Reflection: The Blessed Virgin Mary
One of the most popular Catholic prayers, especially for women the world over, is known as the ‘Hail Mary’.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
Our Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen
In Luke’s Gospel this prayer incorporates two greetings, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you’, and ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.
Well, today we are celebrating the feast day of The Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary was a Galilean Jewish woman of Nazareth, the wife of Joseph, and mother of Jesus. She is celebrated by the Western, Eastern, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches as the mother of Jesus and as Theotokos (Mother of God). Mary is also afforded the highest position in Islam for women and she is mentioned in the Quran.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke and the Quran describe Mary as a virgin. In the New Testament she is betrothed to Joseph and according to Christian theology she miraculously conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit while still a virgin. At the end of her life Christian teachings inform us that God raised her body directly into heaven and this event came to be known as the Assumption.
Since the time of early Christianity Mary has been venerated as the most meretricious of saints and she has, according to reports, appeared to believers many times over the centuries, mostly to women and poor children. Such devotion to Mary has been fuelled by popular apparitions.
Although Mary is mentioned as the mother of Jesus several times in the New Testament she is mentioned prominently at the crucifixion. Nevertheless, she was considered as ‘the one who was full of grace’ and as the ‘favoured one’ who had an important role to play in God’s scheme of salvation. This role was the subject of intense discussion and debate during the fourth century by theologians such as Augustine of Hippo who was key in formulating a theology and doctrine of grace from debating if Mary was subject to original sin, like everyone else, or whether she was preserved from the taint of original sin. Popular Christian piety at the time saw Mary as the new Eve who by her obedience to God’s word reversed the disobedience of the first Eve.
Later, during the Medieval period, Mary was regarded as the main representative of mercy and forgiveness to whom sinners could appeal. Many saw her role as offering quiet support and encouraging a tranquil strength of purpose and obedience to God. Later, more emphasis was placed on her humanity and compassion. Her unique position as fully human and closeness to God than any other saint or angel made her an obvious choice for devotion and prayer.
While Mary has been called the first believer and representative of the Church, she continues to inspire many today. For example,
· Mary stands as a model and example for all and for the Church.
· All of us, like Mary, are called to serve God’s purpose.
· Like Mary, who was graced with unquestionable faith, we are called to that same faith whatever doubts, upsets of griefs we experience.
· We are all acceptable to God and loved by God by virtue of God’s grace and the sacrifice of Christ. Mary helps teach us that and to believe and trust in God.
· Mary stands as a Mother for all both women and men, young and old. In John’s gospel (19:26-27), Jesus, from the cross, addresses his mother saying about John, his beloved disciple, ‘Here is your son’. Jesus then addresses the disciple saying, ‘Here is your mother’.
To love and care for each other is an essential commandment that Jesus, as the Word of God, calls all to embrace. Also, while we might elevate Mary and the saints to super holy levels that none of us can fully aspire to, that very grace gifted to Mary is the same grace God calls each of us to know, accept and work with.
Thanks be to God