Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the ultimate expression of both mother and believer. Her immaculate character, her sacrificial love, and her total surrender to God’s plan should draw us to God and His perfect plan for His Church. Mary’s life stands as a powerful example of what it means to follow Christ to the fullest. Yet there are those who have all but forgotten her place in God’s plan of salvation.
There are many who feel that the Catholic Church has elevated Mary to the status of “goddess” – that Catholics worship Mary in the same way we worship Christ. Whatever has been this case with individual Catholics, this has never been the teaching of the Church. Because of this misunderstanding, some Protestants have downplayed Mary’s role in salvation history so much that she has been relegated to the role of “holy incubator” for the Messiah. Their concern seems to be that any emphasis on Mary takes away from our worship of Jesus. If we are to give Mary the honor and respect that is due her, we need to unpack her story to understand her part in our journey to heaven.
Mary’s story is as old as creation itself. From the beginning, God had a plan to bring salvation to the world through the womb of a woman. When humanity fell in sin, God revealed to Adam and Eve and the serpent what was to come:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel. (Genesis 3:15)
Later, the prophet Isaiah foretold of the birth of the Messiah through a virgin:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
In both verses, the emphasis on the woman was unmistakable. Through His Word, God shared that He would fulfill His purposes for humanity by choosing a woman as the instrument by which the Messiah would enter the world. Mary was very much a part of the story because she was in the heart of the Father from the beginning.
Her “Let It Be!” was “Full of Grace”
There are those who minimize Mary’s response to God’s call on her life; but her “Let it be!” was an important part of the story of salvation. We forget that her 'yes' to God was grace-inspired and grace-fulfilled. When the angel Gabriel greeted Mary for the first time he told her she was “full of grace.” Look at the angel’s words:
And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:28-30)
All throughout the Scriptures, a change in someone’s name signified a path the person would travel in the grace (favor) of God. Abram (“Exalted Father”) became Abraham (“Father of Nations”), Simon (“He Hears”) became Peter (“The Rock”), and Saul (“Prayed For”) became Paul (“Humble”). Mary’s name could mean “Beloved” or “Bitter” depending on different understandings. Both meanings fit very well for the Mother of Jesus. She was indeed loved by God, the spouse of the Holy Spirit; yet she was the one who would suffer the piercing sword of her Son’s death on the cross (see Luke 2:34-35). When the angel greeted her, she was “Full of Grace” – the “Favored One.” This was not just a polite address; it was a clear indication that Mary had been graced for the role she was about to accept. She did not find favor with God because she was good enough; she had been formed by grace to be the one who would give birth to the Messiah.
As Mary gave her consent, her “Let it be!” to God’s call, she was acting out of the grace that had been imparted to her. Consider this:
From among the descendants of Eve, God chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of his Son. “Full of grace”, Mary is the most excellent fruit of redemption: from the first instant of her conception, she was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life. (CCC 508)
She who was to bear the Savior of the world, was graced to be the perfect mother for the perfect Son.
The Canticle of the Woman Proclaims the Glory of the Son
Soon after her encounter with the angel, Mary, full of grace, went to see her relative Elizabeth and was greeted with a Spirit-inspired prayer of a prophecy fulfilled:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:41-45)
The Holy Spirit moved Elizabeth to call Mary “blessed” (favored). This blessedness applied to Mary and to the fruit of her womb, connecting her life to His. Elizabeth also called Mary the “Mother of My Lord” and linked her blessedness to her grace-inspired belief in the promises of God. All of these spoke to the specific purpose for which Mary had been created and the grace-enabled power that motivated her to live out that purpose for the rest of her life.
Mary’s blessed, grace-filled heart responded with a canticle of praise and prophecy that flowed from the joy within her:
And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
Mary’s magnificent and humble hymn praised the Father who had chosen her. She acknowledged her need for a savior and rejoiced in the fact that God had chosen to create her for the blessed purpose of giving birth to Jesus and witnessing salvation through His life and death. Her entire prayer was one of submission, for she recognized as no other, that it was through the perfect, holy, and righteous plan of God that salvation would enter the world through her womb. Every word of this beautiful psalm gave glory to the power of God that was being proclaimed through her very soul. In her perfect humility, she radiated the perfect love of the Father for the world.
A Mother Pondering, Obeying, Interceding
Throughout her life, Mary was the perfect example of motherhood. She took in every experience with the same grace-filled strength that had empowered her to accept her call and give birth to the Messiah. She loved Jesus with an unquestioning faith, a faith that yielded to each trial in her Son’s life and became a treasure she stored up in her heart for eternity:
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
The Blessed Mother knew that her blessedness came not simply because she was the one who gave Jesus his physical birth, but because she lived in total obedience to her Son’s will (See Luke 11:27-28). It was she alone who could draw from her storehouse of blessings and surrender her own needs to the holy purposes of her Son’s mission. She who had submitted to her Son’s will at the Wedding Feast could speak the words that would forever guide and intercede for the Church for all ages:
“Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5b)
The mother of Jesus was an example of silent submission for the People of God. Every time she let go of her Son as he carried out His mission, every insult spoken against him that she endured, and every step she saw her Son take that brought Him closer to the cross, tore at her heart. She knew she had to yield her mother’s love to the call on her heart to follow her Son to the cross. As she Jesus face His trial and the cruel taunting of sinful men, as she heard each stroke of the whip as it tore her Son’s flesh, and as she witnessed His final journey to the place of His execution, there was no word of protest, no tears of hatred or regret, only the intense sorrow that pierced her soul and joined her sufferings to His.
As Jesus hung upon the cross, Mary accepted His call to be the new mother of all the living (See John 19:26-27). As John took her into his home, so she took him and every believer into her heart. She who had seen her Son enter the grave had also seen Him rise up, now the Savior of the world. That same strength that had enabled her to be the perfect mother allowed her to be present with the followers of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost when the same Holy Spirit who had overshadowed her at Christ’s conception, now overshadowed the new Church about to born.
The Woman Clothed with the Sun
Our mother remains ever watchful over her children, loving us with the same heart she had for Jesus, and forever pointing us to her Son who offers salvation to all who will accept the grace of God. She continues to be for us the sign of the Church’s journey toward our final destination:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm. A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Revelation 11:18-12:1)
Though the enemy continues to make war with the offspring of the woman (See Revelation 12:17) because of Mary’s sinless example we know that we have a perfect Savior who will one day bring us to the new Jerusalem to live with Him forever. We have the blessed example of one who loved her Son with a perfect mother’s heart and a perfect believer’s obedience from first to last:
By her complete adherence to the Father's will, to his Son's redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church's model of faith and charity. Thus she is a "preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church"; indeed, she is the "exemplary realization" (typus) of the Church. (CCC 967)
May we grow in our devotion to the Blessed Mother as we grow in our love for her Son. God bless!