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Posts Tagged ‘Blessed Mother’

Immaculate ConceptionToday we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

There, I said it.  Feel free to respond with a “So what” or “What does that mean?”

So what do we mean when we say “Immaculate Conception?”  By this, we are referring to the fact that the Virgin Mary was, by a unique grace, preserved from all sin — both Original and personal  — from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb.  She was perfect, as far as this is possible fora human being.

Some Christians are scandalized by this notion, arguing that:

  1. it is un-Biblical; and
  2. if it were true, it would suggest that Mary did not need a savior, which in turn dilutes the significance of Jesus Christ.

These concerns are understandable.  But in the last analysis, they are unfounded.  I’ll address them in the preceding order.

For Biblical support of the Immaculate Conception, we need look no further than the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

…the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

(Luke 1: 26-28 – bold added)

“Favored one” is not a bad translation of the Greek, but the traditionally recognized phrase “full of grace” is probably more accurate.  The salutation in Greek is “Chaire, Kecharitomene,” a salutation that appears nowhere else in ancient literature.  In all likelihood, this is why…

[Mary] was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

(Luke 1: 29 – bold added)

Some would argue that Gabriel is simply calling Mary blessed because of Who she will carry inside her womb.  This argument, however, will not survive an accurate understanding of the language.  Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle; it refers to a current and continual condition stemming from a past action (as opposed to the future conception of the Son of God); it implies a fullness of divine grace freely bestowed by God.

Panachranta

And that brings us to the second objection cited above.  The how of the Immaculate Conception is actually very simple: God, with foreknowledge of the merits of Christ, applied these merits to Mary in a special way at the very moment of her conception.  Given her unique role in salvation history and the closeness to the Lord she was to experience — a closeness totally unequaled in any creature, even the greatest of the angels — this was more than fitting.

Medieval commentators liked to offer the following analogy: Imagine a large, deep pit hidden in a dense wood — a pit that is very easy to fall into unawares and virtually impossible get out of.

One could be rescued after the fact, having fallen into the pit and lingered there until someone came along and extended him a rope; alternatively, someone could step in beforehand and prevent the approaching party from the quite literal pitfall in the first place.

Like everyone else, Mary’s salvation was in Christ alone; but unlike the rest of us, she never got to the pit.

In conclusion, here is a quote from the third century (one of a not insignificant number from the early Church) that should build some confidence in this belovéd doctrine:

He [Jesus] was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle [Mary] was exempt from putridity and corruption.

(Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me, quoted by Taylor Marshall on a New Saint Thomas Institute video)

Images from Wikipedia

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St. Mary MajorToday is the optional memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, which I think gives me a good opportunity to talk about the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.

Many people object to this title.  After all, if God is God, then He doesn’t need a “begetter,” right?  And given the eternity of God, wouldn’t Mary have to have been begetting Him from all eternity?

Obviously, this scenario is preposterous.  And yet in 431 it was decreed at the Council of Ephesus that Mary was indeed the “Theotokos” (Greek for “God-bearer”), much to the delight of the faithful (it is said that the city was lit with the fires of celebration after the pronouncement was made).

Let’s put this whole issue in context…

The Council of Ephesus came in response to the claims of Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who held, contrary to traditional orthodoxy, that the man Christ Jesus was not God in the flesh; rather, the Eternal Son of God became specially united with the man Jesus of Nazareth, so that wherever the latter went he made the Son uniquely present to everyone he met.

Against Nestorius, the Council affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth was none other than the Son of God made flesh; that two natures, divine and human, dwelt perfectly in Him.  Although His personhood is in His divine identity as the Son, Jesus Christ was — and is eternally — one Person, fully God and fully human (because of the human nature He united with His divinity).

It is for this reason that the Virgin Mary was officially acknowledged as the Mother of God.

There are some who reject this, pointing out that Mary was the mother of Jesus’ human nature only, not His divine nature.

Theotokos

But mothers are not the mothers of natures, are they?  They are the mothers of persons.  Think of your own mother — she has a special relationship with you and with each of your siblings (if you have any) as unique human beings, not just with your “human natures.”

Just so, Mary was the mother of the Person of Jesus Christ.  At the risk of being redundant, I will say again that Jesus was and is, in His divinity and humanity, one Person.

Therefore, Mary is truly the Mother of God.

In and through Christ, she is also the mother of the Church…but that is a topic for another post.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment if you have anything to say (provided there is civility, of course).

Images from Wikipedia

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SkyIt never occurred to me before that the colors of a lightly clouded daytime sky resemble the traditionally depicted garments of the Virgin Mary…

St. MaryI wonder if whenever we look up to enjoy a blue sky, we should be reminded that Mother Mary is always lovingly watching over us.  She has, after all, been made Queen of Heaven and Earth.  Precisely because she of all creatures surrendered herself to God most totally, she has been exalted to the position of the highest creature in God’s universe — not so that she may enjoy this status for her own sake, but so that her children may obtain many graces through her intercession.

Something else occurred to me in reflecting on the sky and the Blessed Virgin.  Where does the sky get it’s light and splendor?

The sun.

Likewise, from whence does Mary get her glory and splendor?

The Son.

Indeed, as the Catechism says, Mary “is the burning bush* of the definitive theophany” (CCC 724).

And because of that, because the Son of God became flesh through her, she is reverenced even by the angels.  And because of her unique closeness to the Most High, her protection may be most perfectly trusted.

* A reference to the burning bush from which God speaks to Moses in Exodus 3:2-4:17

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