Mary, the Mother of God

Today’s readings

Mary Mother of GodToday, on the Octave day of Christmas, we have an opportunity on this Christmas Day to pause and celebrate Mary, the mother of God. This solemnity is a special one for us as Catholics because people for a long time argued over whether Mary, a human being, could possibly be the mother of Jesus, who is God. Eventually, the Holy Spirit led the Church to realize that downplaying Mary’s role in all of this really downplays Jesus’ divinity, which is totally wrong. To say that Mary is not the Mother of God is, in some way, to say that Jesus is not God, and that’s not what we believe. So, for centuries the Church has taught that “Mary is the Mother of God the Word according to his human nature.”

I had to memorize that line in my second year of seminary, and I’ll never forget it. Basically, there are two parts. Mary is the Mother of God the Word: Mary, chosen from all eternity to be a virgin inviolate and a fit Mother for God, is blessed by conceiving the only Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Calling Jesus “God the Word” in this definition takes us to the opening verses of the Gospel of John which tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word is traditionally believed to be the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The second part of the definition asserts that Mary is the Mother of Jesus according to his human nature. We know that Jesus was both human and divine, and both natures coexisted in Jesus Christ without any diminishment of either nature at the expense of the other. We also know that only God himself could beget God the Word, but it would have to take a human woman, a very special human woman, to be the mother of his human nature. Jesus is one in being with the Father, as we pray in the Creed, but he is also one in being with us through Mary, in his human nature.

St. Paul tells us today that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters.” Today we rejoice in Mary’s faith that God’s promises to the human race would be fulfilled through her. It is because of her faithfulness that God was born into our world in the person of Jesus Christ and became one of us, walking our walk, living our life, dying our death, and leading us to new life that lasts forever. If not for Mary’s fiat – her “yes” to God’s will for her – salvation history might have gone poorly. Thankfully, because of her great faith, we have adoption as sons and daughters of God.

Did Mary understand all of this when she said yes to God’s will when Gabriel came to announce the birth of Christ in her? Probably not. But she, as our Gospel tells us today, “kept all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” She was able to study the Gospel before it had ever been written, by reflecting on all the events surrounding the birth and life and death of her Son. And because of Mary, we can reflect on it all too, and rejoice that we are sons and daughters of God.