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The uniqueness of Mary.

How very precious are our natural mothers. If we are among those who have been blessed with a loving and godly mother, we know something about love and sacrifice. Nothing on earth is greater, more faithful, more generous, more desirable, and more indomitable than the love of a saintly mother.

The world today is in desperate need of genuine maternal love. Not only are countless children deprived of it through the tragedy of family breakdown, but all of us to some degree are flawed for lack of it. Fortunately however, the love of the natural mother of Jesus is available to all without exception. Mary is the Mother of Jesus and, by God's will, the Mother of us all.

Mary's role

Many today are badly misinformed about the role of Mary in God's plan of salvation. They do not know that Mary was prophetically foreshadowed in God's promise of victory over the serpent who tempted our first parents to fall into sin. [1]

For Mary to fulfill her role as the Virgin Mother of Jesus, God chose her to be the only creature who from the first moment of her being was filled with grace and, by reason of that fact, was free from original sin. Her sinless coming into existence was indeed a conception that had to be immaculate. This was solemnly confirmed by the Church in 1854.

The declaration of the Immaculate Conception as dogma in 1854 was not a sudden and unexpected event. The Church declared as dogma what the people of God believed about Mary from the beginning of Christianity (sensus fidei). [2] Reason itself insists that it is not only proper but even necessary that the one chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of Jesus, be a fit vessel, a pure and perfect channel, through which the Saviour of Humankind should enter the world. To accomplish this, God assured

"that the Blessed Virgin Mary at the first moment of her conception by a special grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, by this preservation was pure of all stain of original sin...." [3]

This is why we can pray "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you."

This is why we do not hesitate to add "Blessed are you among women," because God first said it through Gabriel (Luke 1:42).

This is why the poet Wordsworth can say that Mary is "our tainted nature's solitary boast". [4]

This is why, when the course of Mary's earthly life was finished, she "was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death." [5] The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds, "The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians" (S966).

Mary as Mother

In view of the role of Mary in God's plan of salvation, it is good for each of us to ask the question, "Who is Mary for me?"

Who is Mary that angels surround and honour her unceasingly?

Who is Mary that the prophetic words uttered by her, "henceforth all generations will call me blessed" (Luke] :48) continue to be fulfilled to this very day as countless utterances of Ave Maria rise heavenward daily, in every known language, calling her blessed among women?

Who is Mary that sinners flock to her for refuge?

Who is Mary that her prayers and intercession move any and all the mountains of our lives?

Who is Mary that her help is perpetual?

She is the Mother of God and, by the will of God, our Mother.

Mary Honoured by East and West

Mary has always had a special place in the hearts of Catholics, especially Catholics of the Eastern Rites. The Byzantine Liturgy has been called the most Marian of all liturgies. [6] In the Divine Liturgy (Editor: the Holy Eucharist in the Eastern rite) alone, Mary is greeted as archrantos, the immaculate, spotless One' no less than eight times. [7] At every celebration of Divine Liturgy according to the Eastern rite, there takes place, immediately following the Consecration, the Commemoration of the Church Triumphant. First among those we commemorate is "our all-holy, most pure, most blessed, and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary."

In response to this commemoration, the congregation sings the beautiful Megalynarion Hymn:

"It is truly right to bless you, O God-bearing One, as the ever-blessed and immaculate Mother of our God. More honourable than the cherubim and far more glorious than the seraphim; ever a virgin, you gave birth to God the Word, O true Mother of God, we magnify you."

In addition to this beautiful recognition of Mary as Mother of God, she is also honoured in the extraordinarily beautiful Akathistos Hymn [8] and other services. During these devotional services, she is invoked under wondrous titles too numerous to recount. [9]

No article on the ways that Mary is honoured can be regarded as complete without consideration of that mode of prayer uttered daily by countless millions in every known tongue--the Rosary. Being replete with the essence of the Gospel message, the Rosary was called by Pius XII "the compendium of the entire Gospel." [10] Each of its beads is like a step, and each of its five decades like a staircase, all wonderfully crafted to help us ascend upwards to Jesus, through contemplation of the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries of the Gospel. It is truly a Marian stairway to her Son.

Why do we honour Mary?

We honour Mary in many ways, but we do it with the understanding that Mary's role in salvation history in no way hinders our relationship with Jesus but, on the contrary, fosters it. To God and to God alone, we direct our worship. As the Church teaches, Mary, the masterpiece of God's creation, we honour above all other saints."

Mary is not in competition with her son Jesus for our attention. She rather points away from herself to her Son. She hears our prayers and, like a good Mother, she responds by praying for us, her children. She never ceases to intercede for us and that is why we call her "Mother of Perpetual Help."

We honour Mary because God first honoured her by choosing her to be the Mother of Jesus!

We honour Mary for her YES to God's invitation to become the Mother of our Saviour.

We honour Mary for accepting the great sufferings foretold by Simeon at the Presentation at the Temple: "and a sword will pierce through your own soul also...." She is Our Lady of Sorrows. [12]

We honour Mary because her womb became the first tabernacle in which the Father enclosed His Word. What greater honour could God give to any of His creatures than to allow the fullness of His Divinity to take on human form within her?

We honour Mary for bearing, mothering, and preparing Jesus for His role as our Redeemer.

We honour Mary for her real and cooperative participation in the Redemption which was the work of her Son.

We honour Mary for being the model of discipleship for us, showing us what it means and what it costs to follow Jesus.

In Luke's gospel, we heard the reply of Jesus to the message that his mother and brothers were standing outside and wanted to see Him: "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice" (8:21). There are those who somehow see this as Jesus distancing Himself from His Mother. However, we need ask but one question concerning this alleged rebuke of His Mother. Out of all humanity, who put God's word into practice perfectly, and fulfilled the will of God completely? Only Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Jesus' gift of his mother and our response

There are countless other reasons why we honour Mary, but perhaps the greatest and most compelling of them all is Jesus' gift to us of His own Mother. We recall the scene at the foot of the cross (John 19:26). Jesus said to His Mother, "Woman, there is your son." Then He said to John, "There is your Mother."

The last words of a dying person are always regarded by friends and dear ones as a precious heritage. The above was one of seven "words" spoken by Jesus as He hung dying on the cross. The Church has always held these words of Jesus to mean His giving of Mary as a mother to all His faithful followers represented by John, the Beloved Disciple. He was giving us to Mary to be her sons and daughters in Him.

Like a good mother, Mary cares for us just as she cared for the needs of the newlyweds at Cana. Her instructions to them apply equally to us: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).

What does Jesus tell us? He calls for us to repent of our sins, to pray always and take up our cross daily. These are precisely the messages which Mary is communicating to us almost daily. There must be a very important reason for a mother to show such concern for her children. Are we listening? Are we heeding our Mother's warning?

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us!

Deacon Josaphat M. Korchinski is assistant pastor at St. Josaphat's Cathedral, Toronto, ON.


(1.) Gen. 3:15; Vatican Council 11, Lumen Gentium, n.55.

(2.) Sensus fidei: Lumen Gentium, n.12.

(3.) Pius IX, infallibly defined, ex cathedra, in: Ineffabilis Deus (On the Immaculate Conception, 1854).

(4.) William Wordsworth, Complete Poetical Works, Ecclesiastical Sonnets, 1888.

(5.) Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950.

(6.) Michael O'Carroll, C.S.Sp. Theotokos, p. 381.

(7.) The Byzantine-Slav Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Alteluia Press, 1971, pp. 355-357.

(8.) Akathistos Hymn, The Akathistos Book, Zhovkva Edition, 1905.

(9.) Michael O'Carroll, C. S. Sp. Theotokos, Titles of Our Lady, p.344.

(10.) Pius XII, Letter to the Archbishop of Manila, "Philipinas Insulas" (1946), p.419.

(11.) C.X.J.M. Friethoff, O.P., A Complete Mariology (1958), p.31.

(12.) Ibid, p.174
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Title Annotation:Blessed Virgin Mary
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:May 1, 1999
Previous Article:Margaret O'Gara and ecumenism.
Next Article:The Catholic Mass and culture.

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