January 01: Solemnity of Mary Mother of God

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)

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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’ person hood 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 person hood.  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. 

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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.untitled

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)

Amen?

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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.

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The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is a very special Feast Day in the Church, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary!  Not only is today a Feast Day, it is a Holy Day and all the faithful are called to go to Mass to celebrate the most holy conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To honor our Blessed Mother, here are a few facts about her Immaculate Conception:

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Though conceived without sin, Mary’s conception was a human one.   Unlike her Son Jesus (who was conceived by the Holy Spirit), Mary was conceived by two human parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim.

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Mary was conceived in a special way, without the stain of original sin, making her Immaculate.  Original Sin is the state all of humanity is born into, a result of the great Fall of Adam and Eve.  It is a deprivation of sanctifying grace (a habitual gift given to us by God,  that perfects our souls and enables us to live with God and act by his love), and as such leaves the human nature corrupt.(This is why Baptism is so essential—especially for infants—because through it we receive sanctifying grace).  Mary, however, received God’s sanctifying grace the moment she was conceived in the womb, and was preserved from the defects of original sin by the grace of Christ.

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Scripture gives us a window into the very special disposition of Mary’s soul.  In Luke 1:28, the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with a particularly special greeting, “Hail, full of grace (or, “favored one”), The Lord is with you!”  This greeting was a unique one, which hardly translates well in our English language.  However, the Greek expression for “Hail, full of grace” more aptly expresses the quality of Mary’s state of being.  In Greek the greeting is “chaire kecharitomene,” (a passive participle expressing an action completed in the past with an application in the present) which reads in English as “Hail, you who have been perfected in grace!”  This indicates that Mary was graced by God in the past, but continues to live in a state of sanctifying grace in the present.  Thus, Mary’s Immaculate state was not a result of the angel’s visit, but she was endowed with sanctifying grace from the moment she was conceived.

 

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As a human, Mary was still in need of Redemption, but she was saved in a special and unique way.  Mary, too, was a descendant of Adam and thus subject to the necessity of contracting original sin.  However, God intervened, preserving her from the stain and corruption of Original Sin from the moment she was brought into existence.  She was thus redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—through anticipation (or in other words, preemptively).

 

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The following analogy might help you understand this a little more:

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Aren’t we all sinners? A quick thought if Romans 3:23 is popping into your head right now: Children before the age of reason are incapable of sinning (because sin requires the ability to reason and intend sin), and both the angels and souls in heaven are without sin.  Mary’s blessedness doesn’t take away from the glory of God, but rather, it demonstrates his great glory by showing us the work he has done in sanctifying creation.   Sinning doesn’t qualify us to be human—it is just what we are working with when we are brought into the world in our fallen condition.  It is in fact when man is without sin that he is living most fully the life that God created him to be.  Mary, chosen as the one to carry the Christ child, was preserved from sin and created exactly the way that God wanted her to be.

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Why was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception defined so late? The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, which is a long time after the birth of Mary.  Why did the Church wait so long to publicly declare her Immaculate Conception?  Though this delay signifies that the doctrine was merely invented, we must remember that the Church never issues definitive proclamations on teachings of the faith until a.) they either have to (to confront and avoid false teaching on the matter), or b.) to expand and clarify the teaching so that the faithful may better understand it.  The reason this particular doctrine wasn’t issued until 1854 is because the faithful at that time were desiring that this doctrine (taught, maintained, and believed to be true since the beginning) be officially proclaimed.  They did this in hopes that it would inspire a deeper devotion to Jesus through her, and help the faithful have a better understanding of her.

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Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.  When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he announced to her that the birth of her Son will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) This “overshadowing” of the power of God is a reference to the Shekinah of the Old Testament—the Hebrew term for God’s presence among his people. This presence overcame the company of the people in the form of a great cloud, and overtime ended up overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was the way in which God’s presence was always visible to the people, so that they could know with certainty that God was indeed with them.  The Ark contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (on which were written the Word of God), the manna God gave the people for sustenance, and the budding staff of Aaron, who was the high priest of the people.   The Ark which held all of these three things foreshadowed the New Ark, Mary, who (overshadowed by the Shekinah of God) carried within her womb the Child of the Promise: the very Law and Word of God itself, the true Bread of Life, and the great High Priest sent to redeem all of humanity.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that the New Ark be preserved from sin and sanctified from the beginning of her creation.

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All of these facts point not just to the awesomeness of Mary, but more importantly to the awesomeness of God who created her, so blessed and full of grace.

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*The featured image at the top of the post can be found and bought by the artist on her etsy account here.