Read ~ Chapter 19: Mary in the Mystery of Christ and the Church
Father Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)
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
Mary’s journey of faith: Her presence in the mystery of Christ
Looking at Mary through Christ: Vatican II, against all erroneous approaches to the human person, states that “only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” (Gaudium et Spes, 22) This statement summarizes the nature and destiny of every human being created in the image and likeness of God and destined from the very beginning of creation to be saved in and through Jesus Christ (see Ephesians, 1). Since Christ’s salvation is universal and since Mary is an authentic human person, Vatican II’s statement applies to her too. The mystery of Mary can only be understood through the Mystery of Christ: “Only in the mystery of Christ is her mystery fully made clear.” (St. Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 4)
Such an approach is historically valid. When Jesus started to attract the crowd through his miracles, actions, and teachings, he became the center of attention. The people looked at Jesus as the center and at everyone around him, including his mother, through him. The people of his culture wanted to understand the role and presence of all people surrounding Jesus, through Jesus himself.
Looking at Jesus through Mary: In the natural course of events, things shifted after the death and resurrection of Christ. As soon as the Apostles and disciples realized that the resurrection confirmed the divinity of the mysterious person of Christ, they started looking at Jesus through Mary. the reason is simple: she is the only one who was was him from the womb to the tomb. It makes sense now to look at her to draw all possible information about the hidden life of her Son.
The beginning of Mary’s journey: 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 God 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) All these wonderful promises were challenging to Mary, an intelligent human being with a free will. She asked the Angel “How can this happen, I’m not having relations with any man?” (Luke 1:34) The angel responded that the power of the Holy Spirit will make that happen. That was the first step of introducing Mary 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.
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, “How do I deserve that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) Elizabeth was again confirming the words of the Angel Gabriel by calling Mary “the Mother of my Lord.” Now Mary is advancing a little bit more in understanding the mystery of her Son.
Birth of Christ, another for Mary: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the angels appeared to the shepherds and confirmed the birthday 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 offering 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 were confirmed yet another time. Mary added little bit more awareness of the content of Jesus’ mystery.
The presentation to the Temple: When Jesus was presented into a temple to be circumcised, the prophet Simeon acknowledged the presence of the Messiah, “Now Lord you can let your servant go in peace because my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:29-30) Then Simeon said to Mary “A sword will pierce your heart,” (Luke 2:35) predicting her 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.
Losing Jesus in the temple at the age of 12: Mary and Joseph lost Jesus at the age of 12 in the temple. When Mary found him and asked him the reason behind His action, he answered, “Why are you so anxious, I have to be in my Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49) Revealing His dedication to the Father’s mission above all human affairs reveals to Mary one more step of his mysterious person and mission.
The Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the angels, 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. That was just the introduction into Jesus’ mystery. The journey just started and all promises will be put to the test when Jesus will be hanging on the cross.
Mary in Jesus’ public ministry: 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. 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) Mary now understands better the priority of God’s Word above all human affairs and plans.
Jesus’ answer here is similar to what he said earlier to Mary and Joseph in the temple at the age of 12. There, he 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). Later on, Jesus will teach that those who prefer the ties of family over him, are not worthy to be his disciples.
Mary 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 challenged. Against all odds, Mary kept the faith and stood at the foot of the cross. St. Pope John Paul II taught that her presence at the foot of the cross is the deepest kenosis (deepest self-emptying and suffering) that any human being could go through. At that moment her Son’s identity and mission were put to the test, and only after the resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit did Mary understand the full picture.
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.
Mary’s mediation: her presence in the Mystery of The Church
Mary Mother of the members of Christ’s body: Hanging on the cross, Jesus entrusted Mary to the care of the Apostle John and assigned her to be his mother. Since the beginning the fathers of the Church have always considered the words of Jesus on the cross to assign Mary not only as mother of John, but also mother of the Church. The Apostle John represents the members of the Church. 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. St. Pope Paul VI in the clearest way in a magisterial document confirmed that “Mary, Mother of Christ, (is) Mother of the Church.” (Discourse, November 21, 1964)
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 “”keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 64) The Virgin Mary is a physical and spiritual Mother of Jesus Christ. So is the Church for “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 the presence and role of Mary and the Church has been analysed since the Church’s beginning. She 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)
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. 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. Vatican II teaches: “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.” (LG, 61)
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. Since Jesus redeemed humanity using his human nature taken from Mary as the instrument to accomplish that redemption, Mary will continue to be present in the Church as the mother 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.” (LG, 62)
Mary’s mediation in the Church: Mary does not add anything to the supernatural redemption accomplished by Christ; she just shares in it and fosters it like no one else: “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.” (LG, 60)
In both orders of creation and salvation, God wanted to allow creatures to share in his plan. Such a cooperation proves the ultimate goodness of the Creator who invites his creatures to make present in space and time his eternal plan of creation and redemption. 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.” (LG, 62)
Mary most eminent member of the Church: Mary is not above the Church. She remains a member of the Church 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, LG, 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)
Mary icon of the Church: Since the goal of the Church is the eternal resurrection of all the bodies to be united 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.