While I will no doubt repeat myself, I would like to give a brief summation of Marian teaching, to help the reader in grasping these truths and to fill-in any holes in my reflections. Vatican II spoke about Mary in greater depth than any previous council. The council fathers discussed Mary in the document on the Church.
Catholicism would insist that if we are to follow Jesus, we must also love Mary. How does one begin to speak about Mary’s union with her Son? She shares with other women two qualities which are usually mutually exclusive, maidenhood (virginity) and motherhood. The mystery of her perpetual virginity and her exceptional motherhood (as the work of the Holy Spirit) give a heightened transcendence and meaning to her relationship with Christ. Because her Son is unique, the God-Man come among us, her identity and union with him also takes upon itself an extraordinary character. She is the Mother of God. The Mother of the Redeemer is given to us by Jesus as the Mother of the Redeemed. The Second Vatican Council concludes the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church by calling Mary the Model and Prototype of the Church who “occupies in the holy Church the place which is highest after Christ and yet very close to us” (Lumen Gentium, 54). Separated from a comprehensive appreciation of this bond between the Mother and Son, the Church would be hindered in understanding her own union with the Lord. It is for this reason that an absence of Marian piety and affection can be quite serious. She continues to give us her Son and to beckon us to his service.
Mary’s trust and faith in God makes her the first disciple of her Son. Salvation history comes to fruition in her. God’s dealings with humanity were taking a most personal and intimate turn with this young girl who accepted her role as “the handmaid of the Lord.” Before she was to give birth to Jesus in the flesh, she had already received him into her heart and soul. “At the message of the angel, the Virgin Mary received the Word of God in her heart and in her body, and gave life to the world. Hence, she is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer” (Lumen Gentium, 53).
Although Mary has been given the title, Mother of God, she was conceived in the normal course to Saints Ann and Joachim. Because of the role she would play as the Mother of the Lord, she was preserved from any trace of original sin. This state of grace which she received from the first moment of her conception in the womb was never blemished by personal sin. This teaching is called her Immaculate Conception. Despite the faulty argumentation of certain critics outside the Church, Mary needed Christ as her Redeemer just like the rest of us. The only difference was that we were washed from our sins forward in time by faith and baptism while she was preserved from sin backward in time by a singular divine intervention. In both cases, the shadow of the Cross brings salvation. Jesus died for us all. The one who was the source of all holiness had to come through a pure vessel. Mary was blessed or sanctified to protect the dignity of Christ as the Son of God.
Before, during, and after the birth of Jesus her Son, Mary remained a virgin. When her life was accomplished, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. This teaching is called her Assumption. It reminds us that the new life earned by Christ was not a one-time event. One of our numbers has followed Jesus and has been transformed in body and spirit. We will also share in the bodily resurrection and restoration.
In baptism and faith, we are invited to live the life of Christ. Jesus looked down from his Cross and gave Mary to John as his Mother. John represents us on Calvary. Mary sees her Son alive in us by grace, both as individuals and as a community of faith. Mary is the Mother of the Church. The council called her “a preeminent and altogether singular member of the Church, and as the Church’s model . . . in faith and charity. Taught by the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved Mother” (Lumen Gentium, 53).
While on earth, she cooperated with the redemptive work of her Son. “She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ. She presented him to the Father in the Temple, and was united with him in suffering as he died on the Cross. . . . for this reason she is a Mother to us in the order of grace” (Lumen Gentium, 61). Crowned as the Queen of the Saints, she ceaselessly intercedes for her children. She wants us to mature and to come home. This role is never in competition with her Son as they are of one heart and mind regarding our salvation. Indeed, this is a good definition of sainthood— to think as God thinks and to love as God loves. “By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their blessed home” (Lumen Gentium, 62).
Mary was with the Lord at Bethlehem and Calvary, at the beginning and at the end of his mortal life in this world. He was her Lord and yet he was also her own flesh-and-blood. She saw him die for her new children. Now, like any good mother, she waits and makes preparations for us in our true home which is heaven. She is our “sign of sure hope and solace” (Lumen Gentium, 68). Catholics render honor and reverence to Mary because she was the Mother of Christ and because she was the perfect disciple of her Son. Many critics fail to understand this, no matter what amount of explanation is given. Making the matter blunt, why do we love and speak to Mary with devotion? It is because we imitate Jesus. Did he not obey the fourth commandment? Did he not love and respect his Mother? As a child did he listen to her closely? Sure he did. All we are doing is the same.
The Council of Ephesus (431 AD) clarified that Mary was truly the Mother of God (Theotokos, God-bearer in Greek) according to the flesh. Mothers bear persons, not just bodies. The person whom Mary bore was truly the eternal Son of God, one in divinity with the Father.
Mary’s role for Catholic Christians cannot be reduced to her physical maternity. She continues to participate in the salvation of the adoptive sons and daughters of God the Father. Her presence at the beginning and at the end of Jesus’ public life reveals her complete dedication to the work of her Son. Her Son honors her in return. Luke sets her in the long line of great women in Israel who were integral to salvation history. Mary is viewed as the most significant woman of all, believing in God’s saving promise. Mary’s faith earns for her a unique place, not only in human history but in human hearts. Her humility sets the pattern for our own discipleship and prayer.