Cloistered Dominican Nuns Corpus Christi Monastery

Something About Mary

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What is it about Mary?  In Catholic and Orthodox churches, she’s everywhere.  Icons, statues, windows…  Is she really that important?  Yes, she is important.  Very important.  For, “[w]hat the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.”  Understanding Mary helps us understand Jesus, her Son, for Mary always points us to Him.

Mary was specially chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus.  God always seeks full cooperation of a person to His plans – He never forces, never imposes.  God planned over the centuries for Mary, a poor Jewish girl from Nazareth, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, to fill this role.

As part of this preparation, God lavished His grace upon her so that, from the moment of her conception she was free from original sin.  Through her free will, she continued to live without the blemish of sin her entire life.  At the time of the annunciation, the angel Gabriel salutes her as “full of grace.”  This sinless, grace-filled state was necessary for her to fully accept her vocation as mother of God; it was not due to merit on her part – it was a gift from God in anticipation of what her Son would do through His passion, death and resurrection.

Because she was filled with God’s grace, completely sinless, she was able to freely and completely give herself to God, without restraint, and to the life and work of her Son, Jesus.  Through her obedience, “she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.”  (St. Irenaeus)  Not a few of the early Church Fathers gladly assert…: “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Even bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”  Mary is called the “mother of the living.”

A person is a union of body and soul.  When a mother gives birth to a person, she is the mother of that person.  Mary is the mother of Jesus.  As Jesus is both God (the second person of the Trinity) and man, Mary is truly the “Mother of God.”  To deny this is to deny Jesus’ divinity, or to somehow split His divinity from His humanity.  Hence, the Council of Ephesus in the year 431 A.D. declared Mary as “Theotokos”, God-bearer, Mother of God.

Mary was a virgin at the time Christ was conceived and until after His birth.  Why is this important?  Because if Mary was not a virgin, it could be argued Jesus’ was only a human person, naturally conceived from human father and mother.  But, since Mary was a virgin, Jesus’ origin must be supernatural – his conception could only be possible through the intervention of God.  This is a divine work that surpasses all human understanding.

Mary also remained a virgin for the rest of her life.  References to “Jesus’ brothers” in the Gospels have always been understood to refer to the sons of “another Mary” – as there was no word for “cousin”, all close relations would have been called “brothers” or “sisters”.

So, why is Mary’s virginal motherhood important?  Again, the reasons taught by the Church touch on who Christ is and his redemptive mission, and on the welcome Mary gave that mission on behalf of all people.

  • Mary’s virginity manifests God’s absolute initiative in the Incarnation: Jesus has only God for a father.
  • Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary’s womb because He is the New Adam, who inaugurates the new creation: the first man was from the earth…the second man is from heaven.
  • By his virginal conception, Jesus ushers in the new birth of children adopted in the Holy Spirit through faith.  Participation in the divine life arises “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  The acceptance of this life is virginal because it is entirely the Spirit’s gift to man.
  • Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith “unadulterated by any doubt,” and of her undivided gift of herself to God’s will.  It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Savior.
  • At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church: “the Church indeed…by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother.  By preaching and Baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life.  She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse.”

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