The Bible doesn’t say a lot about Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. In many ways, the Holy Spirit, the Church and Mary are the same topic. What you say about the Church you can also say about Mary. Mary is the icon of the Catholic Church.
The Holy Spirit and Mary meet most meaningfully in the study of the Church. Without discussion of the Holy Spirit, Mary becomes confined to a privileged centered theology. If we don’t have the Holy Spirit when we speak about Mary, everything Mary gets becomes privileged. It would put Mary on a pedestal that Mary herself wouldn’t want for herself. With the Holy Spirit, we keep our center of gravity with God. The relationship with Christ and Mary begins with the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, Mary would be elevated to the level of the Trinity. Mary is the proof test of the Spirit dwelling within humanity. We know that Mary becomes the ultimate dwelling place of the Spirit because the product of the Spirit dwelling in Mary is Jesus Christ.
It’s important to remember that the concept of time is in our realm but in the realm of God, there is no “time”. God knew that Mary would say “yes” from before creation. It is because of this knowledge, Mary was conceived without original sin and lived a life free of sin.
Mary is human like us. She becomes the first disciple of Christ even long before his birth. It is important, if not critical, to note that without Mary’s “yes”, Christ wouldn’t have entered into the world. Mary’s parents were very holy people, but they were not required to be free of original sin. Mary was preserved from sin because Mary’s “yes” required the freedom from sin. Sin is a social dimension. Ann and Joachim (Mary’s parents) didn’t need to be free of sin because they weren’t carrying Jesus. The essence of Jesus flowed within Mary during his gestation requiring her to be pure. Jesus’ DNA is wholly Mary’s. When Mary looks at Christ and Christ looks at Mary, there is a perfect reflection.
Often it is asked how Mary can be the Mother of God? We need to look at this as a Christological argument. Jesus is fully Divine and fully human. Mary is the mother of God because the two (divinity and fully human) cannot be separated. Mary becomes an image of the Church for us, because she so perfectly embodies the image of Christ (CCC 507).
Comparisons of Mary and the Church:
- The Church is both Virgin and Mother, as is Mary. The Church gives birth through the waters of baptism while Mary gives birth to Christ through the waters of birth.
- Mary in prayer, Church in Prayer
- Mary is the Virgin presenting offerings. The Church offers the Eucharist for the life of the world just as Mary offers her son on the cross.
- Mary “has always been full of Grace” (Archangel Gabrielle’s greeting to Mary), Immaculate Conception.
- In Mary, the Church is embodied even before the organization of Peter. In Mary, it is who the Church is and in Peter it is how the Church is arranged. (CCC, 773)
Through the Eucharist we gain by grace, what God is in nature. Mary is the first, not the exception. Mary’s Immaculate Conception points to who Christ is, not to who she is. This is an important distinction since so may believe that Catholics worship Mary. We do not. We venerate Mary and pray to Mary for her intercessions before her Son.
Mary is like the moon. She follows a predictable path and is only illuminated by and because of her Son.
We witness Mary’s devotion to God in Mary’s “Magnificat” prayer, her hymn of praise to the Lord. Mary proclaims the Lord’s greatness with her characteristic humility and grace. (NASB Luke 1:46-55)
And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.
“AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.
“He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.
“HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed.
“He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
In modern populous Christianity, it’s about “feeling good”. As these modern non-secular churches begin to remove Jesus’ divinity, they no longer match the definition of Christian. For some of these churches to work, they need Jesus to not be God. Some churches focus solely on Jesus as “friend”. Jesus is my friend, I can do what I want to. The thought process becomes: if Jesus is God, my life must be dictated by his teaching but if he is my friend I don’t always have to listen to what he says.
When considering the Holy Eucharist, there are many Christian denominations that do not recognize the transubstantiation¹. Presbyterians (John Calvin), for example, see the sacraments as visible works; The Body of Christ is in heaven and can’t be in two places at once. They see the Eucharist as feeding on Christ through faith. As Catholics, we believe that Christ is in heaven but is also in the Church and in the Eucharist. We are consuming the Body and Blood of our Lord. “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.'” (NASB, John 6:53)
Paul’s Eucharistic teaching in 1 Corinthians clarifies any doubts:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (1 Cor. 11:23-29).
When considering Lutheran Christians, Luther acknowledged the Eucharist as a sacrament. Luther once said, “I’d rather drink blood with the Pope than wine with Zwingli.” There are several denominations in the Protestant faith, which only view the Holy Eucharist as a symbol.
The Eucharist works because we are offering ourselves in thanksgiving. In sacrifice, there are three parts: offering, immolation, acceptance. The offering is done in every mass. The immolation is Christ offering his Spirit to God on the cross (this part cannot be repeated – it was once during the death of our Lord on the cross and it was for all. Christ is not dying again and again). (CCC 1104 and 1367). The acceptance is done by God the Father in every mass.
The apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and pass that experience on through holy orders (Apostolic succession). The Holy Spirit is passed onto the Church through Mary’s presence in Pentecost. This is how the Holy Spirit is passed on during baptism. A priest is “one who offers sacrifice”. We’re all called to be priests as we’re all driven to offer sacrifice in our baptismal priesthood. Sacra Facere (to do/make holy).
A priest in Jewish Law, had to eat the sacrifice. The priest in the Catholic mass has to receive communion from that mass in order to complete the sacrifice. We are able to participate in it because Christ considers us parts of his body. The “mass” that we’re participating in is not happening in this realm. We’re sharing in Jesus’ priesthood in the heavenly banquet.
As Christians, we are the Body of Christ. Christ comes and dwells within us. We take on the word Christian, “other Christ’s”, which is why our baptism has such dignity.
Just as it can be said that the sin of Adam is washed clean with the death of Christ, the new Adam, we can parallel that sin enters the world through Eve’s temptation but Salvation enters the world through Mary in the form of Jesus Christ.
When I sin, I’m hurting the unity of the Church and other members of the Body of Christ. When a priest absolves the sin, he is also representing the Church and the community of the Body of Christ that directly or indirectly was impacted by the sins. The priest says, “through the ministry of the Church, may God pardon you for your sins, I absolve you”. The Sacrament of Penance is the liturgical celebration of God’s forgiveness of the sins of the penitent, who is thus, reconciled with God and with the Church. The acts of the penitent – contrition, the confession of sins, and satisfaction or reparation – together with the prayer of absolution by the priest, constitute the essential elements of the Sacrament of Penance (CCC, 980, 1422, 1440, 1448 and glossary p892). Were there no forgiveness of sins in the Church, there would be no hope for life to come or eternal liberation. Let us thank God who has given his Church such a great gift. (CCC, 1465)
¹transubstantiation – The scholastic term used to designate the unique change of the Eucharistic bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. “Transubstantiation” indicated that through the consecration of the bread and wine there occurs the change of the entire substance of the bread into the substance of the Bod of Christ, and of the entire substance of the win into the Blood of Christ – even though the appearances or “species” of the bread and win remain (CCC, 1376)
USCCB. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Washington, D.C. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013 Print.
Senior, Donald, et al. Editors: The Catholic Study Bible, Second Edition New American Bible Revised Edition, New York: N.Y. Oxford Press, 2011 Print.