God’s saving plan which is revealed in creation attributes equal
dignity and worth to women, but it also affirms the uniqueness of the
gift of femininity
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 6 December, the Holy Father
continued his catechesis on the Virgin Mary, calling particular
attention to her as the model for woman's role in the contemporary
world. Here is a translation of his address, which was the eighth in the
series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.
1. As I have already explained in the preceding catecheses, the role
entrusted to Mary by the divine plan of salvation sheds light on the
vocation of woman in the life of the Church and society by defining its
difference in relation to man. The model represented by Mary clearly
shows what is specific to the feminine personality.
In recent times some trends in the feminist movement, in order to
advance women's emancipation, have sought to make her like man in every
way. However, the divine intention manifested in creation, though
desiring woman to be man's equal in dignity and worth, at the same time
clearly affirms her diversity and specific features. Woman's identity
cannot consist in being a copy of man, since she is endowed with her own
qualities and prerogatives, which give her a particular uniqueness that
is always to be fostered and encouraged.
These prerogatives and particular features of the feminine
personality attained their full development in Mary. The fullness of
divine grace actually fostered in her all the natural abilities typical
'Let it be done to me according to your word'
Mary's role in the work of salvation is totally dependent on
Christ's. It is a unique function, required by the fulfilment of the
mystery of the Incarnation: Mary's motherhood was necessary to give the
world its Saviour, the true Son of God, but also perfectly man.
The importance of woman's co-operation in the coming of Christ is
emphasized by the initiative of God, who, through the angel,
communicates his plan of salvation to the Virgin of Nazareth so that she
can consciously and freely co-operate by giving her own generous
Here the loftiest model of woman's collaboration in the Redemption of
man—every man—is fulfilled; this model represents the transcendent
reference point for every affirmation of woman's role and function in
2. In carrying out this sublime form of co-operation, Mary also shows
the style in which woman must concretely express her mission.
With regard to the angel's message, the Virgin makes no proud demands
nor does she seek to satisfy personal ambitions. Luke presents her to us
as wanting only to offer her humble service with total and trusting
acceptance of the divine plan of salvation. This is the meaning of her
response: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to
me according to your word" (Lk 1: 3 8).
It is not a question of a purely passive acceptance, since her
consent is given only after she has expressed the difficulty that arose
from her intent to remain a virgin, inspired by her will to belong more
completely to the Lord.
Having received the angel's response, Mary immediately expresses her
readiness, maintaining an attitude of humble service.
It is the humble, valuable service that so many women, following
Mary's example, have offered and continue to offer in the Church for the
growth of Christ's kingdom.
3. The figure of Mary reminds women today of the value of motherhood.
In the contemporary world the appropriate and balanced importance is not
always given to this value. In some cases, the need for women to work in
order to provide for the needs of their family and an erroneous concept
of freedom, which sees child-care as a hindrance to woman's autonomy and
opportunities, have obscured the significance of motherhood for the
development of the feminine personality. On the contrary, in other cases
the biological aspect of childbirth becomes so important as to
overshadow the other significant opportunities woman has for expressing
her innate vocation to being a mother.
In Mary we have been given to understand the true meaning of
motherhood, which attains its loftiest dimension in the divine plan of
salvation. For her, being a mother not only endows her feminine
personality, directed towards the gift of life, with its full
development, but also represents an answer of faith to woman's own
vocation which assumes its truest value only in the light of God's
covenant (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, n. 19).
4. In looking attentively at Mary, we also discover in her the model
of virginity lived for the kingdom.
The Virgin par excellence, in her heart she grew in her
desire to live in this state in order to achieve an ever deeper intimacy
For women called to virginal chastity, Mary reveals the lofty meaning
of so special a vocation and thus draws attention to the spiritual
fruitfulness which it produces in the divine plan: a higher order of
motherhood, a motherhood according to the Spirit (cf. Mulieris
dignitatem, n. 21).
Women sow the seeds of the civilization of love
Mary's maternal heart, open to all human misfortune, also reminds
women that the development of the feminine personality calls for a
commitment to charity. More sensitive to the values of the heart, woman
shows a high capacity for personal self-giving.
To all in our age who offer selfish models for affirming the feminine
personality, the luminous and holy figure of the Lord's Mother shows how
only by self-giving and self-forgetfulness towards others is it possible
to attain authentic fulfilment of the divine plan for one's own life.
Mary's presence therefore encourages sentiments of mercy and
solidarity in women for situations of human distress and arouses a
desire to alleviate the pain of those who suffer: the poor, the sick and
all in need of help.
In virtue of her special bond with Mary, woman has often in the
course of history represented God's closeness to the expectations of
goodness and tenderness of a humanity wounded by hatred and sin, by
sowing in the world seeds of a civilization that can respond to violence