Catholics love Our Lady. Churches in every era of our history and everywhere in the world have been named in her honor. Her image is reverenced in our places of worship, in our classrooms, and in our homes. Her name is praised in the liturgy, and her prayers are requested in a multitude of our devotions. Mary is an essential symbol of human cooperation with divine grace, and she is honored as the first and the greatest of the Lord’s disciples. This received tradition about Mary is firmly grounded both in the scriptures and in the living faith of Catholic believers.
To begin at the beginning in our understanding of Mary, we need to remember another woman mentioned in the Bible. Eve of the Old Testament is the mother of us all. Her story is a kind of parable of our sad human story. She heard the Word of God but believed the promises of the evil spirit. Through disobedience Adam and Eve brought sin and death into this world and lost paradise for their children. In the New Testament Mary is presented as the New Eve, a new mother of us all. Mary hears the Word of God and believes the promises of the Holy Spirit. With her fiat the promises of paradise are renewed for the children of grace.
Just as in the beginning, when the Holy Spirit soared over the waters of chaos and created everything out of nothing, so also in the fullness of time, the Holy Spirit overshadowed the virginity of Mary and effected a whole new creation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Mary was made more holy than was the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem, because He whom the whole universe could not contain was truly sheltered in her chaste womb.
Through the faith of this woman, the image and likeness of God was restored to our human nature when the Word became flesh. He who was ever consubstantial with the divinity of the Father became consubstantial with the humanity of Mary. Everything that was human in Jesus came from his mother, the perfect mirror of his face. Our Lord is rightly called the Son of God and the Son of Mary. Our Lady is rightly called the
Mother of God, because the child she brought to birth was God. This saving mystery came about through the grace and mercy of Almighty God but also through the faith and free will of the woman Mary.
Although Christians have always celebrated the essential role of Mary’s maternity, they have also recognized her greater dignity as a disciple. Just as Mary conceived by faith, so also did she walk by faith. Predestined in grace and preserved from every stain of sin, Mary was the true virgin daughter of Israel. She personifies the ancient faith that first received God’s Law and believed in God’s promises. Mary is also the beloved bride, the New Israel of God, the type and symbol of the Christian Church. She was the first to receive Jesus into her life, and she was the very first to love and serve him. Preeminent among the company of believers, Mary is everything Christians are called to become.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord who had done such great things for her. All generations in this new era of grace call her blessed. Mary always followed in the footsteps of Christ. What she did not understand, she pondered prayerfully in her heart. She was also the preface to all the miracles of the Savior. His first great sign was manifested at her confident request, when at the marriage feast of Cana; Jesus changed ordinary water into the new wine of the Kingdom. Even at Calvary this woman of great valor, whose heart was pierced with a sword of sorrow, remained entirely faithful. It was from the cross, as if from a lofty throne, that Our Lord gave this woman as mother to the beloved disciple, establishing a new family of faith.
On Pentecost Sunday Mary was gathered in prayer with the Apostles in the upper room. It was then that the Church, which is Christ’s Body, was born into this world through another outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Revelation, the Blessed Mother is clothed with the sun and all the stars, with the moon at her feet, symbolizing the People of God waiting with hope and expectation for the glorious Day of the Lord.
In Catholic tradition, Mary’s role in our salvation is completely grounded in her relationship to her Son. In accord with the teaching of the ancient Fathers of the Church, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught: “All the saving influence of the Blessed Virgin Mary originates in the Divine pleasure. This role flows from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests upon his mediation, and depends entirely upon it. In no way does the role of Mary impede the immediate union of the faithful with Jesus Christ. Rather Mary fosters this union with the Lord.”
In Christ and in the great Communion of Saints Mary continues to pray with and for his Church. The Blessed Mother also brings the Lord to birth in the hearts of those she inspires to know, love, and serve him. When we imitate her faith and follow her example, we too can bring Christ into this passing world. When we honor Our Lady in glory as a living text of the Good News, we also catch a glimpse of our eternal destiny in the world to come.