Fr. Charles Irvin
Why is Mary so central in the His story of our salvation? Why does the Catholic Church pay such particular attention to her?
By His birth, the Son of God became the Son of Man. Becoming man and taking on our human nature, He is the first-born of many brothers and sisters. Eve is our mother through Nature. But by the gift of God’s love we are Christ’s brothers and sisters because Mary is our mother. By God’s gracious love, and in it, we are Mary’s children, even though by Nature we are Eve’s. Through Mary’s “yes” to God’s invitation, and because of Christ’s redemptive suffering, death, and resurrection we are now God’s adopted children, whereas before Christ’s birth we were not.
Becoming the Son of man, Christ Jesus made many men and women sons and daughters of God, His Father, uniting them to himself by His love and power, so that they became as one. That is why, when we celebrate Mass and prepare our gifts of bread and wine on the altar, the priest prays: “By this mingling of water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”
The whole Christ and the unique Christ – the Mystical Body of Christ and its Head — are one. We are one because we are born of the same Father in heaven, and of the same mother on earth. We, the many sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, are one in His only-begotten Son. In the same way in the same way, Mary and the Church are one mother, yet more than one mother, one virgin while at the same time more than one virgin.
Why do we see them both as mothers and as virgins? Each conceives of the same Spirit without any lust or desire from our humanness. Each gives birth to a child of God the Father, without sin. Without any sin, Mary gave birth to Christ the head for the sake of His Mystical Body, the Church. By the forgiveness of every sin, the Church gives birth to the members of His Body for the sake of its Head. Each, Mary and the Church, is Christ’s mother, but neither gives birth to the whole Christ without the cooperation of the other.
In Sacred Scripture, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary, and what is said in a particular sense of the virgin mother Mary is rightly understood in a general sense of the virgin mother, the Church. When either is spoken of, the meaning of their existence can be found in the other.
In a way, every Christian is also seen to be a bride — a receiver — of God’s Word, as a mother of Christ while at the same time His daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful. These words are used in a universal sense of the Church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian. They are used by God’s Wisdom in the Person, the Word, who is the human expression of the Father.
Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacles of the Church. He will dwell forever in the love of each soul that is united to Him in love. By Christ we become temples of the Holy Spirit. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit in order to give God’s Holy Spirit to us.
The importance of Christ to our salvation cannot be overemphasized. Without Him we would be left to our own powers, powers wholly inadequate for our salvation. We cannot save ourselves by our selves. Only God can save us, and He has chosen to save us as one of us. He made our humanity His in order that we might become totally one with Him.
The importance of Mary to our salvation cannot be overemphasized. Without her God’s self-expression of Himself, His Word, would not have become human flesh and blood. Again, we would be left to ourselves, and we would be incapable of saving ourselves.
And so it is that once again this year, as it has been over the past two thousand years, we find the virgin, the new Eve, giving us God’s self-expression in human flesh and blood, in our own human nature. Just as Eve was cast out of Eden, so we find Mary, out back in a stable because there was no room for her in this world’s travelers. But God, the God of outcasts, will not let His love for us be frustrated. Mary, the new Eve, and in the order of God’s grace our mother, gives birth to one like us in all things except sin, so that in the mingling of His humanity with ours, we might become sharers in His divinity.
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
In this Christmas, may we, too, along with Mary, bring God’s Son into our world, not to condemn it, but to save it.