Part 5 of the Embracing the Way series features the Way of Mary, Mother of God, the “New Eve,” and our constant companion and intercessor on our Lenten journey.
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Image Credit: Francisco Ribalta, Encuentro del Nazareno con su madre, circa. 1612. Oil on canvas, Museu de Belles Arts de València. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Mary is our constant companion and intercessor on our journey. In every age and in many images, Mary intercedes for us so we may grow in love as disciples of Jesus.
The Importance of Yes
Mary was a teenage girl when she made the decision to be the Mother of Jesus. In the Jewish culture of her time a girl was betrothed after the age of 12. She was visited by the angel Gabriel who announced how Mary was highly favored by God: “full of grace.” Gabriel came with the request from God the Father that Mary consider being the mother of the Jesus, the Son of the Most High. Since she was a virgin, Mary inquired how this would be possible:
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
Mary gave her wholehearted response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Later in the Gospel of Luke, Mary sings a song of rejoicing to God for his actions in saving her and the people of Israel:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
She also proclaims God’s deep concern for the poor and that their needs be met:
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
(Luke 1: 52–53)
In the early Church Mary is the symbol of hope and God’s caring for the needy and helpless in this world.
In every age of the Church, Mary has been present in the consciousness and lives of the faithful.
In Church Tradition
As the Church reflected on the meaning of Mary in Christian life some particular themes were emphasized. In the first three centuries Mary’s role as the Mother of Jesus was stressed. She was the “new Eve” whose obedience in becoming the mother of Jesus overcomes the disobedience of Eve.
In the next three centuries the Church was in the process of defining the teaching on the unity of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. As a part of this process Mary was named theotokos—“Mother of God”—at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. Defining Mary as theotokos supports the Church’s understanding of the Incarnation, the union of the human nature and the divine nature in the person of Jesus. The definition, which was celebrated with great joy throughout the Christian world, transformed Mary from a humble Jewish maiden to an exalted position in heaven.
Queen of Heaven
The veneration of Mary as Queen of Heaven was of particular importance in the later Middle Ages of Western Christianity. While the image of the suffering Jesus Christ for our salvation became prominent, Jesus was also imaged as a just judge with the scales of justice awaiting sinners for the last judgment.
So at this time Mary emerged as the tender caring Mother of Mercy whose concern is to aid her children in joining her in heaven. This is the hope expressed in the great antiphon (or liturgy) Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) written in this period:
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To you do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve.
To you do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this exile
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Mary and all of the saints were seen as special ambassadors of God’s grace to all who were poor and suffering. Cathedrals were built throughout Europe in Mary’s name, and Mary was honored as Queen of Heaven and Refuge of Sinners. She was the one who would bring just and merciful aid to all who came to her.
Mary in the Modern World
In the modern world, devotion to Mary—supported by apparitions in shrines in Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima—has helped Christians on their pilgrimage of faith in our changing world.
In 1974 Pope Paul VI issued Marialis Cultus, giving principles for promoting devotion to Mary in the modern world. He taught that devotion to Mary should be rooted in the Bible and filled with the great themes of the Christian message. Pope Paul VI noted that Mary was not a passive person, but one who accepted responsibility for her decisions and acted on them. As we have seen, Mary’s decisions have changed the world. Finally, Mary is especially one who speaks for the needs of the poor.
Mary in Every Age
In every age of the Church, Mary has been present in the consciousness and lives of the faithful. From an unpretentious young woman in Galilee her image has changed and grown as devotion to her presence as Queen of Heaven and Refuge of Sinners continues to permeate Christian life. In every age and in many images Mary intercedes for us so we may grow in love as disciples of Jesus.
The Insights of Pope Francis
Our pilgrimage of faith has been inseparably linked to Mary ever since Jesus, dying on the Cross, gave her to us as our Mother, saying: “Behold your Mother!” (John 19:27). These words serve as a testament, bequeathing to the world a Mother. From that moment on, the Mother of God also became our Mother! When the faith of the disciples was most tested by difficulties and uncertainties, Jesus entrusted them to Mary, who was the first to believe, and whose faith would never fail.
Homily on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 1 January 2014
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.