The Church holds that a proper reading of the figure of Mary in the
Gospels provides a model of authentic emancipation for women according
to God’s plan
"The figure of Mary shows that God has such esteem for woman
that any form of discrimination lacks a theoretical basis", the
Holy Father said at the General Audience of Wednesday, 29 November, as
he continued his reflections on the Virgin Mary. The Pope's catechesis
on Mary and the value of woman was the seventh in the series on the
Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.
1. The theological and spiritual aspects of the Church's teaching on
Mary, which have been amply developed in our century, have recently
acquired a new importance from the sociological and pastoral standpoint,
due also to a clearer understanding of woman's role in the Christian
community and in society, as we see in many significant interventions of
The message to women addressed by the Fathers at the conclusion of
the Second Vatican Council on 8 December 1965 are well known: "But
the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is
being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the
world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved"
(Enchiridion Vat., 1, 307).
I confirmed these affirmations a few years later in the Encyclical Mulieris
dignitatem: "The dignity and the vocation of women—a
subject of constant human and Christian reflection—have gained
exceptional prominence in recent years" (n. 1)
The role and dignity of woman have been particularly championed in
this century by the feminist movement, which has sought to react,
sometimes in forceful ways, against everything in the past and present
that has hindered the full appreciation and development of the feminine
personality as well as her participation in the many expressions of
social and political life.
These demands were in large part legitimate and contributed to
building up a more balanced view of the feminine question in the
contemporary world. The Church, especially in recent times, has paid
special attention to these demands, encouraged by the fact that the
figure of Mary, if seen in the light of her Gospel life, is a valid
response to woman's desire for emancipation: Mary is the only human
person who eminently fulfils God's plan of love for humanity
Every woman shares in Mary's sublime dignity
2. This plan is already manifest in the Old Testament, with the
creation narrative that introduces the first couple created in the image
of God himself: "So God created man in his own image, in the image
of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gn 1:27).
Thus woman, no less than man, bears God's image in herself. This
means that, since her appearance on the earth as a result of the divine
action, she too is appreciated: "God saw everything that he had
made, and behold, it was very good" (Gn 1:31). According to
this view, the difference between man and woman does not imply the
inferiority of the latter nor her inequality, but is a new element which
enriches God's plan, and is "very good".
However, God's intention goes well beyond what is revealed in the
Book of Genesis. In fact, in Mary God created a feminine personality
which greatly surpasses the ordinary condition of woman as it appears in
the creation of Eve. Mary's unique excellence in the world of grace and
her perfection are fruits of the particular divine benevolence which
seeks to raise everyone, men and women, to the moral perfection and
holiness which are proper to the adopted children of God. Mary is
"blessed among women"; however, every woman shares in some way
in her sublime dignity in the divine plan.
3. The remarkable gift to the Mother of the Lord not only
testifies to what we could call God's respect for woman, but also
emphasizes the profound regard in God's plans for her irreplaceable role
in human history.
Women need to discover this divine esteem in order to be ever more
aware of their lofty dignity. The historical and social situations which
caused the reaction of feminism were marked by a lack of appreciation of
woman's worth; frequently she was relegated to a second-rate or even
marginal role. This did not allow her to express fully the wealth of
intelligence and wisdom contained in her femininity. Indeed, throughout
history women have not infrequently suffered from scant esteem for their
abilities, and sometimes even scorn and unjust prejudice. This is a
state of affairs that, despite important changes, unfortunately
continues even today in many nations and in many parts of the world.
4. The figure of Mary shows that God has such esteem for woman that
any form of discrimination lacks a theoretical basis.
The marvellous work which the Creator achieved in Mary gives men and
women the possibility to discover dimensions of their condition which
before were not sufficiently perceived. In beholding the Mother of the
Lord, women will be able to understand better their dignity and the
greatness of their mission. But men too, in the light of the Virgin
Mother, will be able to acquire a fuller and more balanced view of their
identity, of the family and of society.
Attentive consideration of the figure of Mary, as she is presented to
us in Sacred Scripture as read in faith by the Church, is still more
necessary in view of the disparagement she sometimes receives from
certain feminist currents. The Virgin of Nazareth has, in some cases,
been presented as the symbol of the female personality imprisoned in a
narrow, confining domesticity.
Mary, on the contrary, is the model of the full development of
woman's vocation, since, despite the objective limits imposed by her
social condition, she exercised a vast influence on the destiny of
humanity and the transformation of society.
In Mary all are called to trust the Lord
5. Moreover Marian doctrine can shed light on the multiple ways in
which the life of grace promotes woman's spiritual beauty. In view of
the shameful exploitation that sometimes makes woman an object without
dignity, destined for the satisfaction of base passions, Mary reaffirms
the sublime meaning of feminine beauty, a gift and reflection of God's
It is true that feminine perfection, as it was fully realized in
Mary, can at first sight seem to be an exceptional case and impossible
to imitate, a model too lofty for imitation. In fact, the unique
holiness of her who from the very first moment received the privilege of
the Immaculate Conception is sometimes considered unreachably distant.
However, far from being a restraint on the way of following the Lord,
Mary's exalted holiness is, on the contrary, destined in God's plan to
encourage all Christians to open themselves to the sanctifying power of
the grace of God, for whom nothing is impossible. Therefore in Mary all
are called to put total trust in the divine omnipotence, which
transforms hearts, guiding them towards full receptivity to his
providential plan of love.