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Theotokos sums up all that Mary is | Carl E. Olson | "The Blessed Mother and Advent", Part 3 of 4 | Ignatius Insight

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This is the third of four reflections that consider the relationship between four phrases of the "Hail Mary" and the Advent season. These pieces were originally published during the Advent season of 2004 in Our Sunday Visitor, and are reprinted here, with minor changes, with the gracious permission of 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

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 Christmas–as well as at the heart of the entire Christian Faith.

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 place.

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 508).

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."

God’s grace redeems the Virgin

The Church recently celebrated 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); CCC 491]
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" (Lk 1:48).

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.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles on Advent and Christmas:

Turn Your Hearts! | A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
The Perfect Faith of the Blessed Virgin | Carl E. Olson
Come, Lord Jesus! The Meaning of Advent | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Mary Immaculate | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen on Advent | From Through the Year With Fulton Sheen
Mary's Gift of Self Points the Way | Carl E. Olson
Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward
The Medieval Mary | The Introduction to Mary in the Middle Ages | by Luigi Gambero
The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
Remembering Father Alfred Delp, S.J., Priest and Martyr | A Conversation with Father Karl Adolf Kreuser, S.J.
Assumed Into Mother's Arms | Carl E. Olson
The Disciple Contemplates the Mother | Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
The Incarnation | Frank Sheed
"Born of the Virgin Mary" | Paul Claudel
The Old Testament and the Messianic Hope | Thomas Storck
Christmas: Sign of Contradiction, Season of Redemption | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The God in the Cave | G.K. Chesterton

Carl E. 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 of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas.

He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, their two children, their two cats, and far too many books and CDs. Visit his (badly outdated) personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.

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