Mary, The Holy Mother of God (Fr. Francis)
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Of all the feast days of Mary, this one seems to touch our heart the most. It is not often thought of, however, until it comes up on the Liturgical Calendar. Even as we acclaim her “Mother of God” in the Hail Mary, it does not recall the depth of what we are saying. Of course, we think of Mary as the mother of Jesus, especially during the Christmas season, but Christmas is primarily about Jesus. Yes, there are Mary and Joseph on their trip to Bethlehem, but still our anticipation is the birth of the Christ Child. This one, however, brings Mary to the forefront of our hearts. It is not that with this she is more important to us than Jesus, but the title “Mother of God” gives focus to Mary and her motherhood.
We honor Mary primarily because God honored her by choosing her to become the mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He took on human flesh and became man, as stated in the Bible. The angel said to Mary: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His Name Jesus; He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…” [Lk 1:32-32a; RSV 2 Catholic]. After the angel had appeared to her and told her that she was to be the mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth. At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” [Lk 1:42-43; RSV 2 Catholic]. Hence, the Council of Ephesus affirmed in AD 431 that Mary was truly the Mother of God (Theotokos), and in AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the Divine Motherhood of Mary as a dogma, an official doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.
With Mary, Mother of God, we celebrate two articles of faith simultaneously. Along with Mary’s motherhood, we celebrate the Incarnation, God coming among us, God becoming one of us.
John the Evangelist begins his Gospel with these remarkable words:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
“And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)
And with today’s Gospel acclamation, the Lectionary gives us the wonderful opening of the Letter to the Hebrews:
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.”
With these verses together we can begin to understand the beliefs that we hold; that through Mary, the Word of God, the Son of God, became one of us, and that God speaks to us through the Son, the Word made flesh, the Son of Mary. As God speaks to us “through the Son,” it is a revelation of Himself, He reveals Himself to us through the Son as Jesus Himself tells us:
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (cf. John 14:9) In Jesus we see God. He is God and reveals God to us. From this perspective we can better understand the deeper relation of the Incarnation and Mary’s motherhood. It seems, you might say, that the relationship is clear, maybe even that the two are synonymous, but at the deepest level there is a need to understand the distinction and therefore their sameness.
The problem we are skirting around is the concept of the birth of God. In the early centuries of the Church there were heresies that either questioned the humanity of Jesus or, conversely, claimed that he was (is) only human. In particular, the Nestorian heresy argued that Christ was a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son. Two persons.
At the Council of Ephesus (431), to correct this heresy, St. Cyril of Alexandria declared “that the Word, uniting to himself in his person, the flesh animated by a rational soul, became man” (CCC 466) and the Council made it dogma, that Mary is Theotokos (God bearer.) The Catechism expounds on this by saying, “Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception.” This declaration differs from the heresy in that the heresy proposes two persons whereas the Council makes it clear that the Divine Person, the Word, assumes or takes on human nature. It is two natures, divine and human, that are enjoined “hypostatically” in the Person of the Son. Not side-by-side as amalgamated but permeated (sort of) so that the Divine Person expresses Himself through either.
One Divine Person, two natures and this union is manifested in a human body, “animated by a rational [human] soul.” For this St. Paul uses the phrase “according to the flesh.” There are various times in the Gospels that we can see the Divine Person (the Son) expressing Himself through His divine nature and at other times through His human nature.
In the eleventh century, St. Anselm, considered the father of scholasticism, defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Today we can consider theology as faith finding understanding. In the New Evangelization, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI encourage us to take the understanding of our faith beyond the catechesis that got us through Confirmation. This new evangelization was to be accomplished through new ministries of adult formation and study.
In considering these articles of faith, especially Mary, Mother of God, let us not allow the theology to overshadow the sentiment and devotion that we have for Mary. We are given this truth in that earlier catechesis, and for some that is enough. Jesus is the Son of Mary, we love Jesus, we love Mary. Jesus is God, Mary is the Mother of God. There may be nothing more to understand.
As we bring this joyous Christmas season to a close, let us carry this joy, the joy of the Christ Child and His Mother, into our new year. Happy New Year 2021 to you All.
Fr. A. Francis HGN