Mother of God
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
The story of Mary, the Jewish maid of Nazareth who became the Mother of Jesus and the very Queen of Heaven is one of the great treasures of Christianity. Unfortunately, it presents an obstacle to Protestants and even to some Catholics. The difficulty is rooted in the revealed truth that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. “For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all.” (1 Tim. 2:5) Mary is seen as usurping this role of mediator. Mary seems to be in competition with Jesus.
The apparent conflict arises in part from the failure to distinguish between adoration and veneration. Adoration is that honor that we give to God alone for an excellence that He has of Himself that He has not received from anyone. Veneration is the honor that we give to creatures for an excellence that they have received from God. It is evident from the definition of veneration that God is honored in the act of veneration. Just as the moon has no light of its own but simply reflects the light of the sun all creatures, including Mary, simply reflect in a finite way the infinite perfection of the Creator, and in so doing they honor the Creator.
Another misunderstanding arises from the title we give to Mary, “Mother of God.” Many think that thereby we are attributing divinity to Mary. This difficulty has a long history dating back to the Council of Ephesus in the year 431, and is rooted in the Christological heresies of early Christianity. Nestorius claimed that Jesus was two persons, a divine person and a human person and Mary was the mother of the human person and not the “Mother of God.” The Council condemned Nestorius and taught that Jesus is only one person, a divine person, having a divine nature from all eternity and in time taking a human nature from Mary. What was born of Mary was not a nature but a person, a divine Person Jesus Christ, true God and true man. So Mary can rightly be called the “Mother of God.” Very simply, Mary is the mother of Jesus. Jesus is God. Therefore, Mary is the Mother of God. Mary protects both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus.
Mary is not divine but she is as close to divinity as any creature can get. She is the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. The insistence on Mary being a creature, far from detracting from our love of her, only makes our relationship with her more intimate. She really is one of us.
Others find difficulty with the devotion to Mary because they think that the devotion had its origin in private revelations. Mary was honored long before Lourdes, Fatima or any other of the many Marian revelations. There is an important difference between public revelation and private revelation. The public revelation of Jesus was final and definitive. All Christians are bound by this revelation. God, of course, can give a revelation to anyone at any time and any place He wishes. The teaching of the Church in regard to private revelations is that the person who receives it is bound by it if they are certain that it is a revelation from God. No one else is bound by that revelation unless the Church would accept it and teach it officially. Then all would be bound, not in virtue of the private revelation, but in virtue of the Magisterium of the Church. The Marian revelations, no doubt, have given a new impetus to the devotion of Mary but they were not its origin.
Others think that the Catholic Church started the devotion to Mary and therefore it is only for Catholics. The truth is that Mary was honored long before the Catholic Church came into existence on Pentecost. Three decades before Pentecost Mary was honored with the Immaculate Conception. During the Visitation Elizabeth called Mary “blessed” and Mary prophesied, “From this day forward, all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:48) The power of Mary’s intercession was already operative at the Wedding Feast of Cana where Mary informed Jesus, “They have no wine.” Jesus answered, “My hour has not come yet.” Nevertheless, at the intercession of Mary Jesus performed his first miracle. As His last will and testament Jesus, nailed to the cross, gave Mary to be our own mother through the person of John. “Woman, there is your son.” Then to John, “This is your mother.” (John 19: 26-27). The apostles themselves prayed with Mary. (Acts 1:14) Mary is present in the three principal events of Christianity: the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, and Pentecost.
Mary is not in competition with Jesus. It is not a question of Jesus or Mary but rather Jesus and Mary. The most popular representations of Mary are the Madonna and the Pieta, Mary holding the new-born Jesus and Mary holding the newly-expired Jesus. The Hail Mary the most popular prayer to Mary is really about Jesus, about the Annunciation of his coming into the world as Savior. The mission of Mary was to conceive Jesus in her heart by faith and then conceive him in her womb by the Holy Spirit, and bring him to others as she did at the Annunciation and Visitation. Any devotion to Mary that dead-ends at Mary and does not lead us to Jesus is by that very fact suspect.
The biggest difference between Protestants and Catholics in regard to Mary is that Protestants regard Mary historically, that is as she lived 2,000 years ago. Yes, they say, she was the mother of Jesus, she did conceive Jesus at the Annunciation and brought him to Elizabeth at the Visitation, Jesus worked his first miracle at her intercession at Cana, she stood at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion and prayed with the apostles in the Cenacle before Pentecost. She did all of this perfectly and now her work is ended. She is no longer active in the work of salvation. Catholics, on the other hand, regard Mary not only historically but also existentially, that is as she is now Assumed Body and Soul into heaven and through the Communion of Saints is still active in salvation, interceding for us and bringing us to Jesus. Jesus is still coming to us through Mary as he did 2,000 years ago.
Let me put the Protestant difficulty very simply in its most powerful form: They ask, “Is Mary more powerful than Jesus?” We would have to say no. Then they would ask, “Is Mary more merciful than Jesus?” We would have to say no. And finally they would say, “Is Mary more approachable than Jesus?” If we say yes, they will say you do not know Jesus.
So why go to Mary? I struggled with this for years. Then one day it came to me very unexpectedly and very clearly. This is the will of Jesus. He who commanded us to honor our father and mother wants his own mother honored. And we will never be able to honor Mary more than he did. So when we honor Mary we are in some pretty good company, we are in the company of Jesus, and we can hardly do better than that.
of Mary is the greatest Cinderella story of all time. And God is the author
of that story. It was His idea, He took the initiative and He saw it to
its completion. He planned the beginning of Mary’s life in an extraordinary
way with the Immaculate Conception and planned the end of her life in
an equally extraordinary way with the Assumption.
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