THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, MOTHER OF GOD: The Door that Leads to Christ.
By Herbert B. Rosana, Ph.D.
My Tribute to Mary, Mother of God.
January 1 is not only the beginning of the Gregorian calendar but it is also celebrated by the Church as a day of Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. A timely celebration indeed, proceeded by Christmas and the feast of the Holy Innocents. No one can outshine the Filipino people for their love and devotion to Mary. Here in the Bicol Region we have one of the most popular Marian Devotion in the Philippines, the Penafrancia Festival. Pope Pius XII in his radio message to the International Eucharistic Congress in Manila in 5 December 1954 called the Philippines, the Kingdom of the Rosary. We are proud of this distinction. But beyond this feeling there is a need for us, contemporary Filipino Catholics, to deepen our faith and understanding of Mary in relation to the history of salvation so that our devotions will become fruitful and manifest in our daily lives. Otherwise our devotions will become empty shells devoid of meaning and fruitfulness. As individual Christians we have the duty to know our faith, to understand it to the best we can and to possess that ability to make others understand our faith.
The Blessed Virgin Mary has played an important role in the life of the church and in the history of Salvation. Sister Thomas Mary, O.P.[i] In an article described the role of Mary in different epochs of Church history. In the Early centuries of Christianity, Mary played a very important role in defining the divinity of Christ when controversies about the nature of Christ were raging among the Christian Churches at that time. The early church confronted the heresies of its time most especially about the nature of Christ. The affirmation and definition of the Motherhood of Mary vanquished the Heresies of Arius and Nestorius and many other heresies. It was the council of Ephesus that invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary and called her, Theotokus. Theotokus means “God-bearer” or the Mother of God. The purpose of this definition is to proclaim the human nature of Christ as well as his divinity. That there is one God in three Divine Persons. And that Christ is one person with two natures, divine and human. The heresies of the early centuries of Christianity were defeated because of Mary. Her role as defined by the Church became the instrument of this victory. Thus, putting to an end to the bitter debate about the Christological controversies of the early centuries. Even in the middle ages, the spread of devotion to holy rosary of the Virgin Mary put an end to the Albigensian heresy. St. Dominic de Guzman used the rosary as a weapon to defeat the arguments of the heretics.
Many artefacts of the early centuries of Christianity revealed how the early Christians expressed their love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is made more eloquent in a passage written and included in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:
“It is truly just to proclaim you blessed, O Mother of God, who are most blessed, all pure and Mother of our God. We magnify you who are more honourable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim. You who, without losing your virginity, gave birth to the Word of God. You who are truly the Mother of God.” (St. John Chrysostom).[ii]
We read about the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the great Christological controversies of the first centuries of Christianity. By defining her role in the history of salvation, the church has saw the Blessed Virgin Mary as the means to define the connection between the Divine and Human and to define the nature of Christ, which today we profess in the Nicene Creed. The early Fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, and Tertulian, made mention of Mary and emphasized her role in the incarnation of Christ to defend the Catholic faith against the heretics of the time. Origen was the first to address the Blessed Virgin as Theotokus or Mother of God. “Sub tuum praesidum” we fly unto Thee, was the oldest extanct phrase that proves that the early Christians prayed to the Virgin Mary[iii]. This same line was borrowed by St. Bernard of Clairveux in his prayer in the Memorare.[iv]
The second Vatican Council defined the role of Mary as the pre-eminent member of the Church, and an archetype of the Church. In fact this is not a new doctrine since this has been expounded by ancient Christian theologians like St. Augustine and others. The role of the Virgin Mary was like that of Eve, the mother of nations. The Second Vatican Council says, “The Father of mercies willed that the incarnation should be preceded by the acceptance of her who was predestined to be the mother of His Son, so that just as a woman contributed to the death of humankind, so also a woman should contribute to the restoration of life.”[v] Mary here was portrayed as a mother, the New Eve. If Christ was the new Adam according to St. Paul, so Mary is also the new Eve. Thus when contemplating of the beautiful icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, we see the intimacy of the Mother and her Child and their role in the redemption of Humankind. In crafting the documents of the Scond Vatican Coucil, the council fathers struggled how to situate the role of the Virgin Mary in the documents. One group would want to have a separate constitution on Mary, while another group wanted to put a closer bond between Mary and the Church. Our very own, the late Cardinal Rufino Santos, debated on the floor for the proposition that a separate document be written for Mary while Cardinal Koenig wanted it integrated into the constitution about the Church. But whatever the reasons for these debates it was not a diminution of the role of Mary but it was a matter of putting things in the context of the History of Salvation. Mary is our Mother, because Mary is the Mother of Jesus.
There is a dramaturgy once we put ourselves in the presence of Calvary, (this is often the imagination I focus on when I hear Mass), there is Jesus hanging on the Cross, there is Mary grieving at the foot of the cross, her heart pierced with invisible swords of sorrows for her Son and there was John, the beloved disciple. As the Scripture tells us:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.[vi]
Thus even in the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist, Mary is there, we can hear Jesus telling us, “Behold your mother.” Mary is our mother, for it was Christ Himself who said so. Her being the mother of Jesus was not a coincidence nor an accident as some of our protestant and fundamentalist friends may say. But it was planned by God all along. Even before she was conceived, it was already pre-ordained that she will be the Mother of Jesus and the mother of all Humankind and it is She together with the Son who will vanquished and subdue and crushed the head of the serpent-Satan. In Genesis it is written:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.[vii]
As a mother Mary continues to pray for us, she continues to obtain graces for us. For in God all things live, so Mary our mother lives together with all the saints. But Mary by her singular role as Mother of God, is pre-eminent. She is above the angels and the saints, for she is the New Eve, the Mother of Humankind and our Mother. Christ Himself is telling us, Son, behold your Mother! For here we behold our Virgin Mother as the door leading us to Paradise and to Jesus Himself. Being the first disciple to follow Jesus. She was the reason by which Jesus performed the first miracle in Cana, and Mary followed her son and bore all the pains as a mother. Today we saw her as the image of the church, pure, triumphant. The Song of Solomon says:
Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?[viii]
The woman who recited this magnificat:
...my soul exalts the Lord
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And Holy is His Name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
“For He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent the rich away empty-handed.
And He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our Fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.[ix]
Is now exalted as Queen of Heaven and Earth, who because of her humility and submission to God’s will has become the New Eve, mother of Humankind, she who gave birth to the Son of God, has given birth to us by showing us the way to the new birth, into the Kingdom of God. So that just as Christ gave Mary to John as Mother, Mary may also become our Mother. As a tribute to her motherhood may I share with you this old prayer composed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
MEMORARE, O piisima Virgo Maria, non esse auditum a saeculo, quemquam ad tua currentem praesidia, tua implorantem auxilia, tua patentem suffragia, esse derelictum. Ego tali animates confidential, ad te, Virgo Virginum, Mater, curro, ad te veinio, coram te gemens peccator assisto. Noli Mater Verbi, verba mea despicere; sed audi propitia et exaudi. Amen.[x]
Pray for us O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
[i] Sr. Thomas Mary, O.P. Marian Theology up to Vatican II. [web] can be accessed at: http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mcbride/marian-upto2vat.htm
[ii] Fr. William Saunders, Mary, Mother of God. [web]. EWTN. can be accessed at: http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/maryc1.htm
[iii] Early Christians.org. The Devotion to the Virgin Mary in the Early Church. [on the web] can be accessed at: http://www.earlychristians.org/docs_interest/Mary.html
[iv] Michael Martin. [on the web] can be accessed at: http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/BVM/Memorare.html
[v] Lumen Gentium, Chapter VIII, par 56.
[vi] John 19:25-29 (NKJV).
[vii] Genesis 3:15 (NASB)
[viii] Song of Solomon 6:10 (RSV)
[ix] Luke 1:46-55 (NASB)
[x] REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.