Holy Mary, Mother of God
Holy Mary, Mother of God
By Clay Colbert
Beautiful Basics - Mary
There are many different ideas of who Mary is. Muslims believe Christians count her as one of the Blessed Trinity – Father, Son, and Mary. Others believe, as I was taught growing up as a fundamentalist Baptist, that she is a sinner just like anyone else who didn’t have much of a role in the salvation story. But what does our Catholic faith tell us? Let’s look at three questions. Who is Mary? What is her role in the salvation of the world? What is our duty to her?
When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary at the annunciation, he greets her with the words “Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” Luke 2:28 He does not say, “Hail Mary, full of grace”, but “Hail, full of grace.” He names her “Full of Grace.” In scripture names are significant. They have meaning. They sum up one’s identity. Jacob, whose name means supplanter, tricked his brother Esau into giving up his birthright for some food. Later, he tricked his blind father Isaac into giving him the birthright blessing. He truly was a trickster and schemer. Later when Jacob wrestled with an angel, the angel changed his name to Israel, which means “One who wrestles with God.” Abram, which means exalted father, was changed to Abraham, father of many nations, after the promise of future descendants.
Mary’s identity is summed up in the name “Full of Grace.” She is the one who is full of God’s grace. In ancient times God’s grace would come upon a prophet or king in Israel and Judah, often when they were anointed. But when Gabriel comes to Mary, he finds her already living in an abundance of grace. St Thomas Aquinas says, “She enjoyed grace to a most perfect degree.” Because of this she excelled in all the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Why did God give her such an abundance of grace? God had a mission for her. This gift was given by God to equip her for the task. As St Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.” Her mission was unique in all of salvation. She was to be the Mother of God. She was to give human life to the Son of God. Her body was to be how, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the “Word would become flesh and dwell among us.” She would give birth to Immanuel, God with us.
What is Mary’s role in the salvation of the world? Let’s look at the four Marian Dogmas to consider this. A dogma is something that is divinely revealed. As such it is an immutable or unchangeable truth not subject to human opinion and we are bound to believe it to maintain the bond of faith.
One dogma is the Immaculate Conception. The dogma states “… from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege from the Almighty God and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, (Mary) was kept free of every stain of original sin.” Because of Christ’s redemptive act she is permanently and intimately tied to God. Because of this grace she was preserved from all sin and never denied God the least sign of love. Her role is to be the vessel, the tabernacle that the Lord would come to dwell among us. This dogma underlies the next two.
A second dogma is Mother of God, the Theotokos. The Council of Ephesus and Chalcedon of the 5th century use this title. It means the Birthgiver of God. She is Mother because she gives human life to Jesus who is God. As mother she did more than conceive and bear Jesus. She also fed him, clothed him, taught him, cared for him, loved him, searched for him when she lost him, brought him to manhood, followed as his first disciple, suffered with him at the foot of the cross, rejoiced at his resurrection, and prayed with the apostles for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
A third dogma is her Perpetual Virginity. This means Mary conceived Jesus without violating her virginity. The birth of Jesus did not diminish her virginity but sanctified it. As Ever Virgin she remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. There were no other sons or daughters. This is so she may have a radical and exclusive dedication to her mission as the mother of the Son of God. Her role is to be whole-heartedly committed, without the impediment of sin, to the person and work of her Son.
A fourth dogma is the Assumption of Mary. Unlike Jesus who ascended into heaven through divine power, Mary, at the end of her life, was taken up bodily by God to heaven. The unique and intimate tie she had with her son on earth continues in heaven. Her role in the salvation of the world goes on in heaven. Vatican II says” Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home.” Her role continues through her most powerful intercession.
What duty do we owe to the Blessed Virgin Mary? She has been honored and appealed to from the earliest days of the Church. This is the fulfillment of her words, “All generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.” Vatican II tells us that “The faithful must in the first place reverence the memory ‘of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Lord Jesus Christ.’” “She is redeemed in a more exalted fashion by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie endowed with the high office and dignity of the Mother of the Son of God, beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace, she far surpasses all creatures both in heaven and on earth and is hailed as preeminent and a wholly unique member of the church, it’s type and outstanding model in faith and charity.”
She is preeminent among the saints in grace, love, and in her prayer. So, we must honor her, and we can turn to her to ask for her prayer. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “In every work of virtue, one can have her as one’s helper.” We see this at the wedding feast in Cana. While Jesus, Mary, and his disciples are at a wedding feast, the wine runs out. Mary’s friends appeal to her if something can be done. She goes to her Son and tells him about it, “They have no wine.” “What is that to me, my time has not yet come?” Jesus says. Then in a brilliant move, with limitless faith in her Son, she says to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Why should we seek her prayers? She knows how to get what she wants from her Son. She is also a refuge. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Mary, who is the Virgin most pure, is also the refuge of sinners. She knows what sin is, not by experience of its fall, nor by tasting its bitter regrets, but by seeing what it did to her Divine Son.”
She is closer than anyone to the source of all grace. That is why her prayer is so powerful. She sees Jesus every day. She knows how to get what she wants from Him. Jesus is predisposed to honor and grant His mother’s request. We can never go wrong entrusting ourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Even Jesus entrusted Himself to her care.
Who is Mary? Is she the third person of the Blessed Trinity? No. In all the teaching on Mary, the Church is clear. No one is equal to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In all that Mary ever does, whether in the stable with the shepherds, the adoration of the magi, or Simeon and Anna in the temple, she shows us her Son and says, “Do whatever He tells you.” Is she just a sinner like you and I who didn’t have much of a choice? No. She is the Full of Grace One, the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of God, ever virgin, preeminent among the saints for her perfection, grace, love, and prayers, a most powerful intercessor and advocate. By her “Yes” to God’s mission for her, the redemption and salvation of the whole human race was made possible through the merits and actions of her Son Jesus. She is a refuge, one to whom we can entrust ourselves, because she will never deny God or us, the least sign of love.
Sources: Summa Theologiae the Blessed Virgin Mary IIIa QQ. 27-30 and Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Chapter VIII Our Lady.