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This is the third of four reflections that ponder
the connection between four phrases of the Hail Mary and the Advent season.
Permission to publish these reflections has been
graciously granted by Our Sunday Visitor newspaper (200 Noll Plaza;
Huntington, IN 46750; 1-800-348-2440, x 2; www.osv.com).
Theotokos sums up all that Mary is
by Carl E. Olson
The Third Sunday of Advent, December 12, 2004
God has a mother and she was chosen before the beginning of time.
This is an amazing belief, one that is sometimes mocked and often
misunderstood, and misrepresented, sometimes even by Catholics. Yet this truth is
at the heart of Advent and Christmasas well as at the heart of the entire
This belief is also captured in a short phrase in the Hail Mary: "Holy Mary,
Mother of God." They are just five simple words, but words bursting with mystery
and meaning. They tell us many things about Mary and about the Triune God and His
loving plan of salvation for mankind, in which Mary has such a significant
Mary is holy. To be holy is to be set apart, to be pure, and to be filled with
the life of God. The call to holiness, the Catechism of the Catholic
Church states, is summarized in Jesus' words: "Be perfect, as your heavenly
Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48; CCC 2013). Mary's holiness comes from the same
source as the holiness that fills all who are baptized and are in a state of
race. But Mary's relationship with the Triune God is unique, as Luke makes
evident in his description of Gabriel appearing to Mary:
And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon
you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the
holy offspring shall be called the Son of God" (Lk 1:35)
Possessing perfect faith, itself a gift from God, Mary was overshadowed by God
the Father, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and filled by the Son. She was chosen by
God to bear the God-man, the One in whom the "whole fullness of deity" would
dwell (CCC 484). Completely filled by God, she is completely holy. Chosen by God,
she is saved. Called to share intimately and eternally in the life of her Son,
she was, the Catechism explains, "redeemed from the moment of her
conception" (CCC 49) and "preserved from the stain of original sin" (CCC
The Pentateuch contains the account of how God chose a small, nondescript
nomadic tribe, the Hebrews, to be His "holy people" for "His own possession out
of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deut 7:6). Many years
later, in the fullness of time, God chose a young Jewish woman from a place of
little consequence to be the Mother of God. This, in turn, would result in the
birth of the Church, which Peter describes as a "chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (1 Pet 2:9).
Mary, faithful and holy, is chosen so that others can also be chosen and made
holy, transformed by her Son into the sons and daughters of God and joined to the
Body of Christ. Mary "is the Virgo fidelis, the faithful virgin, who was
never anything but faithful," writes Fr. Jean Daniélou, "whose fidelity
was the perfect answer to the fidelity of God; she was always entirely
consecrated to the one true God."
It has been said many ways and in many places but bears repeating that "Mother
of God" is the greatest and most sublime title that Mary can ever be given. It
sums up all that she is, all that she does, and all that she desires. The title
of Theotokos ("God-bearer", or "Mother of God"), far from being some late
addition to Church teaching, is rooted in Scripture and the Advent story. The
Catechism explains that Mary was "called in the Gospels 'the mother of
Jesus'" and that she "is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit
and even before the birth of her son, as 'the mother of my Lord'" (CCC 495).
Mary, the Mother of God, is also the first disciple of her Son, the God-man.
She is also the New Eve, whose obedience and gift of her entire being overturns
the sin and rebellion of the first Eve. Her Son is the New Adam, who comes to
give everlasting, supernatural life and heal the mortal wound inflicted by the
sin of the first Adam (cf. 1 Cor 15:45).
The lives and the love of the New Adam and the New Eve fill the season of
Advent. Mary quietly and patiently calls all men to Bethlehem to see and worship
the Christ Child. Jesus waits for mankind to recognize Him as Lord and Savior.
But He doesn't just wait for us; He comes to us. But His coming awaits
completion, both in our individual lives and in the life of the world. Which is
why James, in today's epistle, writes, " Be patient, brothers and sisters, until
the coming of the Lord. . . . . You too must be patient. Make your hearts
firm,because the coming of the Lord is at hand" (Jas 5:7-10).
Fr. Daniélou explains beautifully this paradox of Advent, of Jesus
having come already and yet coming still:
"We live always during Advent, we are always waiting for the Messiah to come.
He has come, but is not yet fully manifest. He is not fully manifest in each of
our souls; He is not fully manifest in mankind as a whole; that is to say, that
just as Christ was born according to the flesh in Bethlehem of Judea so must He
be born according to the spirit in each of our souls."
Although young, poor, and faced with incredible challenges, Mary waited
patiently on the promises and the coming of her Lord and Son. The
Catechism says that because Mary "gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother
of God and our mother; we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her: she
prays for us as she prayed for herself: 'Let it be to me according to your word.'
By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God
together with her: 'Thy will be done.'" (CCC 2677). That is indeed the perfect
prayer, from the perfect woman and mother, for Advent: "Thy will be done."
Gods grace redeems the Virgin
This past week marked the celebration of the great Feast of the Immaculate
Conception, situated to draw Catholics more deeply into the mystery of God's
grace, Mary's faith, and the plan of salvation. Although not formally defined as
a doctrine of the Catholic Church until 1854 by Pope Pius IX, belief in Mary's
sinlessness goes back to the earliest centuries of the Church and is rooted in
Scripture, especially the first chapter of Luke's Gospel.
In the encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX formally stated the
doctrine of the Immaculate Conception:
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by
a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of
Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of
original sin. [135 Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus (1854);
Although the Eastern Orthodox recognize and celebrate Mary's sinlessness, many
Protestants do not. Some, in fact, take great offense with this belief, insisting
that it makes light of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and that it implies
that Mary is more than a creature, perhaps even equal to her Son.
But the Church makes very clear that Mary's Immaculate Conception is a gift of
God. After all, Mary was "redeemed from the moment of her conception," making it
difficult for her redemption to be her own work. And Pope Pius IX's definition
strongly states that the Immaculate Conception was "by a singular grace and
privilege of Almighty God" and by the work and merits of Mary's Son. Sadly, some
Christians not only reject this truth, they even resort of saying that Mary "not
special" or "not worthy of praise"even though Mary, inspired by the Holy
Spirit, declared that "from this time on all generations will count me blessed"
John Cardinal Newman once noted that Catholic beliefs about Jesus and His
Mother are intimately connected and cannot be torn apart from one another.
"Catholics who have honoured the Mother, still worship the Son," he wrote, "while
Protestants, who now have ceased to confess the Son, began . . . by scoffing at
the Mother." It is a cautionary statement that all Christians, including
Catholics, should take to heart during the Advent season.
The reflection for the first week of Advent can be read
here. The reflection for
the second week of Advent can be read
Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He resides with his family in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland,
Oregon and Sacramento, California.
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