|THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING MARY|
This evening I want to talk to you about a very sensitive subject: Our Blessed Mother, Mary. In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis said that no subject in our faith needs to be approached more delicately than this, and one of the reasons he cited was that Catholics have a natural affection for Mary, and when Mary is attacked Lewis says that Catholics respond with that "chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honor of his mother or his beloved is at stake."
Lewis says that Catholics feel this way about Mary "very naturally," but there is one person who feels that way about Mary even more naturally than we do: her literal Son according to the flesh—Jesus Christ.
Honor Thy Father and Mother
As the obedient, infinitely holy Son of God, the Lord Jesus was a very firm believer in the commandment to honor one's father and mother. Now, what most people don't know about that commandment is that in Hebrew it literally reads, "Glorify your father and mother." This means that, since Christ took God's commandments very seriously, he would glorify his mother Mary, and for us to talk about his mother in a cavalier, irreverent manner is to impugn the glory which Christ himself has given her. As a result, if we were to talk about Mary in an impious manner then we would be offending not only Mary but also Christ by denying his mother the glory that he himself gave her.
This is something you should point out to Protestants when they start criticizing Catholic beliefs about Mary. They may feel compelled to disagree with the teaching of the Church about her, but they had better well discuss the subject in an reverent and non-hostile manner or they will start offending the Lord Jesus Christ, who will—even more naturally than us—respond with that "chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honor of his mother... is at stake."
A Bewildering Array
So with that in mind, let's talk about some of the things the Church teaches concerning the Blessed Virgin and why. This was an area of Catholic theology which was very difficult for me to accept when I was in the process of becoming a Catholic. One of the reasons for this is that it was hard for me to see the connection between all the different doctrines Catholics taught concerning Mary: the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the fact that she is Our Mother, and that she is Queen of Heaven. These doctrines seemed to be jumbled and disconnected. They didn't hang together with an inner unity, and that made them harder for me to accept.
The Unifying Theme
But then I discovered a central, unifying concept in Catholic teaching which supplies the basis for virtually everything the Church teaches us concerning Mary. This central, unifying doctrine is something that the Church teaches very vigorously, but for some reason it does not often filter down into the Protestant-Catholic debate, and so it was some time before I discovered it and realized its significance.
This doctrine concerns Mary's special role in God's plan of the ages. We know that from time to time God picks certain people to play a special role in his plan: Abraham had a special role, Moses had a special role, David had a special role, and Christ had by far the most special role of all. But except in the case of Christ, each of these people received their special role as an act of God's grace. Apart from God's grace, there was nothing special about Abraham or Moses or David. They were special people and had a special role only because of the grace God gave them. And the same is true of Mary. Everything that was special about her and her place in God's plan came from God's grace. After all, isn't this what we are saying when we pray the words of the Angel Gabriel in Luke's gospel, "Hail Mary, full of grace." Everything about Mary, everything that makes her and her place in God's plan different from ours, is only because of God's grace to her. Mary is entirely a product of God's tender, loving grace.
And that is something with which Protestants can agree, even though they do not recognize just how gracious God was toward Mary. Even Protestants recognize that Mary had a special place in God's plan. If for nothing else, Mary's special place was assured by the fact that she, of all the women in world history, was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. So Protestants are very willing to say that Mary had a unique role in God's plan of the ages. Unfortunately, they do not see all that this role entailed and all of the implications of Mary being Christ's mother.
The Protoevangelium (Gen. 3:15)
To see that there is more involved than just the fact that Christ came out of Mary's womb, let us look at the very first prophecy about Christ in the Bible: Genesis 3:15. In that passage, God is cursing the serpent for having caused mankind to fall into sin, and he says,
"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall strike at His heel."
Ever since the first century, Christians have recognized this as a prophecy of the coming of Christ, who would crush the dead of the devil, even as he himself was stricken by the devil on the cross.
But there is more than just a prophecy of the coming of Christ in this passage and more than a prophecy of the cross and of Satan's defeat. There is also a prophecy of the Virgin Birth, as even Protestants recognize. The reason is that in this passage, Christ is described as the "Seed" of the woman. This is very unusual in Biblical language because normally it is only men whose offspring are described as their seed. In the ancient, biblical languages men have seed; women do not. The reason for this is that the ancients often held a particular view of human reproduction which made it more natural to talk about men having seed. In the question and answer period, we can discuss this view of reproduction if you want, for now simply note that it was very unusual in the biblical languages for a women to be described as having seed.
Since it was very unusual to talk about women having seed in the Bible, this means that there is something very unusual about the birth of Christ—the Seed of the woman. It means that he was born only of a woman, without the intervention of a man, whose Seed he would otherwise be. As a result, Christians have always regarded Genesis 3:15 as containing a prophecy of the Virgin Birth. And Protestants are included in that. They fully recognize that Genesis 3:15 prophesies not only the coming of Christ, but the way in which he could come: through the womb of a virgin.
But this means that the woman described in Genesis 3:15 is more than just Eve. Eve was not a virgin. All of the children Eve had were fathered by her husband, Adam, according to the normal course of nature. As a result, the woman in Genesis 3:15 is more than just Eve because Eve did not have any virgin births. Therefore, we know that Mary, the only woman in history to have a virgin birth, is specially in view in the Genesis 3:15.
So even though Eve is the principal woman under discussion in Genesis 3, when we come to the prophecy in verse 15 of that chapter, the woman is also seen to be Mary. Mary is therefore pictured as a "Second Eve," the successor to the woman of Genesis, who will be the fulfillment of the prophecy of the virgin birth.
This idea of Mary as the Second Eve is something that the writers of the New Testament picked up on. There are traces of the idea in John's gospel and in the book of Revelation, and perhaps in St. Luke's gospel as well. But if the idea of Mary as the Second Eve was picked up on by the writers of the New Testament, it was proclaimed long and loud by the early Church fathers. Right from the second century onwards, we read regularly about Mary as the Second Eve, who fulfilled the Genesis 3:15 prophecy. Let me quote you a few passages from the writings of the second century Church fathers...
The Fathers on Mary as Second Eve
Around the year 155 A.D., St. Justin Martyr wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew that the Holy Scriptures teach us concerning Christ,
"'that He became Man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent, might be also the very course by which it would be put down. For Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent, and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the powers of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her would be called the Son of God. And she replied: 'Be it done unto me according to thy word.'"
St. Justin Martyr therefore parallels the Virgin Mary with the Virgin Eve. Just as the word of the serpent bore fruit through the Virgin Eve, so the word of God came into the world through the Virgin Mary. Eve believed the word of an evil angel and death was brought into the world, while Mary believed the word of a good angel and Life Himself was brought into the world.
Now let's look at another passage: around the year 190 A.D., St. Ireneus, in his masterwork, Against All Heresies, writes,
"Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying: "Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word." Eve, however, was disobedient; and when yet a virgin, she did not obey.... having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.... Thus, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith."
So again we see the second century fathers contrasting Mary and Eve, saying that the evil done through Eve was undone through Mary.
Now let us look at another text, this one from the beginning of the third century. Around the year 210 A.D., the Catholic Tertullian wrote in his treatise, On The Flesh of Christ, that
"...it was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise, though a Virgin, the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus, what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex, was by the same sex re-established in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight."
As a result, we see three of the most important fathers of the second and third century bearing witness to the implication of the Genesis 3:15 prophecy, that after the woman of Genesis 3 there will come a second woman, a second Eve, who will give birth to Christ while still a virgin. Thus Mary helps rectify what Eve brought about. Eve brought sin and death into the world by her relationship with the first Adam, from whom we inherit Original Sin, while Mary brought helped bring holiness and life into the world by her relationship to the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice that in both cases it is the Adams who do the actual work. It was the first Adam who was responsible for us inheriting Original Sin. St. Paul indicates that it is our unity with the First Adam which produces sin and death in us, while it is our unity with the Second Adam that produces righteousness and life in us. The Adams are the key players, the ones who do all the work, but their work happens to be brought about through the agency of the two Eves, the first one who believed an evil angel and the second one who believed a good angel.
This distinction is reflected in the saying of the Church fathers: "Death through Eve, life through Mary." Even though Eve and Mary were not the ultimate causes of death and life, it was through their actions that death and new life entered the world.
The Key To Understanding Mary
Now this teaching of Mary as the Second Eve was what helped me finally see the inner unity of all the Catholic teachings concerning Mary. It is the foundation of virtually all of the other things the Church teaches us about her. To show you that, let us walk through some of these doctrines and see how they relate to the fact that Mary is the Second Eve.
The Immaculate Conception
First, let us deal with the Immaculate Conception. Now, in some people's minds, the Immaculate Conception is simply another way of saying that Christ was born of a virgin. But that is not at all what the doctrine means. It does not say that Christ was born of Mary. Instead, it teaches us something about the conception of Mary herself. Mary was conceived immaculate. The word "immaculate" is derived from the Latin word macula which means "stain." For Mary to be conceived immaculate means that, through God's grace, she was preserved from the stain of Original Sin.
To understand what that means, one has to understand the difference between Original Sin and its stain. Original Sin itself is the absence of God's sanctifying grace in our souls, so a person who is born in Original Sin is born in a state of spiritual death and separation from God. But Original Sin also has certain consequences, such as concupiscence—the disordered desires and cravings which lead us into actual, personal sins. These consequences of Original Sin are known as its stain. So we have to distinguish between the Original Sin itself and its stain or macula.
Now when a person comes to God and is born again, God forgives the person's Original Sin and takes it away. God puts his sanctifying grace in the person's soul, with the result that the person is now spiritually alive and in union with God. Original Sin is overcome when God gives us new birth through baptism, but the stain of Original Sin remains. We still have the disordered desires that lead us to commit actual, personal sins, and we still have to wrestle with these sins through the remainder of our life on earth. However, when we die we will be freed even from the stain of Original Sin, and we will no longer be led into sin by our evil desires. One day, we will all be rendered immaculate, free from the stain of Original Sin.
But what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception says is that by the redeeming grace of God, Mary was given this grace early. She was conceived not only without Original Sin, but without its stain as well. Thus she was conceived in an immaculate state, just as we will all one day be rendered immaculate, or stainless. God gave her the same grace he will give us all, but he gave it to her early in order to make her a more fitting vessel to carry his Son as he entered the world.
Now, how does this relate to Mary as the Second Eve? Well, we have already noted one way: According to Genesis 3:15, the fact that Mary will be Christ's mother is what makes her the Second Eve, and it was for the sake of her being a more fitting vessel to carry Christ that God gave her the grace of being conceived immaculate.
But it also relates to the fact that Mary is the Second Eve in a different way. Just as there were similarities between the First Adam and the First Eve, so there will be similarities between the Second Adam and the Second Eve. We know that the First Adam and the First Eve both started their lives in an immaculate state, and we know that the Second Adam also started his life in an immaculate state—Christ had no Original Sin or its stain—and so we should expect the Second Eve to also start her life in an immaculate state. If the First Adam and the First Eve were immaculate, and if the Second Adam was also immaculate, then the Second Eve will be immaculate as well. We can thus see how naturally the fact that Mary is the Second Eve leads into the teaching that God gave her the grace of being immaculate early.
This is also a solution to the passages from Romans which Protestants use to argue that all human beings are sinful. Our separated brethren are very big on harping on passages like Romans 3:10-11, where St. Paul quotes the Old Testament and says,
"There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all gone out of the way; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one."
And Protestants try to use this sort of passage to prove that Mary couldn't possibly be free from the stain of Original Sin. But if you study the Bible, it becomes clear that Protestants are grossly misapplying this verse. For example, if you go back and read Psalm 14, from which Paul is quoting here, you find out that this psalm does not teach that all of humanity is bound over to sin. That psalm draws a distinction between the wicked and the righteous, between those who are with God and those who are apart from God, and it is those who are apart from God that the psalmist says are not righteous. That psalm does not teach that no one in mankind seeks God, obviously devout Christians seek God all the time; what it teaches instead is that mankind separated from God does not seek God. So you see, this passage cannot be used to prove the universal sinfulness of mankind because it does not have all of mankind in view.
This is something we could prove on a number of other grounds. For example, the passage obviously does not teach that all humans without exception commit sin. St. Paul himself tells us that there is a time in everyone's life before they commit any sins. This is what he says in Romans 9:11 when he tells us that God distinguished between Jacob and Esau, while they were still in their mother's womb, before they had done anything good or bad. Therefore, Paul tells us that unborn babies have not done anything good or bad, which means that they have not personally sinned. So if an infant dies while still in the womb, or while he is still a young infant, he has not committed any personal sins, and so he obviously counts as an exception to the principle Paul lays down in Romans 3.
Furthermore, we know that there is one very big, very important exception that Paul would make to this principle, because he certainly does not wish to teach that Christ, the Second Adam, was bound over to sin or that he did not seek and follow God. But if we know that Paul's principle has an exception for the Second Adam, then it also has an exception for the Second Eve: Mary.
As a result, Protestant objections based on the universal sinfulness passages are simply out of court. Those passages only talk about mankind apart from God, they do not include children who die before they commit sins, they do not include the Second Adam, and they do not include the Second Eve. So you see how the fact that Mary is the Second Eve solves a lot of the questions thrown at Catholic by Protestants.
Mary's role as the second Eve also explains the doctrine of her perpetual virginity. The first Adam and the first Eve did not remain virgins but populated the earth, yet the second Adam and the second Eve remained virgins all their lives in order to consecrate themselves to serving God full-time. Thus Jesus never married or had children. He did this so he could consecrate himself to serving God full-time.
In the same way, Mary was consecrated to the full-time service of God. The documents of the early Church, such as the Protoevangelium of James record that she was one of the women who, like the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36-37), lived celibate lives in the Temple in Jerusalem, serving as full-time prayer warriors—the Old Testament equivalent of contemplative nuns.
This document was written no later than A.D. 120, less than sixty years after the conclusion of Mary's earthly life and when memories of that life were still vivid in the minds of many.
According to world-renowned patristics scholar, Johannes Quasten: "The principal aim of the whole writing is to prove the perpetual and inviolate virginity of Mary before, in, and after the birth of Christ" (Patrology, 1:120-1).
This document records that Mary's birth was prophesied, her mother, St. Anne, vowed that she would devote the child to the service of the Lord, like Samuel had been by his mother (1 Sam. 1:11). Mary would thus serve the Lord at the Temple, as women had for centuries (1 Sam. 2:22), and as Anna the prophetess did at the time of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:36-37). A life of continual, devoted service to the Lord at the Temple meant that Mary was not able to live the ordinary life of a child-rearing mother, and so she was vowed to perpetual virginity. It records:
"And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by [St. Anne], saying, 'Anne! Anne! The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive and shall bring forth, and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.' And Anne said, 'As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall minister to him in the holy things all the days of its life.' . . . And [from the time she was three] Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there" (Protoevangelium of James 4, 7 [A.D. 120]).
But because of considerations of ceremonial cleanliness, it was eventually necessary for Mary, a consecrated 'virgin of the Lord' to have a guardian or protector who would respect her vow of virginity. Thus according to the document Joseph, an elderly widower who already had children, was chosen (this also explains why Joseph was apparently dead by the time of Jesus' adult ministry, since he does not appear during it in the gospels and since Mary is entrusted to John at the crucifixion rather than to her husband Joseph). The document records:
"And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of priests, saying, 'Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord?' And they said to the high priest, 'You stand by the altar of the Lord; go in and pray concerning her, and whatever the Lord shall manifest to you, that also will we do.' . . . [A]nd he prayed concerning her, and behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him saying, 'Zechariah! Zechariah! Go out and assemble the widowers of the people and let them bring each his rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. . . . And Joseph [was chosen] . . . And the priest said to Joseph, 'You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the Virgin of the Lord.' But Joseph refused, saying, 'I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl'" (ibid. 8-9).
Joseph was required to respect Mary's vow of virginity, and just how seriously he was required to respect it is indicated by the fact that when she was discovered to be with child, he got in trouble with the Temple authorities, who thought he had defiled a virgin of the Lord.
"And Annas the scribe came to him [Joseph] . . . and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest and said to him, 'Joseph, whom you did vouch for, has committed a grievous crime.' And the priest said, 'How so?' And he said, 'He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord and has married her by stealth'" (ibid. 15).
Mary was also accused of having forsaken the Lord by breaking her vow:
"And the priest said, 'Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low and forgotten the Lord your God?' . . . And she wept bitterly saying, 'As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before him, and know not man'" (ibid.)
The understanding of this document that the brethren of the Lord were Jesus' step-brothers (children of Joseph) rather than half-brothers (children of Mary) was the most common one until the time of Jerome, who popularized the idea that they might have been cousins instead, since in Jewish idiom cousins were also referred to as "brethren."
Most Protestants are unaware of all this, but the Protestant Reformers themselves—Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli—honored the perpetual virginity of Mary and recognized it as the teaching of the Bible, as have more modern Protestants, such as the biblical and patristics scholar J. B. Lightfoot.
And so again we see the doctrine of Mary's role as the second Eve explaining her perpetual virginity. Just as the first Adam and Eve devoted themselves to procreation for the multiplication of mankind, the second Adam and Eve devoted themselves to virginity for the sake of ministry, so that God's spiritual blessings might be brought to mankind.
Now let's look at another Marian doctrine and see how it relates to Mary as the Second Eve. Let us look at her assumption to be with the Lord. This is a grace that God will eventually give all of us. When Christ returns, we will all be caught up and glorified to be with him. This is the doctrine of the Rapture, a doctrine that is clearly taught in the Bible, even though our Protestant brothers and sisters often get the timing of the Rapture wrong in their teaching about the Last Days.
But we know that, just as God will one day give us all a glorious assumption to be with him, we also know that he gives some people this grace early. For example, in the Old Testament we know that he gave this grace to Enoch in Genesis 5:24. We also know from 2 Kings 2 that God gave it to the prophet Elijah at the end of the prophet's life when he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. And the book of Jude hints (v 9) that the same grace was given to Moses after he died and that his body also was assumed into heaven. So even though God will one day give a glorious assumption to all of us, he has already given it to a number of people, and the teaching of the Catholic Church is merely that Mary is one of them.
And there is an inner logic to this. The First Adam and the First Eve shared the same faith: they both went to dust. So the Second Adam and the Second Eve should share the same fate as well. Only since the Second Adam went to heaven instead of going to dust, we know that the Second Eve went to heaven as well. Mary's body is simply not in the ground here on earth.
In fact, Mary is pictured as being in heaven in Revelation 12, one of the passages in the New Testament which pictures her as the Second Eve.
And we can infer it on other grounds. Since Mary, as the Second Eve, was born free of Original Sin and its stain, which meant that she was free of the need to physically die as we all do. Now, she may have died (there are good theological reasons for speculating that she did), but she had no intrinsic corruption which would cause her to die. If she didn't die, then, since she's not walking around the earth today, we can assume that she was assumed—that God took her up to be with him and his Son.
On the other hand, if she did die, what then? Would God leave her body to rot in the grave? Not at all. Psalm 16 tells us that God will not allow his holy one to see decay. This was something David originally wrote about himself, but in Acts 2, St. Peter tells us it also applies to Christ, only since Christ was holy in the most absolute, literal sense, he was not allowed to see decay in the most absolute, literal sense possible. God raised him up to life again. As a result, since Mary, as the Second Eve, was given the same purity and holiness from the beginning of her life, she would not be allowed to see decay either, but would be raised to life, and since she is not on earth today, we can assume that she was assumed.
If God did not allow the Second Adam to rot in the tomb, then how could we say that he would allow the Second Eve to rot in the tomb? Think about that: If God rescued the Second Adam from death, how could he let the Second Eve rot? Therefore, even if Mary did die, God would not have left her in the tomb. The Second Eve thus shared the fate of the Second Adam. While the first Adam and Eve died and went to dust, and that was it, the second Adam and Eve lived and went to heaven.
So now we have looked at two of the doctrines about Mary that trouble Protestants so much, the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. And we have seen how the fact that Mary is the Second Eve unites and makes sense out of these two. But now let us look real quickly at two more Marian doctrine. These also bother Protestants, but not to quite the same degree.
Queen of Heaven
The first is that Mary is the Queen of Heaven. Now, of course we all know that Christ, the Second Adam, is the King of Heaven. But if the Second Adam is the King of Heaven, then it is only natural for the Second Eve to be the Queen of Heaven. And this is something we see in the Bible. In Revelation 12, when we see Mary in heaven, clothed with the sun and standing on the moon, notice that she is wearing a crown of twelve stars on her head. How much more clearly could one signify that someone is the Queen of Heaven than by having them wear a heavenly crown made up of stars?
There are other aspects of Mary's queenship we could bring out. For example, the fact that Christ is King and Mary is his mother means that Mary is the Queen Mother—the mother of the King. But this should suffice on the subject for now. So at this point, let us turn to one final doctrine about Mary that troubles Protestants, the fact that she is our mother.
Catholics have often pointed to the fact that Mary only appears twice in John's gospel, at two extremely important points: the very beginning and the very end of Christ's ministry. In chapter 2 of his gospel, St. John tells us that Mary prompted Christ to work his first public miracle, which began his public ministry. And in chapter 19 of his gospel, St. John records that Mary appeared again, at the foot of her Son's cross. Then Christ does something unexpected, he looks at St. John and at his mother and to Mary he says, "Woman, behold your son," while to St. John he says, "Behold your mother." And John tells us that from that day forward he took Mary into his own home. From that point forward, he regarded her as his mother.
(Incidentally, since St. John was most probably a cousin of Jesus, if Christ had physical brothers and sisters, why did he give the care of his mother to a cousin instead of one of them. We can see in this passage indirect confirmation for the fact that Mary never had any other children besides the Lord Christ.)
But this passage teaches us something more than just that Christ instituted a special relationship between John and Mary. Bible scholars point out that John's account of the passion and death of Christ has a very unusual, seven-fold structure. Right at the center of this seven-fold structure is the story of Christ telling John to regard Mary as his mother. As a result, something very special and very symbolic is going on here. This is something even very liberal, Protestant theologians acknowledge, and they certainly have no desire to come to conservative, Catholic conclusions about Mary. But even they recognize that something very strange and very wonderful and very symbolic is going on in this passage, they simply are not sure what it is.
The Catholic, however, is sure. The historical Catholic teaching is that in this passage St. John—the disciple whom Jesus loved—is made a symbol for every disciple, for every Christian, and that as a result every Christian is to regard Mary as his mother. This is something we could derive on other grounds. Since we are all members of Christ, and since Mary is Christ's mother, Mary is also our mother through Christ.
And it is something that we are told in Revelation 12:17, where St. John tells us that after the dragon is unable to kill the manchild, the Son of Mary, and after he is unable to harm Mary herself, the dragon goes off to make war against "her other seed, who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 12:17) So this passage teaches us that Christians—those "who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus Christ"—count as Mary's "other seed." As Christians, we are all the seed of Mary in a spiritual sense, and so she is our spiritual mother.
This has implications for how we live our lives, because we have already looked at the commandment to honor your father and mother. Literally, in Hebrew that is "Glorify your father and mother." We are to bring glory to our parents, and that includes not only our earthly, physical mother but our heavenly, spiritual mother as well. We are to imitate Christ, and just as he brought glory to his mother, we are to bring glory to her as well.
This is something Mary herself said at the beginning of St. Luke's gospel (1:48), when she prophesied under the Holy Spirit, "Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed." That is a prophecy that has come true in the course of Christian history, and it is the basis of Marian devotion, for that is what we are doing when we honor and glorify Mary: we are calling her blessed on account of all the marvelous things God has done for her and all the glorious graces he has given her.
So let us now use the prayer which has been used by pious Christians down through the centuries to honor their heavenly mother:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Copyright (c) 1995 by James Akin. All Rights Reserved
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