JANUARY 1, 2003, FEAST OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD: HOMILY- LUKE 2. 16-21 

MARY SAID: ‘BE IT DONE TO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD’. ANDTHE WORD WAS MADE FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US.  Today as the New Year begins we commemorate the greatest of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s privileges, her divine motherhood. All other favors she received, including her Immaculate Conception, were bestowed on her in view of the fact that she was to become truly the Mother of God. We who are familiar with this title of Mary readily accept it as obvious truth, and that is indeed a great grace that the Lord gives to us. In order to appreciate in a more lively fashion the significance of this mystery we do well to examine it more carefully and consider, as well as we can, precisely why this is Mary’s chief dignity. 

Nothing throws a clearer light on the significance of this title than the events that surrounded the introduction of its use in the early Church. For the expression as such is not found in the New Testament for the excellent reason that other features of the mystery of salvation and in particular those bearing on the nature and person of Jesus Christ had to be clarified first. Although Scripture clearly speaks of Jesus as divine, it nowhere defines his relation to the Father and the Holy Spirit in explicit detail. As time went on some considered him to be divine in the sense of being more than man, and yet not fully equal in substance to the Father. Only after the bishops at Nicaea promulgated the teaching that Jesus is equal to the Father and is of the same substance, homoousios, was it evident that Catholic faith requires that he be accepted as true God of true God, divine in the fullest sense of that term.  

This was surely the most essential point to clarify before the Church could clearly teach that Mary is Theotokos, the Mother of God, but it was not the only one. Origen used this title of Mary already in the 3rd century; before long it appeared in the popular prayer we still use ‘Sub tuum’.  Many of the Fathers too put forth this teaching even before it was officially proclaimed by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. None gave greater prominence to it than St. Augustine who died a year before that Council.  Some other influential churchmen, refused to honor it, however. Strange as it may strike us in our own times, there were serious theologians in the same early centuries who did not consider Christ to be a human being in all truth. Some held his body was but a phantom; the Gnostics considered him to have only a celestial body that just passed through Mary; he was not flesh derived from her flesh. When Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, taught that Mary can be called ‘The Birth Giver of Christ’ but not ‘Mother of God’, a crisis developed. This led to an Ecumenical Council that settled matters.  

St. Athanasius had made it clear that since Jesus is a divine person with a human as well as a divine nature, whatever he does in his humanity is rightly ascribed to his divine person. In the same line of reasoning, since Mary gives birth to Jesus humanity, she is the mother of his person who is divine in nature. Accordingly, she is in the full sense of the term the Mother of God. Obviously, Jesus as the Word of God had no other birth than the one eternal coming forth from the Father which continues through all eternity. And that belief remains intact; it is through taking on humanity that he has a mother, but he acts as a divine person in doing so. Mary then is mother of the Word of God made flesh. 

She herself does not become divine, but remains one of us creatures. However, she does enter into a most intimate personal relationship with the Blessed Trinity as she becomes mother of Jesus. She creates, by the power of God, a new possibility for human-divine intimacy which began when the Word became flesh in her womb and was perfected in her Assumption. Her abiding union with God is, in God’s plan, a manifestation of the new creation that each of us is intended to share in. She is not only the most perfect exemplar of what we are to become, she is actively contributing to our joining her in the presence of her Son, by her intercession on our behalf.

 When we honor Mary as the Mother of God, we honor the work of the Blessed Trinity in her. In a particular fashion, we acknowledge Jesus as her divine Son and our Savior. In uniting our self with her in prayer, we are drawn to greater conformity to her Son whom she fashioned not only in body but, by her maternal attentions, also in character and in soul. May she accompany us by her maternal care and prayer throughout this new year and all the days of our life, to the end._   

  Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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