Read ~ Chapter 19: Mary in the Mystery of Christ and the Church
The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican
The beginning of Mary’s journey of faith: the ANNUNCIATION
Mary’s journey begins when God touches time: Mary’s journey is a real human one. At the age of 14 (more or less), the Angel Gabriel came to Nazareth to announce to her the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Son. The angel greeted her “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you… you will conceive a child…His name will be Jesus…He will be great…will inherit the Kingdom of David forever… His throne will never have an end…He will be the Savior…” (Luke 1: 28-33) God was requesting the assent of a creature to enter time, because since without her cooperation it would have been impossible for God to enter our history as an authentic human being. Since God chose that way, it is the only way: we call this the divine logic of doing things or economy of salvation. Vatican II affirms in this regard: “The Father of mercies willed that the consent of the predestined Mother should precede the Incarnation.” (Lumen Gentium, 56)
The challenging promises: All these wonderful promises were challenging to Mary, an intelligent human being with a free will. Mary, even though she was endowed with the perfect grace to accept God’s message, nonetheless she was still a human being with an authentic freedom. Therefore, she asked the Angel “How can this happen, since I am not having relations with any man?” (Luke 1:34) The angel responded that the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow her to execute the Incarnation. Such a challenge is what the faith is all about: “To believe means ‘to abandon oneself’ to the truth of the word of the living God, knowing and humbly recognizing ‘how unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways’ (Rom. 11:33).” (St. Pope John Paul II, Redemptoirs Mater, 14)
Mary said yes: The fact that Mary said yes, she allowed herself to be introduced into the mystery of Christ her Son. Do not take it for granted that Mary understood everything she was getting herself into. The only thing that she knew for sure is that she was dedicated to God and was aware that all Jewish women were hoping that the awaited Christ would be their son. Vatican II emphatically urges the faithful to look at Mary as an authentic human being, not a ‘superwoman’ who knew everything. St. Pope John Paul II compares her faith in the Angel’s words to that of Abraham: “Just as Abraham in hope believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations” (cf. Rom. 4:18), so Mary, at the Annunciation, having professed her virginity (“How shall this be, since I have no husband?”) believed that through the power of the Most High, by the power of the Holy Spirit, she would become the Mother of God’s Son.” (Redemptoirs Mater, 14)
Implications of the Annunciation: This first step of Mary’s journey of faith has several implications:
- The Annunciation manifests God’s absolute initiative to enter time as a Divine Person with authentic humanity
- Mary’s yes ‘allowed’ God to touch time and enter history.
- The Annunciation is the perfect model how the divine cooperates with the human. God from above who gave Mary the grace and Mary from below who freely accepted it is a paradox. It looks like God is giving her everything; yet, she must freely accept it with all the concrete human conditions in which she lived. St. Pope John Paul II beautifully describes this paradox by saying: “She responded, therefore, with all her human and feminine I,” and this response of faith included both perfect cooperation with ‘the grace of God that precedes and assists’ and perfect openness to the action of the Holy Spirit.” (Redemptoirs Mater, 13)
- Hail Mary “full of grace” (God’s gift) was freely accepted (let it be done to me according to your word). It is unacceptable to attribute salvation exclusively to God’s gift and grace. Yes, God’s initiative to save us is absolute; yet we must accept it. St. Augustine teaches: “the One who created you without your will, will not save you without your will.” And also: “Give what you command, and command what you will. You impose continence on us.” (Confessions X, 29) In summary, we want to freely accept and live God’s commandments; but we need God’s grace to spur us on to be capable of freely accepting his commandments.
- In Mary, God’s perfect grace was met by her perfect free acceptance. Such a cooperation will never take place in human history again. This should not create jealousy in those who want to be united to God in the highest degree. Mary’s presence in our lives is a great support for such a union. The humility of being creatures should be the center of our spiritual life. Here again grace and freedom are inseparable: in Mary free will and grace are two aspects of the relationship between her and God. In Mary we can perfectly apply what Vatican II taught: “The ‘obedience of faith’ (Rom. 16:26; cf. Rom. 1:5; 2 Cor. 10:5-6) must be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man entrusts his whole self freely to God.” (Dei Verbum, 5)
- No woman in Israel was expecting a Messiah to be conceived by the Holy Spirit, God himself in the flesh. The mindset of the Jewish people was focused on a human Messiah who will reign over the people of Israel. The Annunciation is a totally unexpected move on the part of God. St. Pope John Paul II teaches: “From the moment of the Annunciation, the mind of the Virgin-Mother has been initiated into the radical “newness of God’s self-revelation and has been made aware of the mystery.” (Redemptoris Mater, 17)
- Every day of our lives there is an angel announcing to us God’s will. Often, his will does not make any sense to us. We are invited to look at Mary and learn the ‘obedience of faith’ that will ultimately bear much fruits in our spiritual life. Walking in the dark is frightening only when we are not held by the hands of Christ.
The journey to the mountains of Judea: MARY MEETS ELIZABETH
Mary meets Elizabeth, another step in the mystery of her Son: Mary took off to meet her cousin Elizabeth in a town called Ain Karem, four miles from Jerusalem. When Elizabeth saw her, John the Baptist in her womb was leaping with joy because John recognized Jesus in the womb of Mary. Elizabeth exclaimed, “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? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:42-45)
Implications of the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth: As she greets the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth had an unprecedented experience with her cousin. Having been unexpectedly pregnant, now her son meets the Son of Mary while both were still in the womb.
- Elizabeth was extending the greeting of the Angel “hail full of grace” thus creating the most frequent prayer in the Church: the Rosary.
- Elizabeth was confirming the words of the Angel Gabriel by calling Mary “the Mother of my Lord.” This sentence is the most fundamental drive behind calling Mary Theotokos (Mother of God).
- Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, witnessed and confirmed the word of his mother by leaping for joy in her womb.
- St. Pope John Paul II connects Mary being “full of grace” with Elizabeth’s words “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” The Pope teaches that God’s initiative is to give Mary the gift of being “full of grace.” Mary’s faith in believing God’s Word uttered by the Angel is the result of her free will: Mary freely accepted God’s gift of being “full if grace” by believing. Blessed is she who believed refers primarily to the moment in which the Angel greeted her “Full of Grace.” St. Pope John Paul II teaches: “The fullness of grace announced by the angel means the gift of God himself. Mary’s faith, proclaimed by Elizabeth at the Visitation, indicates how the Virgin of Nazareth responded to this gift.”(Redemptoirs Mater, 12)
- Mountains in the Old Testament are symbolic of the presence of God: among other, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus go up the mountain to meet and communicate with God. The Virgin Mary travels to the mountains of Judea this time, however, carrying God himself. Elizabeth becomes the Old Testament character who encounters the Lord ‘in flesh and blood’ in the womb of Mary.
- Elizabeth became an instrument for Mary to advance one more step in understanding the mystery of her Son.
The journey to the cave: CHRISTMAS
Birth of Christ, another step for Mary: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the angels appeared to the shepherds and confirmed the birth of the Savior. They came and told Mary about the angels’ message. Mary was contemplating these things in her heart, thinking and pondering what kind of child is this. The Magi came to visit the child and ‘fell down and worshiped him’. They offered gold (symbol of kingship), frankincense (symbol of Jesus’ divinity), and myrrh (symbol of his suffering). The message of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation and the words of Elizabeth prepared Mary for the message of the shepherds. Hearing this, Mary advanced a little bit more in understanding the mystery of her Son.
Mary face to face with the mystery: When Christ was born and Mary was able to hold and behold him, the mysterious words of the Annunciation and Elizabeth assumed a face, a Person. The promises of the Angel Gabriel and the confirmation of Elizabeth that Mary is the ‘Mother of the Lord’ now is a reality and history. It is impossible to fathom what Mary was thinking when her Son was born in such a supernatural way. Delving into the unknown was the only choice for her: The Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, the shepherds, and the magi are all characters cooperating with the divine plan in introducing the Mother into the mystery of the son
Implications of Christmas for Mary: The birth of Christ is an encounter between him and his Mother for the first time face to face. On the human level, if you were Mary who was receiving all these promises from many different characters pointing to something way more extraordinary then anyone could imagine, I would say she was waiting to see the face of this mystery. Such an encounter, similar to us meeting Christ spiritually for the first time even though hers was on the deepest possible level, has several implications:
- Jesus Christ is a baby now who has needs like all babies of the world. He was not a little ‘monster’; he needed protection, care, food, and home. His earthly existence is real, authentic, concrete, and is subject to the vicissitudes of our human conditions.
- Jesus’ relationship with his Mother and Joseph, because of his mysterious conception and birth, has a unique dimension. It is impossible for Mary to have a normal relationship with her Son who was born of her without the cooperation of man. Her mind was constantly focused on his mysterious identity. Luke the Evangelist summarizes that by saying: “and Mary pondered all these things in her heart.”
- Christmas is both the end of a journey and the beginning of another. The ‘Word’ of the Angel and Elizabeth are now ‘flesh’: the fulfillment of the promises. But being in flesh is the beginning of a long unknown journey filled with surprises and bumps.
The journey to the Temple: Simeon reveals the identity of Jesus
The presentation to the Temple: When Jesus was presented in the temple to be circumcised, the prophet Simeon acknowledged him to be the awaited Messiah: “For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32) These words heard by Mary confirm the words of the Angel at the Annunciation and the words of Elizabeth. It is another step in confirming the enigmatic identity of Christ. A ‘light for revelation’ reaffirms the Magi’s and the shepherd’s message to Mary on Christmas.
The revelation of Mary’s sorrowful motherhood: Simeon said to Mary: “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:35) and Jesus will be “a sign that is spoken against” (Luke 2:34). These words predict Mary’s deep suffering as she will be standing at the foot of the cross. A new dimension is now added to Mary’s journey of faith. Her motherhood will be filled with sacrifices and suffering. But the journey continues: “Simeon’s words seem like a second Annunciation to Mary, for they tell her of the actual historical situation in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely, in misunderstanding and sorrow.” (St. Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 16)
Implications of Simeon’s words for Mary: The words of Simeon have several implications:
- They strongly confirm Christ as the Savior Messiah awaited by Israel
- They don’t leave any doubt about the identity of the Savior to the point that death for Simeon does not matter. He was promised to see the redeemer before dying and now he did and is confirming it to his Mother Mary.
- The eyes of Simeon has seen ‘God’s salvation’ which is exactly the meaning of the word ‘Jesus’. This Hebrew word means ‘God saves’. Mary heard this statement and became more aware that her Son is Israel’s salvation.
- As summary, Mary knows now that her journey will be mixed with sorrow but she does not know the details of how and when this sorrow will take place.
The journey to Egypt: First sign of Mary’s sorrowful Motherhood
Tiring physical journey: Today we jump on a plane and travel the around the world in no time. It wasn’t like that back then when Mary and Joseph got up and had to flee to Egypt. Beside the physical challenges of the journey (most likely on a donkey), the anxiety and fear of Herod’s threat made the situation worse. In fact, “Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (cf. Mt. 2:13)
Simeon’s words start being fulfilled: The threat of Herod to kill the Child and the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt begin to fulfill Simeon’s predictions of Mary’s sorrowful motherhood. There is no way Mary understood why king Herod wanted to kill her Son. Entrusting her destiny to the words of the Angel who appeared to Joseph, Mary again shows her obedience of faith in this life threatening situation.
The journey to find Jesus in the Temple: Mary’s sorrowful Motherhood continues
Losing Jesus in the temple at the age of 12: Mary and Joseph lost Jesus at the age of 12 in the temple and were anxiously looking for him. When Mary found him and asked him the reason behind his action, he answered: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.” (Luke 2:48-50)
Jesus’ redemptive mission is above all human affairs: As Jesus reveals his absolute dedication to the Father’s mission, he proves to Mary that his mission goes beyond all human affairs. His words opens Mary’s mind to a different dimension of his Person and work.
Right there at the center of Judaism, Jesus gives a summary of his Person and work. Unlike the Jewish way of addressing God, Jesus calls God ‘Abba’ to the absolute dismay of the Jews. His relationship with the Father is ontological and on a different level then anyone; that’s why the Jews wanted to kill him. The second dimension is the nature of his work: Jesus is there to accomplish the work of the Father no matter what the conditions of life are.
Jesus’ redemptive mission is above all blood relation: Jesus mysteriously announced the center of his life: the business of the Father. Here, in parallel words, Jesus confirms again the supremacy of God’s Word in our lives above all human ties and relationships (even those of blood): Mary’s anxiety as she looks for Jesus is part of her sorrowful journey. In fact, no matter what anyone feels or goes through, the the plan of God must not be hindered. Later on, Jesus will teach that those who prefer the ties of family over him, are not worthy to be his disciples.
Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph: After his words at the temple, Jesus went down to Nazareth and was obedient to them. Such a statement confirms the authentic human relationship between Jesus and both Mary and Joseph. Just because he is divine, Jesus was not a monster who disregarded God’s commandments of “honor your mother and your father”. This obedience becomes exemplary when Jesus obeys the wishes of Mary in Cana and of course, in the dimension of heaven, such an obedience turns into intercession by nature (I analyze the intercession of Mary in Cana in the chapter of “Mediation and the Communion of Saints”.
The journey to Jesus’ public ministry: Mary comes out of her hidden life
Jesus bestows the blessing of faith on his Mother publicly: When Jesus was preaching, Mary along with his cousins came to see him. He was told that ‘your Mother is here to see you.’ He said, “My mother… is the one who listens to the Word of God.” (Luke 8:21) His answer confirms that no one listens to the Word of God better than Mary, even though it does not look like that on the outside. In fact, as the Gospel of Luke relates, Elizabeth said to Mary earlier: “Blessed is she who has believed what was told to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:45) But the reason Jesus said it this way too is because he “wishes to divert attention from motherhood understood only as a fleshly bond, in order to direct it towards those mysterious bonds of the spirit which develop from hearing and keeping God’s word.” (Redemptoris Mater, 20)
The woman in the crowd praises Mary publicly: God’s special blessings on Mary re-echoes throughout the Gospels especially when a woman in the crowd, listening to Jesus, raised her voice and said to him: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” (Luke 11:27) Such an incredible statement by a woman who most likely does not know Mary (Mary stayed in Nazareth most of the time during Jesus’ public ministry), throws light on Mary’s persona for the first time in public. Remember that Jesus was acting in the midst of a crowd astonished by his Person and miracles. St. Pope John Paul II brings up a unique theological thought when he said: “Through these words, there flashed out in the midst of the crowd, at least for an instant, the gospel of Jesus’ infancy. This is the gospel in which Mary is present as the mother who conceives Jesus in her womb, gives him birth and nurses him… Thanks to this motherhood, Jesus, the Son of the Most High is ‘flesh,’ like every other man: he is ‘the Word (who) became flesh’ (John 1:14). He is of the flesh and blood of Mary!” (Redemptoris Mater, 20)
The woman in the crowd who praises Mary begins the praises of the ages: When Mary met Elizabeth she uttered the words: “From henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” The woman in the crowd who exclaimed “blessed is the womb that bore you” started a chain of praising Mary that will never end until the end of time: “If it is true that ‘all generations will call her blessed’ (Luke 1:48), then it can be said that the unnamed woman was the first to confirm unwittingly that prophetic phrase of Mary’s Magnificat and to begin the Magnificat of the ages.” (Redemptoris Mater, 20)
Mary the first disciples of her Son: Mary said to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation: “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) These words are not said once and for all; rather, they will be repeated as Mary’s awareness of her Son’s mystery became clearer to her. As Mary progresses in understanding the mission of Jesus, she will continue to repeat the same words in the same attitude: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.” St. Pope John Paul II beautifully comments that Mary’s firm attitude in following Jesus, makes her the first disciple of her Son and “the first to whom he seemed to say: ‘Follow me,’ even before he addressed this call to the Apostles or to anyone else (cf. Jn. 1:43).” (Redemptoris Mater, 20)
The journey to the Cross: Mary’s deepest suffering in human history
Mary’s ultimate test at the foot of the Cross: At the foot of the cross all promises made to Mary were put to the test. The words of the Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, shepherds, magi, and the prophet Simeon are now being challenged: the identity and mission of Mary’s Son did not seem to match what was said about him from the beginning. St. Pope John Paul II taught that her presence at the foot of the cross is “perhaps the deepest ‘kenosis’ (self-emptying, suffering) of faith in human history.” (Redemptoris Mater, 18) How is it possible to keep the faith in the words of all those characters at the beginning of the journey when Mary sees her Son hanging on the cross dying?
Mary keeps the faith at the foot of the Cross: Against all odds, Mary kept the faith and stood at the foot of the cross. There will be no human being ever who will stand by the cross of Jesus Christ in the absolute darkest moments of life like Mary did. In fact, all the promises that Mary heard from the beginning from many different characters are now being challenged: ” The recent events on Calvary had shrouded that promise in darkness, yet not even beneath the Cross did Mary’s faith fail. She had still remained the one who, like Abraham, ‘in hope believed against hope (Rom. 4:18). But it is only after the Resurrection that hope had shown its true face and the promise had begun to be transformed into reality.” (Redemptoris Mater, 26)
St. Pope John Paul II beautifully comments: “How great, how heroic then is the obedience of faith shown by Mary in the face of God’s ‘unsearchable judgments’! How completely she ‘abandons herself to God without reserve, offering the full assent of the intellect and the will’ to him whose ‘ways are inscrutable’ (cf. Rom. 11:33)…Through faith the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in his redeeming death; but in contrast with the faith of the disciples who fled, hers was far more enlightened.” (Redemptoris Mater, 18)
At the foot of the Cross Elizabeth’s and Simeon’s words were fulfilled: Elizabeth’s words to Mary “blessed is she who believed” are now being fulfilled. Only she who believed was capable of remaining at the foot of the cross. Simeon’s prophecy who predicted a sword that will pierce Mary’s heart is now taking place: “From the Cross, that is to say from the very heart of the mystery of Redemption, there radiates and spreads out the prospect of that blessing of faith.” (Redemptoris Mater, 19)
At the foot of the Cross Mary’s motherhood toward humanity is fulfilled: There is no doubt that the motherhood of Mary that was gradually mentioned from the Annunciation and throughout her life, receives now its ultimate meaning and fulfillment as she stands by the cross. Here Jesus entrusts his Mother to the care of John the Beloved Apostle who represents the Church and humanity. St. Pope John Paul II teaches: “One can say that if Mary’s motherhood of the human race had already been outlined, now it is clearly stated and established. It emerges from the definitive accomplishment of the Redeemer’s Paschal Mystery. The Mother of Christ, who stands at the very center of this mystery-a mystery which embraces each individual and all humanity-is given as mother to every single individual and all mankind.” (Redemptoris Mater, 23)
“And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:27). Entrusting Mary to the Apostle John has a deep implications on all of us: we nee to take Mary to our own home with all the consequences of the filial relationship with the Mother. St. Pope John Paul II comments: “Entrusting himself to Mary in a filial manner, the Christian, like the Apostle John, ‘welcomes’ the Mother of Christ ‘into his own home’ and brings her into everything that makes up his inner life, that is to say into his human and Christian ‘I’: he ‘took her to his own home.’ Thus the Christian seeks to be taken into that ‘maternal charity’ with which the Redeemer’s Mother cares for the brethren of her Son…” (Redemptoris Mater, 45)
At the foot of the Cross the New Adam and the New Eve recreate humanity: The old wood of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that brought about sin and destruction is now being replaced by the wood of the cross. The old Adam and Eve who were condemned are now being replaced by the New Adam and the New Eve. The disobedience of Adam and Eve is now being replaced by the obedience unto the cross of the new Adam (Philippians 1) and the ‘obedience of faith’ of the New Eve. At Cana, Jesus called his Mother ‘Woman’ as replaces the old Eve and here at the foot of the cross he calls her again ‘Woman” which is the ultimate fulfillment of the new creation. St. Irenaeus says in this regard: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.” (Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses III, 22, 4: S. Ch. 211, 438-444) And again St. Pope John Paul II: “How can one doubt that especially now, on Golgotha, this expression goes to the very heart of the mystery of Mary, and indicates the unique place which she occupies in the whole economy of salvation?” (Redemptoris Mater, 24) Mary becomes the ‘Woman’ spoken of in the book of Genesis when God promised Eve that the “seed of the woman…will crush the head of the serpent” (cf. Gen. 3:15). Mary also becomes the woman spoken of in the Book of the Apocalypse (12:1). Thus she is the ‘Woman’ from beginning of creation until the end of salvation.
Jesus’ resurrection as the ultimate revelation of Mary’s journey: Only after the resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit did Mary understand, as humanly as possible, the full picture of God’s mysterious plan. With his resurrection, Jesus revealed the entire mystery of Mary’s journey: her motherhood and faith had to suffer the ultimate temptation of doubt before his identity was vindicated. Against all hope, Mary remained faithful and present until her faith was rewarded. As the Church is daily introduced into the mystery of Christ, she looks at Mary and tries to stay by Christ in the darkest moment of her journey. Every day we are invited to live the mystery of Christ, even though on many occasions there seems to be no hope. Yet, staying at the foot of the cross is our only option.
Summary of Mary’s journey: living the mystery only through faith
We can’t see God face to face yet: As long as we abide in this body we are foreigners to the reality of heaven, St. Paul wisely taught. Therefore, faith is the only instrument we have as we live the mystery of Christ. Note that faith here is the free obedience we give to God who reveals himself to us. It is the ultimate challenge because we can’t experience it in our senses which are the channels through which we communicate with realities outside of us. No wonder Jesus gave the blessing to those who believe without seeing.
Mary lives Christ’s mystery only through faith: The Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, the angels on Christmas, the shepherds, the magi, the prophet Simeon, and Jesus’ words at the age of 12 all confirm one thing: Jesus has a mysterious identity that cannot be fully understood yet. Being divine by nature is definitely something that was beyond the comprehension of all of these characters. St. Pope John Paul II comments that only through faith Mary is being put in touch with the incomprehensible mystery of her Son. The Incarnation is not something that the human mind can fathom: “Thus even his Mother, to whom had been revealed most completely the mystery of his divine sonship, lived in intimacy with this mystery only through faith.” (Redemptoris Mater, 17)
Mary in the Mystery of The Church: Motherhood and Virginity
Mary Mother of God and Mother of the members of Christ’s body: Hanging on the cross, Jesus entrusted Mary to the care of the Apostle John inviting him to be her son and her to be his mother. The Church has always considered the Apostle John as representing the members of the Church. St. Pope Paul VI in a magisterial document clearly confirmed that “Mary, Mother of Christ, (is) Mother of the Church.” (Discourse, November 21, 1964) St. Pope John Paul II gives the reason behind this truth by connecting the Incarnation to Pentecost. At the Annunciation Mary became the Mother of Christ; at Pentecost Mary became the Mother of the Church. He says: “And so, in the redemptive economy of grace, brought about through the action of the Holy Spirit, there is a unique correspondence between the moment of the Incarnation of the Word and the moment of the birth of the Church. The person who links these two moments is Mary: Mary at Nazareth and Mary in the Upper Room at Jerusalem. In both cases her discreet yet essential presence indicates the path of ‘birth from the Holy Spirit.’ Thus she who is present in the mystery of Christ as Mother becomes-by the will of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit-present in the mystery of the Church.” (Redemptoris Mater, 24)
If St. Paul taught that the Church is the body of Christ, and if Mary is the mother of Christ, Mary is therefore also mother of the body of Christ, the Church. The slaves are not better then their Master. If the Master planned for her to be his mother, the slaves would be undeservedly honored to have her as their mother too. St. Pope John Paul II states: “It is significant that the conciliar text (Vatican II) places this truth about the Church as the Body of Christ (according to the teaching of the Pauline Letters) in close proximity to the truth that the Son of God ‘through the power of the Holy Spirit was born of the Virgin Mary.’ The reality of the Incarnation finds a sort of extension in the mystery of the Church-the Body of Christ.” (Redemptoris Mater, 5)
Mary and the Church are both Mothers and Virgins: Mary was Virgin physically and Spiritually. The Church is also a virgin in the sense that she “”keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 64) The Virgin Mary is a physical and a spiritual Mother of Jesus Christ. So is the Church when through baptism “she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 64) This parallel between Mary and the Church has been analysed from the beginning of the Church’s Mariological thought. The Church looks at Mary as the model for Virginity and Motherhood and tries to imitate her in every aspect of consecration. The pilgrimage of faith is no longer historical for Mary since she sees God “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12) ; the Church continues the journey in which “the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin, and so they raise their eyes to Mary, who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as a model of the virtues.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 65) St. Pope John Paul II gives a summary of this theology by saying: “The Church ‘becomes herself a mother by accepting God’s word with fidelity.’ Like Mary, who first believed by accepting the word of God revealed to her at the Annunciation and by remaining faithful to that word in all her trials even unto the Cross, so too the Church becomes a mother when, accepting with fidelity the word of God, ‘by her preaching and by baptism she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.’ This ‘maternal’ characteristic of the Church was expressed in a particularly vivid way by the Apostle to the Gentiles when he wrote: ‘My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!’.” (Gal. 4:19)” (Redemptoris Mater, 45)
Mary our mother in the order of grace: Mary’s union with Christ from the womb to the tomb is the foundation of her union with the Church from beginning to end. Since Christ united himself to his mother in the highest degree that can ever be done between humanity and God, this union is extended in space and time between Mary and Christ’s body, the Church. She was physically and spiritually his mother; she is only spiritually mother of the Church by generating children to God. Vatican II explains that by teaching: “In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.” (Lumen Gentium, 61)
Mary our mother in the order of grace implies the uniqueness of every person: We tend to think collectively when we preach that Mary is Mother of the Church. Even though billions and billions of people make up the Church of all time, every single person is treated as a unique and special individual by Mother Mary. St. Pope John Paul II comments: “Even when the same woman is the mother of many children, her personal relationship with each one of them is of the very essence of motherhood. For each child is generated in a unique and unrepeatable way, and this is true both for the mother and for the child. Each child is surrounded in the same way by that maternal love on which are based the child’s development and coming to maturity as a human being. It can be said that motherhood ‘in the order of grace’ preserves the analogy with what ‘in the order of nature’ characterizes the union between mother and child. In the light of this fact it becomes easier to understand why in Christ’s testament on Golgotha his Mother’s new motherhood is expressed in the singular, in reference to one man: ‘Behold your son’.” (Redemptoris Mater, 45)
Mary in the Mystery of The Church: Mediation
Why does God invite creatures to cooperate with him: In creating humanity, God’s plan was to save it too. As God creates and saves, he intended creatures to share in his power. Such a cooperation proves the ultimate goodness of the Creator who invites his creatures to extend in space and time his eternal plan of creation and redemption. In the same way God invites human beings to share in his power of creating other human beings (Eve said:”I have conceived a son with the help of the Lord”), God also invites human beings to share in his power of saving others (St. Paul said “we are God’s co-workers for the salvation of all”). Commenting on Christ’s priesthood and his mediation in front of the Father, Vatican II teaches: “No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.” (Lumen Gentium, 62)
Mary, our mother in the order of grace, extends her Son’s redemption in the Church: Mary’s cooperation in the work of our only Savior, Jesus Christ, must continue in the Church. The work of Christ is not an event in the past and, therefore, his mother’s work cannot be an event in the past either. Since Jesus redeemed humanity using his human nature taken from Mary, Mary will continue to be present in the Church as the Mother of the Redeemer until the end of time. Vatican II teaches: “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” (Lumen Gentium, 62)
Mary’s mediation draws its power exclusively from Christ: Mary does not add anything to the supernatural redemption accomplished by Christ; she just shares in it and fosters it like no one else. The wedding at Cana in Galilee is the most evident example of Christ doing the miracle of changing water into wine at the request of his Mother. Vatican II wisely explains: “Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 60)
Mary in the Mystery of The Church: a member and an icon
Mary’s journey of faith is longer then that of the Church: The Church was born and publicly revealed in the upper room at Pentecost. There starts the beginning of the Church’s pilgrimage of faith and Mary was present to witness the Church’s journey. In the case of Mary, however, she already received the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation and thus starting her own journey of faith before the Church. In this sense the Church’s Marian dimension precedes Her Petrine ministry because Mary’s journey of faith is longer. So when Jesus was on earth, the Apostles looked at Mary though him because he was the center. After Pentecost, the Apostles turned to Mary to learn more about the mystery of her Son because she was the witness par excellence of Christ from the beginning. Saint Pope John Paul II teaches in this regard: “And that first group of those who in faith looked ‘upon Jesus as the author of salvation,’ knew that Jesus was the Son of Mary, and that she was his Mother, and that as such she was from the moment of his conception and birth a unique witness to the mystery of Jesus, that mystery which before their eyes had been disclosed and confirmed in the Cross and Resurrection. Thus, from the very first moment, the Church ‘looked at’ Mary through Jesus, just as she ‘looked at’ Jesus through Mary.” (Redemptoris Mater, 26)
So then Mary’s journey of faith started earlier then the Church. They both will continue together until the end of the ages. Mary lived the mystery of Christ like no one else did, does, or will. The Church in turn is invited to live Christ’s mystery in the deepest possible way. Therefore, every single person in the history of humanity who is trying to live the mystery of Christ is somehow sharing in Mary’s faith. St. Pope John Paul II describes this truth by saying: “This heroic faith of Mary ‘precedes’ the apostolic witness of the Church, and ever remains in the Church’s heart hidden like a special heritage of God’s revelation. All those who from generation to generation accept the apostolic witness of the Church share in that mysterious inheritance, and in a sense share in Mary’s faith.” (Redemptoris Mater, 26) And St. Pope Paul VI emphatically states: “Knowledge of the true Catholic doctrine regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary will always be a key to the exact understanding of the mystery of Christ and of the Church.” (Pope Paul VI, Discourse of 21 November 1964)
Mary the most eminent member of the Church: Mary is not above the Church. She remains a member of the Church, however in a complete unique way. No one will ever be united to Christ physically and spiritually like her. Mary is a “preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 53) The fact that Christ himself chose to unite her to himself in such a unique, special, supernatural, unprecedented, and irrevocable way, shows his will to place her above all creatures. All the preparations for her role in the Old Testament are now fulfilled. Vatican II teaches that Mary “stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion, and the new plan of salvation is established.” (LG, 55)
The Church was publicly revealed at Pentecost but it was in God’s mind since the beginning of creation because God lives only in the eternal present. Not only the Church, but also Mary was in God’s mind as the instrument of Christ’s Incarnation, as the Mother of God, and as the Mother of Church. Chronologically, Mary appears before the Church on the horizon of salvation. Therefore, Mary will always be present in a very special way in God’s plan of salvation from the beginning of creation until the end of time. St. Pope John Paul II beautifully desribes this theological truth by teaching: “Thanks to this special bond linking the Mother of Christ with the Church, there is further clarified the mystery of that “woman” who, from the first chapters of the Book of Genesis until the Book of Revelation, accompanies the revelation of God’s salvific plan for humanity.” (Redemptoris Mater, 47)
Mary icon of the Church: Since the goal of the Church is the eternal resurrection of all the bodies uniting them with Christ at the end of time, and since Mary is already in heaven body and soul, Mary becomes the icon of the Church. The Church aims to be what Mary already is. This is why the pilgrimage of faith of the Church is similar to that of the Virgin Mary in all aspects. On her journey, the Church advances along the same paths trodden by the Virgin Mary, who “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and loyally persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 58) Because of that union with her Son until the end, Mary became “a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 52)
Saint Pope John Paul II beautifully summarizes Mary’s role as a model and icon of the Church by saying: “Her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals and for communities, for peoples and nations and, in a sense, for all humanity. It is indeed difficult to encompass and measure its range.” (Redemptoris Mater, 6)