The Mother Of Christ by Father Vassall-Phillips Part 124.


IT is a great and fruitful principle that the various events recorded in the Old Testament foreshadow the New. Resting on this principle, the Fathers of the Church have discovered countless figures of the Blessed Mother of God scattered throughout the ancient Scriptures of Israel. Before calling the attention of my readers to some of these patristic applications of Jewish history to the Mysteries of Redemption which that history typifies, it may be well to point out that the Fathers held our Lady herself to be a type of the Church, though on occasion they taught also that the Church is a figure of our Lady.

Indeed, the Fathers not seldom merged our Lady and the Church into a unity, treating them as though they were in fact one. For example, St. Clement of Alexandria wrote at the very beginning of the third century :

"O mystic marvel! One Father of all things, One Word of all things, One and the same every where, One only Mother Virgin. Dear it is to me to call her the Church."

And St. Cyril of Alexandria:

"Hymning with canticles the ever-Virgin Mary and her Son and spotless Spouse."

Such identification as this may strike us as sufficiently strange, until we remember that in truth our Lady, as we see her in the Gospels, is again and again the personification of the Church of Christ. St. Augustine is never tired of urging with regard to St. Peter that he is the persona or representative of the Church; from another point of view this is equally true of the Virgin Mother. She stands out as the concrete embodiment of what, outside the borders of Catholicism, is sometimes regarded as a merely abstract conception, and then vaguely called " The Church." From this unmeaning verbiage we are awakened as from an evil dream, when we watch Mary as she is shown us in the Gospels, and remember that she stands for the Church, and points out to the Church (that is, to the men and women who compose the Church) the way in which they too should serve their Lord.

There are at least seven ways in which the Blessed Virgin Mary may be seen to represent and typify the Church.

1. St. Augustine in various passages scattered through his writings dwells on the truth that the Church, in this resembling Mary, is a Virgin Mother.

"He it is," writes the great Doctor, " who is beautiful above the sons of men, the Son of Holy Mary, the Bridegroom of the Holy Church, which he has rendered like to His Mother. For He hath made her for us a mother and hath kept her for Himself a virgin. For to her it is that St. Paul speaks : * I have joined you as a chaste virgin to Christ.' Of her again he says that our ' mother is not a bond woman but free,' and that the children of her who before was desolate are more in number than of her who has a husband.'  Thus also in the case of the Church, as in that of Mary, we find perpetual virginity and incorrupt fecundity. For what Mary merited in her flesh—that the Church has preserved in the spirit."

And again:

"The Church . . . imitating Christ's Mother, every day gives birth to His Members and remains a Virgin."

And once more:

"Mary brought forth your Head; the Church brought forth you. For the Church too is both Mother and Virgin—Mother by the bowels of charity, Virgin by the integrity of faith and by piety. She brings forth the peoples : but they are members of One, whose body and spouse she is herself. In this too she resembles the Virgin, that she also, whilst bearing many, is the Mother of Unity " [i.e., Mary is the Mother of many, yet but of One only.]

The Holy Virgin, bearing Christ, bore us also who are the members of Christ; the Holy Church, remaining also virgin by the integrity of her Faith, has borne us her children, making us, by our spiritual birth in Baptism, the children of God. Yet, the One Church remains " the Mother of Unity "—for all her children are united in the One Faith. The children of God who are one with Christ are the children of their Mother Mary, who bore but one Son and is the Spouse of the Spirit; they are also the children of their Mother the Church, the Mother of Unity and— like the Holy Virgin—the mystical Bride of the Lord. The great meeting-place between our Lady and the Church is to be found in the virginal fruitfulness —in the Motherhood—of each.

"The Church," writes Auguste Nicholas, "is the expansion of the Motherhood of Mary; it is the mystical womb of Mary which gives birth to the mystical Body of Christ."

2. Both our Lady and the Church are rightly called, under God, the sinners' refuge and the repentant sinners' home. The tenderness of the heart of Mary beats responsively to the gentleness of the Church of Jesus Christ.

3. After her divine Childbearing the Blessed Virgin devoted herself to the care and worship of the Incarnate Lord, whose Godhead was hidden by the swathing-bands of Infancy ; the Church is given over to the care and worship of the same Lord, hidden now, both in Godhead and Humanity, beneath the white veils of the Blessed Sacrament.

"Oh, the new order of things," exclaims St. Zeno, "constrained by love for His image to become an Infant, God cries; and He who was come to loose the debts of the whole world suffers Himself to be bound in swathing-bands. He is laid in the manner of the stable, to show that He is the Shepherd and the Food of the nations."

At Bethlehem, which being interpreted from the Hebrew signifies the House of Bread, Mary showed Jesus to the Shepherds and the Kings; the Church is ever showing Jesus to His people.

4. With Jesus, Mary fled into Egypt; the Church ever shares the persecutions and sufferings of her Lord.

5. An ancient writer observes that Mary kept the words of Christ in her heart, as " one who is the receptacle of all the mysteries"; Such a home of Divine Mysteries is also the holy Church. And if Mary not only kept the words of her Lord, but pondered them as well — that is, turned them over in her heart—in this she represented our Mother the Church—ever meditating the words of her Saviour, recorded in the Gospels, comparing them one with another, regarding them now in this aspect, now in that, never weary of repeating them in the Sacred Liturgy for the edification of her children.

6. Again, when Mary speaks, we can hear the Church speaking in every age. " Behold the Handmaiden of the Lord," said Mary, but the Church too is the Handmaiden of her Lord.  " Be it done unto me according to Thy word," are Mary's words, fore showing the attitude of the Church in every age towards her Divine Master. " Whatsoever He saith unto you, do ye," was Mary's bidding to the waiters of old ; none other is the constant command of the Church to all her servants.

"Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing;" such too is the loving complaint of the Church to her Beloved in the hour of sorrow and darkness.

"My soul doth magnify the Lord." In the second century, St. Irenaeus wrote that in these words we hear Mary " crying out and prophesying on behalf of the Church." In all truth as day by day the Holy Church lifts the Magnificat, like incense, before the Throne of the Most High, all generations arise and call her blessed, together with Mary, Virgin and Mother.

7. It is above all at Cana that we may observe the close identification, in God's purposes for our salvation, of His Mother with His Church. Our Lady's intervention at the Marriage Feast belonged to " the beginning of signs" and is typical of the Church's part in the administration of the Sacraments. Once more, at Cana Mary prays. This is the great office of the Church. For this reason is it that in the earliest Christian pictures to be found in the Roman Catacombs we find especially two figures—the Good Shepherd and the Blessed Virgin. Our Lady however, is depicted not, as in later times, with her Child in her arms, but as a woman in the attitude of prayer. Under this figure we may also recognise the Church. For this reason in an Epithalamium, or marriage song, composed by St. Paulinus of Nola, a friend and contemporary of St. Augustine, we find it laid down that the bride groom should be to his bride that which Christ is to the Church. The Saint goes on to declare that, if such be the case, Jesus will once again assist at the wedding as at Cana, and that Mary, the Lord's Virgin Mother, will also be present with the spouses, for Mary is the Model of the Church, which is the Bride of the Lord and mother of all the Faithful.