Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God!
Last night we went to the Vigil Mass for this Holy Day, and while the cantors began singing Hail Mary, Gentle Woman, I couldn’t help but think how very fitting it was that we were at a Vigil to celebrate Mary’s motherhood just one week after celebrating the Christmas Vigil. It’s just the gift that keeps on giving.
Mary is known in the tradition of the faith as the Theotokos which literally translates to “God bearer,” making her the Mother of God. Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Virgin Mary is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer.” (CCC 963)
As Catholics, we honor and revere our blessed Mother and count her as incredibly special…but why do we refer to her as the “Mother of God”? Some people are greatly shocked that we honor her with this title, but I think this stems from a misunderstanding of the teaching.
So, where does the title “Mother of God” come from and what does it mean?
This teaching is both essential to the faith (especially to our salvation), and to understanding who Jesus was. The reality of Mary as Mother of God surrounds and protects the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, who is God made flesh.
Let’s break it down a bit:
What makes a woman someone’s biological mother? Two things: Carrying the child within her womb, and contributing to the baby’s genetic makeup. So, to say that Mary is the Mother of God is to acknowledge the fact that she carried the baby Jesus within her womb and contributed to his human nature. Scripture clearly reveals this in Luke 1:26-38 and Galatians 4:4. Now of course Mary’s motherhood also extends in other deep ways, but this title first and foremost references her role in carrying, birthing, and raising our Lord, Jesus Christ. Acknowledging Mary’s motherhood of Jesus is important because it tells us that he is one person with two natures. If we denied that Mary is the Mother of God and said that she is merely the Mother of his human biological nature, then we would end up dividing Jesus’ personhood in two, and this is impossible; Jesus’ human nature is inseparable from his divine nature. Jesus is one person, God, with the First and Third members of the Holy Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit and to separate the two would be to separate his very person. God created Mary specially for being the Mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, who has two natures: one human and one divine (this is the “hypostatic union”).
Now, this is not to say that Mary gave Jesus his divine nature or personhood. Jesus is fully divine–fully God–simply because he IS God, the Word made flesh. What Mary did give Jesus was a nature identical to her own: an immaculate human nature.
She gave birth to a Son who was truly God, making her the Mother of the God.
The denial of Mary as Mother of God also greatly complicates and damages our salvation. If Jesus was separated into two persons then which died on the cross for us: the human or the divine? If it was the divine alone, we’d be saying that God himself could be put to death (which clearly doesn’t work). If it was the human alone, then our redemption is compromised because no mere human death could bring about salvation for all of mankind.
As mentioned above, Sacred Scripture supports that Mary is the Mother of God. Sacred Tradition is also especially rich with quotes from many early fathers of the faith. Here are a few:
- “The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).
- “We acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the firstling; he bore a body not in appearance but in truth derived from Mary the Mother of God” (Peter of Alexandria, Letter to All Non-Egyptian Bishops 12 [A.D. 324]).
- “The Word begotten of the Father from on high, inexpressibly, inexplicably, incomprehensibly, and eternally, is he that is born in time here below of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God” (Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God 8 [A.D. 365]).
And even the father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, had something to say about it:
- “She is rightly called not only the mother of the man, the human nature of Jesus, but also the Mother of God. It is certain that Mary is the Mother of the real and true God. Men have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: the Mother of God. No one can say anything greater about her though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on trees.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on the Magnificat)
This reality is honestly so very beautiful. God, in his infinite Wisdom, brought the Woman Mary into his life in a very special and familial way. She was the one who would be there with him, loving him in a perfect motherly way, at every significant moment in his incarnate life.
It just goes to show us that our God is truly a God of love…a God for the family.