Mother of God, Mother of Men Part 2. By Father Hilary, O.F.M.CAP


There is another truth about Mary which appeals more to our hearts even than her divine motherhood. She is our Mother too. In saying this we are not indulging in wishful thinking or in emotion. We are stating a dogmatic truth believed from the beginnings of Christianity which implies that she really co-operates with God in begetting us to the spiritual life. She is in principle the Mother of all the living; she becomes the Mother of each one of us from the moment of our incorporation in Christ by baptism. Her motherhood of men is bound up with her motherhood of Christ. It is a favourite saying of the Fathers of the Church that he that has not Mary for his mother cannot have God for his father. Christ, the Son of Man, is the first-born of many brethren. At the Incarnation Mary became the Mother of the whole Christ, Head and members. Her motherhood of men is not an afterthought of her motherhood of God. In God’s mind the two are inseparable. As St. Paul puts it: ‘When the fulness of time was come God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law. . . . that we might receive the adoption of sons.’ Our Lord Himself bore witness to this truth as He hung upon the Cross and at its foot stood Mary, His Mother and the disciple whom he loved. To His Mother He said with His dying breath ‘Woman, behold thy son.’ Woman, an obvious allusion to the first promise of the redemption in the garden of Eden, woman, among the Jews a title of honour and veneration. To the disciple He said ‘Behold thy mother.’ John’s own natural mother was present at this scene. That John there stood for the whole of humanity seems to be implied in words written by Pope Leo XIII in his Bull Gloriosae Dominae. Tradition is clear on the spiritual motherhood of Mary. Let us quote the eloquent Pope St. Leo the Great: ‘Christ’s generation is also the origin of the Christian people, and the birth of the Head is the birth also of the body.’ In his Marian encyclical to commemorate the golden jubilee of the definition of the Immaculate Conception another great Pope saint, Pius X wrote: ‘Is not Mary the Mother of Christ? She is for that reason our mother too. . . . In the chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin Jesus took mortal flesh, but He also took to Himself a mystical Body, and we can say that when Mary had Jesus in her womb she bore there also all those who live the Christ-life.’ To Mary therefore we owe all our supernatural life under God. When God chose her to be the spiritual mother of all the living He gave her a great wide heart capable of embracing us all in its virginal love. What a note of tenderness the spiritual motherhood of Mary introduces into our religion! It is the counterpart of the fatherhood of God. All motherhood in heaven and on earth is named from Mary. Only the Creator Himself could have so plumbed the deeps of the human heart as He did when He gave an earthly Mother to his heavenly Son and a heavenly Mother to us His earthly children. Pope Pius XII concludes his magnificent encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ with a touching invocation of the Virgin Mother. In it he writes: ‘It was she who gave miraculous birth to Christ our Lord, adorned already in her virginal womb with the dignity of Head of the Church, and so brought forth the source of all heavenly life She it was who offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father together with the holocaust of her maternal rights and motherly love, like a new Eve, for all the children of Adam and thus she who was the mother of our Head according to the flesh, became by a new title of sorrow and glory the spiritual mother of all His members.’


We have all experienced the love of an earthly mother and we know that in all the world there is no love like it, none so tender, none so selfless. Round that tender name of mother what a wealth of wistful memories clings for each of us, memories of the innocent joys of childhood passed in the sunshine of a mother’s smile, of our first lessons in the love of God, our first prayers lisped at a mother’s knee. But all the love of a natural mother is but a pale reflection of Mary’s love, poured into her heart by the Spirit who is love subsistent. A mother’s love is not divided by the number of her children; be they few or many she loves each with her full heart. Though Mary’s children are numberless she knows and loves each one with a personal and unspeakable love. In her eyes each of us is another Jesus for whose sake she was created and predestined.
Our Blessed Lord admonished us that unless we become as little children we cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Children indeed we are spiritually; as long as this life lasts we are not fully grown. Often we prove ourselves very foolish children and we have great need of mothering by Mary who watches over us at every moment. Sorry the plight of the child who has no mother, and sorry indeed would be our plight if we had not Mary for our nursing-mother. One of our Irish poets, Piaras MacGearailt, who for a time became a Protestant, wrote a poignant poem bewailing the want of Mary’s love in his new found religion.
May we not say that a mother always has a special love for the wayward son? And so our heavenly Mother has a particular love for the sinner, whence her consoling title ‘Refuge of sinners.’ How often even in our own experience has she shown how well she merits that appellation. Confidently the Church prays: ‘Remember, O Virgin Mother, when thou standest in the presence of the Lord, that thou plead for us and avert His anger from us.”


We have briefly considered Mary’s all but divine dignity as Mother of God and our Mother and her unique part in the scheme of the redemption. Now we must consider our duties towards her, duties of veneration, of filial devotion and trustful prayer to her who has been saluted as the Mediatrix of all graces. Sometimes we Catholics are accused of Mariolatry as if we paid to the Blessed Virgin the worship due to God alone. This hoary calumny is due to ignorance or prejudice or to both. No Catholic would ever dream of adoring Our Blessed Lady as if she were a divine person. We acknowledge that she is a creature, that all she is and has is the gift of God bestowed upon her in view of her unique relation to the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. But short of latria or adoration there is no cultus which we can pay to Mary which is worthy of her surpassing dignity. It is clear that Mary is worthy of a veneration immeasurably passing that which we pay to the saints. Theologians distinguish three kinds of cultus, latria which is due to God alone, hyperdulia which is proper to our Lady and dulia which we offer to the saints. Hyperdulia is the just recognition of Mary’s divine motherhood, of the undeniable fact that she is God’s most noble creature. It is not just a higher degree of dulia; it is specificially distinct from the cultus of the saints because Mary belongs to the hypostatic order. The saints are venerated only because of their eminent holiness, a sharing in the holiness of Christ of whose mystical Body they are members. Mary is venerated in a special way not only because of her supreme holiness but because of her unique relation to God.
This veneration of Our Blessed Lady goes back to the very beginnings of Christianity. One wonders if our Protestant brethren have ever read the glowing tributes of praise poured out by the early Fathers, for example the lyric compositions of a St. Ephrem, the Deacon of Syria. Protestants fear that our devotion to Mary detracts in some way from our worship of Jesus Christ. Rather does it enhance it since all the veneration we pay to Mary is in view of her unique relation to her Son, her role as the second Eve, her co-operation in the work of the redemption. Our devotion to God’s Mother she passes on to Him, embellished with her own sublime merits. Let us repeat that if this role of Mary is overlooked or minimized, faith in the Incarnation and in the divinity of Christ soon weakens and fades away. Mary’s motherhood is the touchstone of orthodoxy in Christology.


Do what we will we can never pay her as much honour as God Himself showed to her. He chose her as His Mother and prepared her for that sublime office, made her a fitting dwelling-place for His Son. He filled her with grace from the first instant of her conception, derogating in her case from the universal law of original sin. With her fulness of grace went the plenitude of the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. He made His merciful plan of redemption to depend on her free consent and sent the archangel Gabriel to address her in words of unique greeting. For nine months divine Wisdom subsistent dwelt in her womb and virginally she gave Him birth. For long years the Son of God lived with her and was subject to her; at her knee He deigned to learn the lessons of human wisdom. At Cana of Galilee He forestalled ‘His time’ to work His first miracle at her delicate suggestion. As we find her thus at the beginning of the public ministry so too we see her at the end of it, standing at the Cross and hearing her spiritual motherhood confirmed by the dying voice of her Son. She is the comfort of the infant Church in the days between the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Ghost and is with the disciples when the Spirit is poured out upon them in the profusion of Pentecost. The Holy Ghost had once inspired her to sing her Magnificat, the canticle of her lowliness and of her exaltation and in it to foretell that all nations should call her blessed because He that is mighty had done great things in her. She was proclaimed blessed among women by her cousin St. Elizabeth, likewise filled with the Holy Spirit. A woman in the crowd hails her as blessed for bearing such a Son, and the Son Him-self proclaims her blessed because of her entire submission to the will of God. Yet there are those who call themselves Christians and who profess to venerate the sacred Scriptures and yet will not give her her title of Blessed but speak coldly of her as ‘the Virgin,’ nor will they accord her her place in the designs of God.


Several of the Popes have spoken of Mary as Co-Redemptrix of the human race, meaning that she cooperated with the Redeemer in His mission of salvation. Her co-operation was, of course, secondary to that of her Son. At the close of the extraordinary Holy Year of 1933 Pope Pius XI invoked her as Co-Redemptrix and said that God willed to associate His Mother with Jesus as the dispenser and mediatrix of all graces. The many miracles wrought at her shrines in every age, not least in our own, testify to God’s approval of the veneration of His Mother and of her children’s trust in her powerful intercession.


Since Mary is our own mother we must honour her with a child-like affection and gratitude. Nothing serves to keep in us the heart of a child- like affection for our Blessed Lady. Indeed it would be monstrous on our part to be cold and wanting in affection to so good a mother. Child-like love of Mary is the true hallmark of holiness and a characteristic of all the saints. The holier they were the greater was their affection for Mary. The saints assure us too that devotion to the Mother of God is a mark of predestination. We must love her too because she has first loved us. Her heart was specially formed by the Holy Trinity to love Jesus and His members. In thankfulness also we are bound to love Mary. To what pain did she not expose herself in her motherly love of men, especially sinners. She brought forth her firstborn painlessly, but how great was her suffering when the mystical Body of Christ was formed from the wounded side of the Saviour. Surely we her children should not forget the groanings of our mother. In the words of Pope Pius XII on the mystical Body of Christ she bestowed that same motherly care with which she fostered and nurtured the suckling infant Jesus in the cradle.’
Reigning in heaven our mother knows our needs and she loves us even more than we love ourselves, hence our prayer to her must be full of trust. Under her mothering care we shall grow in wisdom and age and grace before God and men as Jesus did.


Our devotion should be one of imitation. We are bound to imitate Christ if we would be saved and Mary is a spotless mirror of all His perfections. Her whole life was a living out of her words at the Annunciation: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.’ If we like her hand ourselves over to the divine will completely we shall make rapid strides in holiness. To her the Church in her liturgy applies the words of the Holy Ghost: ‘Now, ye children, hear me. Blessed are they that keep my ways . . . He that shall find me shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord.’ Our love for her should be as like as possible to that which Jesus gave her.


Mary is our Queen as well as our mother. As such she has a right to our loyalty and fidelity. That will be an efficacious means of ensuring our loyalty to Christ Our King which is so tested in these days of ours. ‘Let all pay unswerving homage, mingled with the beauteous veneration of her children to the royal sceptre of that great Mother.’ So wrote Pope Pius XII in his encyclical on the Queenship of Mary. He hopes that the celebration of the feast of her Queenship will contribute towards keeping, strengthening and continuing peace among the nations. In the dark days of war our Holy Father consecrated the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is for each one of us to see that that consecration be effective by our obedience to the behest of our Queen: ‘Whatsoever He shall say to you do ye.’ In doing this lies the only salvation of the world.
Many times a day we address to our Queen and Mother the Hail Mary, the prayer of the Incarnation, saluting her with the words of the archangel and St. Elizabeth, or rather with the words of God Himself. Each time it should be with a greater faith in and realization of the mystery, hidden from the ages in God. If we had nothing else in sacred Scripture but this it would be more than ample to justify all our Catholic devotion and veneration for Mary. God Himself declares her full of grace and blessed among all women. The Church, the bride of the Word, the pillar and ground of truth, guided by the Holy Spirit, adds her own petition, surely a worthy companion to the Lord’s own prayer: ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.’ A simple but profound prayer that greatly increases our trust. ‘Holy’ we style her because she more than any saint shares in the sanctity of Him who alone is essential holiness. God alone can know what are the depths of holiness of Mary’s soul, hallowed in its conception and growing in grace at every moment of earthly life. ‘Mary,’ ‘a name that is kin to prophecy, salutary to the regenerate, the hall-mark of virginity . . . fellowship in holiness.’ (Vincent of Lerins). St. Germanus of Constantinople writes that the very invocation of the name of Mary turns aside from her servants the attacks of the enemy, and keeps them safe and unharmed. ‘Mother of God,’ we invoke her knowing that God can refuse nothing to His only earthly parent, that where saints beg she commands. We beseech her help now in our present need, and above all at the hour of our death. ‘If,’ writes St. Alphonsus Liguori in his ‘Glories of Mary,’ ‘at the hour of death we have the protection of Mary, what need we fear from all our infernal enemies?’ Pastoral experience confirms what we should in any case expect, that Mary’s clients die in happiness and hope. If often during life we have so prayed we may rest assured that when now is the hour of our death the glorious Queen of heaven will be near us to lead our souls to heaven and after this our exile to show unto us the blessed fruit of her womb, JESUS.