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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Why Mary is Important

Why Mary is Important

Hail Mary - F Fong

When we think or speak of Mary, the Mother of God, it is always important to keep in mind that she is best understood in the context of her relationship with her son, Jesus. Said formally, Mariology is always constructed in the context of Christology. This is so because Christ is the redeemer and the sole source of salvation. Everything in creation came to be through him. Mary, because of her role, participates in the creative and redeeming action of God in a special way.

Mary’s exceptional conception as sinless affords her the choice to live fully for God. She was not programmed to be good, but rather, Mary did not carry the deep fear of interference and resistance against God that exists in all other human beings. The rest of the human race has the grace and possibility to work with and overcome fear and anger, but we must work to limit our desire for control and instead surrender to God’s grace. We often do not choose right away to stop being resentful or angry. We often project onto others the responsibility for our own self-inflicted injuries. Mary had a clear vision of her place in life. She was born totally honest and prepared to grow. She chose to say “yes” over and over to these qualities, even when they brought suffering.

According to the Scriptures, Mary grew in her understanding of her son, herself, and the work of God in the world for salvation. We read more than once in the Gospel of Luke that she “pondered” how their lives were unfolding and what God was doing. She did not have a road map to reassure her of where they were going, but she had given her consent at the Annunciation and she trusted over and over. Her pregnancy was unexpected and controversial. The choices that Jesus made had consequences. His declaration in the synagogue that he was the Messiah brought immediate violence and ejection from the community. We find him and Mary later in the Gospel living in a completely new town, Capernaum, not a hill village like Nazareth but a fishing village.

Icon of the Wedding at Cana - Lucia 398 - CCWhen Jesus began his itinerant preaching and healing ministry we know that Mary, her sister and a group of women accompanied him as well as the crowds. This was not a normal lifestyle for first century Jewish women. Mary had to give up her reputation, village, old friends and the comforts of a house. In all of these ways she was an excellent listener of God as he called her out of the usual, the expected. She had to be quite aware of the danger that Jesus was in. In the Gospels, in village after village, the rage and jealously grew in the scribes and Pharisees. They hated his penetrating honesty, his clear perception of their air of superiority. They despised Jesus’ humility and closeness to the cast-offs of society. Mary must have constantly had to put her worries in the hands of God. She modeled an exceptional surrender to God and acceptance of His will. No one could have gone through this without being in deep prayer and interior connection to God all the time. She stood by Jesus from Cana to Golgotha and we have no reason to believe that she knew that “everything was going to be all right.”

Throughout the centuries Mary has been understood as the second Eve who reversed the willfulness and disobedience of the first Eve. Even when this story is understood metaphorically, Mary still is understood as the first human to be perfectly and happily obedient. She is also appreciated as the mother of the Church because she remained as the center of the early church community and loved them as her own. But it is her maternity of Jesus which stands out as the most important role she has because of its eschatological (future reaching) character. What is meant by this is that she is not just a person who did something unique in the past. Mary was and is “full of grace.” In the spiritual relationship which she has with her son and the whole of creation, Christ’s grace pours through her as the first disciple to all of humanity. Mary mothers us (protects and strengthens us) if we let her. Catholicism understands all of humanity, living and dead, to be in spiritual solidarity, a mystical body. Because of this solidarity or communion, Mary can help us to have a readiness to commitment, trust even in unbearable loss, and unimaginable joy when we are united to her son.

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Posted by on Mar 25, 2011

Why Mary is Important

The Annunciation – Celebrating Incarnation and a Young Woman’s “Yes” to God

The Annunciation - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1850

March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the visit by the angel Gabriel to a young woman in Nazareth to ask a great favor of her. The Lord of Hosts, Creator of all that is, was and ever will be, requested her consent to becoming the Mother of God (Theotokos or God-bearer), Mother of the Incarnate Word of God, Mother of His Son. The story of this visit is recounted in Christian scriptures (Lk 1:26-38, Mt 1:18-21)  and also in the Qu’ran (Sura 3: 45-51).

With Mary’s courageous decision to consent to the Lord’s request, a new era in the history of human relations with the Lord opened. In a time and place where women were little valued or respected and had fewer rights than men, the consent of a woman who was little beyond childhood and was still unmarried was solicited and respected by the greatest power of all – her creator and ours.

This feast has been celebrated since the earliest days of the Christian community, probably even predating the celebration of Christmas. Celebration of the Annunciation (and therefore of the Incarnation) coincides with the general time frame of the celebration of the Passover and Exodus, events that formed the Jewish community into a nation, beginning their history as a people. With the Annunciation and the Incarnation, the life of a new community began and the history of salvation took a new turn that eventually led to inclusion of all peoples on Earth.

Selection of the date for the celebration was not random. It coincided with the timing of the birth of John the Baptist, conceived following the time of his father’s service within the Holy of Holies on the Feast of Atonement in the fall. The Annunciation took place six months later, putting it in early spring. Based on those dates, John the Baptist’s birth was celebrated in June and Jesus’ birth date came to be set as December 25.

Setting the date of the Annunciation in spring also followed the Jewish tradition of celebrating beginnings and endings on or around the same date. It was known that Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred at Passover time. Setting the beginning of his life, his conception, at the same general time made sense to the early community. The big innovation was that for Christians, his conception marked the beginning of life, rather than his actual physical birth. (The “womb to tomb” tradition thus has ancient roots as well.)

Moving forward a few hundred years, in 525 when the new calendar was introduced by Dionysius Exiguus, the Anno Domini calendar, March 25 was set as the first day of the year. The Christian community considered it to be the beginning of a new era of grace.

May we, as we continue to live out our lives as sharers in the mystery of incarnation, rejoice with the angels and saints, and with Our Lord as well, the great blessing of a young woman’s willingness to trust that her Lord would never ask too much of her.

Let us join with our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Christian churches in rejoicing on this day.

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”
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