In this “Compendium Clip” I would like to reflect on the woman who had the singular privilege of bringing Jesus Christ, our Savior, into the world, that is, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In a previous column, we considered the incarnation, which began when Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit [and] born of the Virgin Mary,” as the Apostles’ Creed says. It is because of Jesus, then, that Mary his mother received so many graces and privileges, each one of which show us something about Christ and the divine plan of salvation.
So let us look at these graces and privileges, beginning with the mysterious way in which Jesus was conceived. We learn from the Gospel of Luke that Mary conceived Jesus without the cooperation of a man; indeed, she was a virgin. Her son Jesus, then, was conceived in her womb solely by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35). From this we can see that Jesus is truly the son of Mary according to his human nature, but we can also see that he is really the Son of God, not only in his divine nature but also in his human nature, because Jesus has only one natural father, God. Mary’s virginal conception highlights this fact.
Moreover, she is referred to as the Virgin Mary not only because of the way in which she conceived Jesus but also because she perpetually kept her virginity, or as St. Augustine said “she conceived without being touched by man and always remained thus untouched, in virginity conceiving, in virginity bringing forth, in virginity dying…” And so, when the Gospels speak of the “brothers and sisters of Jesus” they are referring to his close relatives, as this was a common biblical way of speaking.
But now let’s consider why Mary is rightly called the Mother of God. The reason is rather simple: it is because Jesus her Son is also truly divine. The one person whom Mary conceived and raised according to his humanity is, in fact, the eternal Son of God. Hence, Mary is the Mother of God because Jesus is himself, God.
Next, it is because of her great role in God’s plan of salvation, that Mary is also “full of grace” as we hear the angel Gabriel say in Luke’s Gospel (1:28). This Greek term, kecharitomene which literally means ‘made full of grace,’ is the biblical foundation for the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, that is, from the first instant of her conception Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin and consequently committed no personal sin.
The reason Mary received such a privileged and singular grace is because from all eternity God freely chose Mary to be the mother of his Son and so, likewise, gave her the gifts suitable to fulfill such a mission. And yet, this gift of the Immaculate Conception comes entirely through Christ, that is, it was given to her in anticipation of Jesus’ meritorious work of redemption.
In light of Mary’s Immaculate Conception we can better understand another honor that Mary received at the end of her earthly life and that is her Assumption into heaven. As Pope Pius XII said, Mary’s Assumption means that “when the course of her earthly life was finished, [she] was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things.”
Now one of the effects of original sin is the corruption of the body; yet, Mary was conceived without original sin and committed no personal sin, so it stands to reason that her body would never experience decay or corruption. Further, Mary’s exalted role in heaven corresponds with Jesus’ plan of inaugurating the Kingdom of God, which is a fulfillment of the Old Testament Kingdom of David and his descendants. In this Kingdom it wasn’t the king’s wife who was the queen but rather the king’s mother. In the books of 1st and 2nd Kings she is referred to as the “queen mother” (cf. 1 Kgs 15:3; 2 Kgs 10:13). Hence, in the New Covenant Christ the King assigned Mary his mother to this exalted role of queen mother.
This leads us, then, to see that Mary is not only the mother of Christ but also the mother of Christ’s body, the Church. One of the places where we see this illustrated is in John’s Gospel when, during the crucifixion, Jesus gave his mother to the disciple with the words “behold your mother” (John 19:27).
Indeed, for all the disciples of Christ, Mary is mother in the order of grace and salvation, that is, Mary leads us to the grace of Christ and helps us in the way of salvation. She does this especially by interceding and praying for us, her children, but also by being a model of faith and charity for all. And yet, Mary is also an icon of hope: when the Church looks to the Virgin Mother of God assumed into heaven it sees in her an image and an anticipation of the glorious life and resurrection that will be enjoyed in heaven.
Finally, it is for all these reasons that Christians rightly direct a special devotion to Mary who herself said “all generations will call me blessed,” (Lk 1:48) and yet, this devotion both leads us to and is essentially different from the adoration and worship given to the Trinity alone.
To summarize, then, it is because of Jesus’ profound relationship with Mary in the work of salvation that she received so many graces and privileges. First, in virginity, which she kept her whole life, she conceived Jesus. Because of this she is truly the mother of God.
In order to fulfill her special role she was conceived without original sin. As a result of this Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. There she aids Christians as mother of the Church, which looks to her in hope and devotion.
In our next Compendium Clip we will again focus on the life of Jesus, this time emphasizing his public ministry.
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