Mary Is the Virgin Mother of God

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

From the very beginning, the Church has recognized the virginalmotherhood of Mary, who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

At the General Audience of Wednesday, 13 September, the Holy Father continued the catechesis he had begun the previous week on the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this talk he discussed the mystery of Mary's virginal motherhood and the title officially attributed to her by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Here is a translation of the Pope's catechesis, which was the second in the series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.

1. In the Constitution Lumen gentium, the Council states that "joined to Christ the head and in communion with all his saints, the faithful must in the first place reverence the memory 'of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ'" (n. 52). The conciliar Constitution uses these terms from the Roman Canon of the Mass, thereby stressing how faith in the divine motherhood of Mary has been present in Christian thought since the first centuries.

In the newborn Church Mary is remembered with the title "Mother of Jesus". It is Luke himself who gives her this title in the Acts of the Apostles, a title that corresponds moreover to what is said in the Gospels: "Is this not ... the son of Mary?", the residents of Nazareth wonder according to the Evangelist Mark's account (6:3); "Isn't Mary known to be his mother?", is the question recorded by Matthew (13:55).

The motherhood of Mary also concerns the Church

2. In the disciples' eyes, as they gathered after the Ascension, the title "Mother of Jesus" acquires its full meaning. For them, Mary is a person unique in her kind: she received the singular grace of giving birth to the Saviour of humanity; she lived for a long while at his side; and on Calvary she was called by the Crucified One to exercise a "new motherhood" in relation to the beloved disciple and, through him, to the whole Church.

For these who believe in Jesus and follow him, "Mother of Jesus" is a title of honour and veneration, and will forever remain such in the faith and life of the Church. In a particular way, by this title Christians mean to say that one cannot refer to Jesus' origins without acknowledging the role of the woman who gave him birth in the Spirit according to his human nature. Her maternal role also involves the birth and growth of the Church. In recalling the place of Mary in Jesus' life, the faithful discover each day her efficacious presence in their own spiritual journey.

3. From the beginning, the Church has acknowledged the virginal motherhood of Mary. As the infancy Gospels enable us to grasp, the first Christian continuities themselves gathered together Mary's recollections about the mysterious circumstances of the Saviour's conception and birth. In particular, the Annunciation account responds to the disciples' desire to have the deepest knowledge of the events connected with the beginnings of the risen Christ's earthly life. In the last analysis, Mary is at the origin of the revelation about the mystery of the virginal conception by the work of the Holy Spirit.

This truth, showing Jesus' divine origin, was immediately grasped by the first Christians for its important significance and included among the key affirmations of their faith. Son of Joseph according to the law, Jesus in fact, by an extraordinary intervention of the Holy Spirit, was in his humanity only the son of Mary, since he was born without the intervention of man.

Mary's virginity thus acquires a unique value and casts new light on the birth of Jesus and on the mystery of his sonship, since the virginal generation is the sign that Jesus has God himself as his Father.

Acknowledged and proclaimed by the faith of the Fathers, the virginal motherhood can never be separated from the identity of Jesus, true God and true man, as "born of the Virgin Mary", as we profess in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Mary is the only Virgin who is also a Mother. The extraordinary co-presence of these two gifts in the person of the maiden of Nazareth has led Christians to call Mary simply "the Virgin", even when they celebrate her motherhood.

The virginity of Mary thus initiates in the Christian community the spread of the virginal life embraced by all who are called to it by the Lord. This special vocation, which reaches its apex in Christ's example, represents immeasurable spiritual wealth for the Church in every age, which finds in Mary her inspiration and model

'Mother of God' was expression of popular piety

4 The assertion: "Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary" already implies in this event a transcendent mystery, which can find its most complete expression only in the truth of Jesus' divine sonship. The truth of Mary's divine motherhood is closely tied to this central statement of the Christian faith: she is indeed the Mother of the Incarnate Word, in whom is "God from God ... true God from me God".

The title "Mother of God", already attested by Matthew in the equivalent expression "Mother of Emmanuel", God-with-us (cf. Mt 1.23), was explicitly attributed to Mary only after a reflection that embraced about two centuries. It is third-century Christians in Egypt who begin to invoke Mary as "Theotókos", Mother of God.

With this title, which is broadly echoed in the devotion of the Christian people, Mary is seen in the true dimension of her motherhood: she is the Mother of God's Son, whom she virginally begot according to his human nature and raised him with her motherly love, thus contributing to the human growth of the dime person who came to transform the destiny of mankind.

5. In a highly significant way, the most ancient prayer to Mary ("Sub tuum praesidium...", "We fly to thy patronage...") contains the invocation: "Theotókos, Mother of God". This title did not originally come from the reflection of theologians, but from an intuition of faith of the Christian people. Those who acknowledge Jesus as God address Mary as the Mother of God and hope to obtain her powerful aid in the trials of life.

The Council of Ephesus in 431 defined the dogma of the divine motherhood, officially attributing to Mary the title "Theotókos" in reference to the one person of Christ, true God and true man.

The three expressions which the Church has used down the centuries to describe her faith in the motherhood of Mary: "Mother of Jesus", "Virgin Mother" and "Mother of God", thus show that Mary's motherhood is intimately linked with the mystery of the Incarnation. They are affirmations of doctrine, connected as well with popular piety, which help define the very identity of Christ.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 September 1995, page 7

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