in the Gospel as she is seen constantly at her son’s side during his ministry on earth. Because of this role, shown by her “Yes” to Christ into her womb; her offering of him to God at the Temple; her urging him to perform his first miracle; and her standing at the foot of the Cross at Calvary, Mary was joined fully in the sacrifice by Christ of himself. Pope Benedict XV wrote in 1918: “To such an extent did Mary suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son; to such extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated him - insofar as she could in order to appease the justice of God, that we might rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ.” Mary possesses a unique relationship with all three Persons of the Trinity. She was chosen by God the Father to be the Mother of his Son; God the Holy Spirit chose her to be his spouse for the Incarnation of the Son; and God the Son chose her to be his mother, the way that God took flesh, into the world to redeem humanity. While she is not our Mother in the physical sense, she is a spiritual mother, for she conceives, gives birth, and nurtures the spiritual lives of grace for each person. As Mediatrix of All Graces, she is always present at the side of each person, giving nourishment and hope, from the moment of spiritual birth at Baptism to the moment of death. 

Mary is “mother” in three important senses: she is the Mother of Jesus; she is the Mother of the Church; and Mary is our mother. 

(I) Mary is the MOTHER OF JESUS 

Protestants, our separated brothers and sisters in Christ, are often horrified when we refer to Mary as the Mother, not only of Jesus, but of God. But their reaction is based on a misunderstanding of not only what this particular title of Mary means, but also who Jesus is, and what their own founders, the Protestant Reformers, had to say regarding this doctrine. Before touching on this, let’s hear what Scripture has to say in Luke chapter 1: 

"The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” 

Then the angel departed from her. Now, I skipped over Mary’s question and the angel’s reponse, but the important thing here is that Mary said “Yes” – her famous Fiat – to becoming a mother. Biologically speaking, a woman is a man’s mother either if she carried him in her womb or if she was the woman contributing half of his genetic material. Mary was the mother of Jesus in both of these senses; because she not only carried Jesus in her womb but also supplied all of the genetic material for his human body, since it was through her—not Joseph—that Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3). Since Mary is Jesus’ mother, it must also be that she is the Mother of God: because, if Mary is the mother of Jesus, and if Jesus is God, then Mary is the Mother of God. 

As St. Cyril of Alexandria, the 5th Century patriarch of that city, wrote in a letter to Nestorius the priest – yes, he was a priest: clergy failings are hardly limited to modern times – who proposed the Christological error that bears his name, a heresy which denied that Jesus was one person both God and man and which also denied that Mary was the mother of God: “I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God? As St. John has written, the Word made flesh, can mean nothing else but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; he made our body his own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off his existence as God, or his generation of God the Father, but even in taking to himself flesh remaining what he was. This was the sentiment of the holy Fathers from the beginning; therefore they ventured to call the holy Virgin ‘the Mother of God,’ not as if the nature of the Word or his divinity had its beginning from the holy Virgin, but because of her was born that holy body with a rational soul, to which the Word, being personally united, is said to be born according to the flesh.” Mary, who is the mother of Jesus, is also the Mother of God. This has been understood and believed for centuries, long before it was solemnly declared by Pope Pius XII back in 1950. 


This title has a special meaning for us this particular weekend as it will be formally celebrated as a memorial of for the first time by the universal Church on Monday. In the Gospel according to John, chapter 19 we first hear of it: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” Mary was given to John by Jesus on the Cross. By extension, Jesus gave Mary to be the mother of the Church. 

The title “Mother of the Church” was used by PopeBenedict XIV in 1748 and then by Pope Leo XIII in 1885. Pope (soon to be Saint) Paul VI formally conferred the title Mother of the Church on Mary during his speech at the closing of the third session of the Second Vatican Council on November 21, 1964: “For the glory of the Virgin and our consolation, we proclaim Mary the Most Holy Mother of the Church, that is, the Mother of the whole People of God, both the faithful and the pastors.” The title was used often by Pope St. John Paul II. In his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, the “Mother of Our Redemption”, the Holy Father reaffirmed Pope Paul’s statement that Mary is the “mother of the entire Christian people”. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a document which sprang from the Second Vatican Council and guided by Pope John Paul, says: “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it.” (964) “After speaking of the Church, her origin, mission, and destiny, we can find no better way to conclude than by looking to Mary. In her we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own “pilgrimage of faith,” and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey. There, “in the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, in the communion of all the saints, the Church is awaited by the one she venerates as Mother of her Lord and as her own mother. In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.” (972)

When Pope Francis decreed that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church be included into the Church calendar on the Monday after Pentecost on February 11th of this year, Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Divine Congregation for Divine Worship, wrote: “Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church … the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church.”

In the Upper Room, Mary prayed with the Apostles in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit, as her Son had promised. Pentecost was the birth of the Church – the Mystical Body of Christ. As mother of Christ, the Head of the Church, she also is the Mother of the Church. As Pentecost approaches each year, I find myself thinking about Mary as well as the Apostles. That’s not to say that their Pentecost experience was anything less than astounding – of course it was! But I also find myself thinking about the Blessed Mother and what her reaction might have been when, and especially after, the Holy Spirit had descended. Mary had been waiting in the Upper Room with the Apostles, her Son’s closest friends. As any good natural mother, she would have loved them because Jesus loved them. She would have wanted the best for them and likely had high hopes for them because of their closeness to him. She would have loved them despite their failure to stand by her son when things turned terrible and he was arrested, tortured and crucified. They, on their part, would have loved and honored her because she was the mother of their best friend. Yes, the Spirit’s descent was magnificent. But what about what happened afterward? Her Son’s friends – the ones who had turned on him – are suddenly and deeply converted. They lost their fears, put themselves aside, and bravely stepped out into the streets to proclaim the Good News. That’s what Mary’s Son had worked all his life for, what he surrendered himself for, what he died for. Once cowards, they were now bold, courageous men carrying out her Son’s dream! When I picture this scene, I can see Mary as the proud Mama, glowing with joy over the transformation in the Apostles, cheering them on as they went forth. Mary, present at the birth of the Church, is very truly her mother.

(III) Mary is OUR Mother

What this means to each of us here, “where the rubber meets the road”, comes from a very touching, very human, interaction between Jesus and his mother from John chapter 2: There was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. I honestly love this Gospel passage: Mary sees a problem with the wine. She goes to Jesus who, very human son that he is says, “Yeah, so what?” but then accomplishes through his divinity what mother wants anyway! How many of us have seen our children as Jesus reacted first, and wish they would act as he did afterwards?!

“Mary is our Mother in the order of grace.” With these words from the Vatican II Constitution on the Church in the Modern World we get a brilliant insight of the Motherhood of Our Lady, and a marvelous help to understand the motherhood of all Mothers. To better understand it, we need to hear the two sentences that come before it: “The Blessed Virgin, predestined from eternity along with the Incarnation of the Divine Word, as the Mother of God, on this earth was the gracious Mother of the Divine Redeemer; His associate more than others, in a singular way, and the humble maid-servant of the Lord. In conceiving Christ, in bringing Him forth, in nourishing Him, in presenting Him to the Father in the Temple, in suffering with her Son as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in a unique way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace. As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace.” An ordinary Mother does two things to gain that glorious title: she shares in bringing a new life into being, she takes care of that life so long as she is needed, as long as she is willing and able.

To put it as simply as possible, Mary’s cooperation in the Redemption is how she shares in bringing new spiritual life into being, just as any mother cooperates in bringing human life into being. But, even though Mary’s cooperation was unique, she shows how we can participate in it as well. The second letter of St. Peter (1:4) says that in it we are made “sharers in the divine nature.” This isn’t just a one-time event. As we can see in the numerous apparitions that have occurred over the centuries, Mary continues to care for our supernatural life.

Let’s try to explore that mystery a bit. St. Paul says that in heaven we will see God “face to face”. Now of course, God doesn’t have a face; souls don’t have physical eyes. But the reality is far beyond what the words can easily tell us. In this life, when I look at another person, I don’t actually take the person into my mind--I take in an image. Since the person is finite and limited, a finite image can let me know about them.

But God is infinite. No image could possibly convey what He’s like. So it must be that the Divinity wants to join itself to the created human soul immediately, without even an image in between, so that the soul can know Him even as His Son knows Him, as He knows His Son. Within that divinity there flow infinite streams of knowledge and of love. The first chapter of John’s Gospel says that in the beginning the Father spoke the Word. That Word isn’t just a ripple in the air, like our words are. No, it’s far more, it’s a person: the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Between Father and Son there is love--again, not the infintely lesser type of love we understand, but another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, proceeding by way of infinite love. 

Only a being who is at least partly divine could possibly understand these infinite streams of knowledge and of love. But that’s exactly what it means to be “sharers in the divine nature”, which we are, by the life of grace. Mary, by offering her limited flesh for God’s purposes of expressing His divine and infinite love, helped to gain that sharing for us, at a cost so great that, as we said, only God can comprehend it. So Mary really is our Mother in the order of grace. 

But a mother does more than bring life into the world: she also takes care of that new life, so long as she is willing, able, and needed. For most of us, there comes a time when Mother isn’t so much needed, as we become adults and more independent. But in the spiritual life, we remain children – we have to, for “unless we become as little children we shall not inherit the kingdom.” Jesus tell us. Or, to put it more clearly, we always stand in the need of grace as long as we have not yet entered the mansions of our Father. That grace, every grace, comes to us through Mary for, as Vatican II taught, she is the Mediatrix of all graces.

My dear Cursillistas, I said that an earthly Mother should give care as long as she is willing and able. Sadly, some earthly mothers stop being willing. But not so our Heavenly Mother. The children she brought into life by such tremendous pain she will never forget. She is always willing. Also, an earthly mother may come to a point at which she is unable to help, howsoever she way want to do so. But not so our Mother in Heaven. Since I started my talk with a quote from Pope Benedict XV, it’s only fitting that I end it with another: he said that Mary held a “suppliant omnipotence”. This means that, while not being omnipotent herself, all that God can do by His omnipotent power, she, with and through her Son, can obtain by asking Him for it. And that she does.

Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Church, our Mother, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. De Colores! 


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