Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Blessed Mother in the Catechism

If there was one statement contained within the entire Catechism that I feel best captures the heart and spirit of Mary’s unique role within the Church, it is contained in section 487: “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.” It is imperative for Catholics to understand that everything we believe regarding our Blessed Mother is rooted and grounded in what we believe about Jesus, and the more we understand the person of the Blessed Mother, the more we will then understand about our Lord and Savior. If we do not have this firmly established in our mind and heart, we will miss the vital significance that Mary and Christ together share in what is revealed in the New Covenant and hidden in the Old.

If we get it wrong on Mary, we will inevitably get it wrong on Jesus. Christian history has proved this, as is most evident in the Nestorian heresy of the 5th century, in which a Marian heresy inevitably led to a Christological one. The Catechism sums this up perfectly in section 466: “The Nestorian heresy regarded Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son.” Opposing this heresy, the Church taught at the Council of Ephesus (as summarized by the Catechism), “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.” In other words, Nestorius was falsely teaching that Mary was not the mother of God, but rather the mother of the man Jesus. Because he got it wrong on Mary, he in turn got it wrong on Christ. The Catechism continues, “For this reason the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 that Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb.” In defining the true role of Mary, the Council illumined the true nature and person of Jesus Christ.

Once we understand Mary as the Mother of God, we then can appreciate her role as the Mother of the Church. The Second Vatican Council magnificently wrapped up its dogmatic constitution on the Church with Mary being the cornerstone, since she is the Church’s Mother. The Catechism treats this amazing title in great depth from sections 963-975. I believe that after 2,000 years of continued doctrinal development, the Church has crowned her Mother with a glorious title that truly demonstrates to us Mary’s significance in the Christian faith. Quoting St. Augustine and Pope Paul VI, the Catechism notes in section 963: “The Virgin clearly the mother of the members of Christ…since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head. Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.” Picking up what the Catechism noted in section 487, the Catechism lays out in section 964: “Mary’s role in the Church in inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it.” The biblical significance of this is rooted in the dogmatic truth that Mary truly is the Mother of God (as Ephesus declared, and as St. Elizabeth proclaimed in Luke’s Gospel), and since St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:18 that Christ is the head and we are His body, thus Mary in a deeply spiritual but very real way is our Mother as well. The passage in Scripture which best captures this is John 19:26, where our Lord, in His final breaths before He dies and descends into the lower regions of earth, tells St. John to behold Mary as his own mother. St. John represents the Church militant, keeping his eyes focused on his suffering Lord and never wavering in his faith, and thus the Church as a whole can now behold Mary as her Mother, directing us towards the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ. Mary never wants devotion to end with her; rather, she always focuses it towards her Son. When Mary says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” she means it. When we see Jesus through the soul of Mary, we see the love and mercy of Christ magnified.

The Catechism notes in section 968: “Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. 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.” Again, picking up on the theme laid out in sections 487 and 964, the Catechism notes in section 970: “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.”

Mary is the eschatological icon of the Church, meaning in terms of our understanding of the end times, Mary stands as our greatest image and symbol of what all true children of Christ will by His grace experience one day. Section 972 notes, “After speaking of the Church, her origin, mission, and destiny, we can find no better way to conclude than by looking to Mary. In her we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own pilgrimage of faith, and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey.” Thus, just as Mary’s role helps us better grasp Christ’s mission and nature, so too does Mary’s role help us better realize who we are and what we can look hopeful to as children on God and members of Christ’s Body.