Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Mary and the
For Pope John Paul II, Mary is the primary
patroness of the advent of the new millennium. As the mother of
Christ she is preeminently an advent figurethe morning star
announcing the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. Like the moon
at the dawn of a new day, she is wholly bathed in the glory of the
sun that is to come after her. Her beauty is a reflection of his.
The glories of Mary have only gradually
been discovered by the Church during nearly 2,000 years of study
and contemplation. The basic lines of Catholic Mariology (theology
of Mary) are by now beyond dispute, enshrined as they are in the
Scriptures, in the liturgy, in prayer, poetry, song and art, in
the writings of saints and theologians and in the teaching of popes
and councils. Mary holds a secure place as the greatest of the saints,
conceived and born without original sin and free from actual sin
at any point in her life.
Full of grace, she is exemplary in her
faith, hope, love of God and generous concern for others. Having
virginally conceived the Son of God in her womb, she remained a
virgin throughout life. At the end of her earthly sojourn she was
taken up body and soul into heaven, where she continues to exercise
her spiritual motherhood and to intercede for the needs of her children
on earth. This body of teaching, constructed laboriously over long
centuries, belongs inalienably to the patrimony of the Church and
can scarcely be contested from within the Catholic tradition. It
goes without saying that Pope John Paul II accepts this heritage
The pope's understanding of Mary
Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, has
been a devoted son of Mary ever since early youth, when he worshiped
at her shrines in the neighborhood of his native Wadowice. During
the Nazi occupation of Poland, as a chaplet leader in a "living
rosary," he joined in prayers to Mary for peace and liberation.
He also studied the works of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716),
from whom he takes his motto as pope, totus tuus ("I am wholly
It would be a mistake to think of the
pope's attachment to Mary as the fruit of sentimentality. He emphatically
denies that Marian teaching is a devotional supplement to a system
of doctrine that would be complete without her. On the contrary,
he holds, she occupies an indispensable place in the whole plan
of salvation. "The mystery of Mary," writes the pope, "is a revealed
truth which imposes itself on the intellect of believers and requires
of those in the Church who have the task of studying and teaching
a method of doctrinal reflection no less rigorous than that used
in all theology."
As as a bishop at Vatican II, Wojtyla
made several important interventions regarding Mary. He favored
the inclusion of Mariology within the Dogmatic Constitution on
the Church, but he pleaded for a different location of the text,
so that, instead of being a final chapter, it would immediately
follow Chapter 1 on the Mystery of the Church. Mary, he declared
in a written intervention in September 1964, having built up Christ's
physical body as mother, continues this role in the mystical body.
Since she is mother of Christ and of Christians, she ought to be
considered early in the document, rather than be relegated to a
kind of appendix at the end.
For "practical reasons," however, the
theological commission judged it necessary at that stage to keep
the section on Mary at the end of the constitutiona decision
that unfortunately made it possible for some commentators to say
that Vatican II had demoted the status of Mary.
The commission also rejected several
proposals to designate Mary formally as Mother of the Church, and
even to make that term the title of the chapter.
But in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (1964) the Council
did declare that "the Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit,
honors her with the affection of filial piety as a most loving mother"
(#53). To the great satisfaction of Archbishop Wojtyla, Paul VI at
the end of the third session, on November 21, 1964, explicitly proclaimed
Mary to be Mother of the Church.
The pope's encyclical
The Mariology of John Paul II appears
in concentrated form in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater
(1987) and more diffusely in a series of 70 Wednesday audience catecheses
on Mary delivered between 1995 and 1997. In general, his teaching
may be called pastoral rather than technical or speculatively theological.
The pope is more concerned with communicating the faith of the Church
and fostering authentic piety than with proposing new theories.
But rather frequently one comes across phrases and statements that
reflect personal insights of his own.
The key term that unifies the pope's
Mariology, as I see it, is that of motherhood. Mary is the
mother of the redeemer, mother of divine grace, mother of the Church.
The Council of Ephesus in the fifth century established the foundational
dogma of Mariology, that Mary is Mother of God, in Greek, theotokos
In Redemptoris Mater (#30-32)
the pope calls attention to the ecumenical value of this dogma:
It is accepted by practically all Christians, and has given rise
to beautiful hymns, especially in the Byzantine liturgy, which in
turn inspired the salutation in the great Anglican hymn, "Ye Watchers
and Ye Holy Ones": "O higher than the cherubim,/More glorious than
the seraphim,/Lead their praises,Alleluia!/Thou bearer of th' eternal
Word,/Most gracious, magnify the Lord, Alleluia!"
With his great interest in the theme
of redemption, John Paul II frequently calls attention to Mary's
involvement in the saving mission of her Son, beginning with the
Annunciation, when she consented to the plan of the Incarnation
and received the signal grace of divine motherhood. As the virgin
mother, she conceived through faith and obedience to the divine
Word that came to her from on high (Redemptoris Mater, 13).
Like Christ's own redemptive mission,
Mary's role in salvation history was not exempt from sorrow. In
many texts John Paul II recalls how, at the presentation of the
infant Christ in the Temple, Simeon prophesied that Mary's soul
would be pierced by a sword. This prophecy was to be fulfilled on
Calvary, where Mary's compassion perfectly mirrored the passion
of her Son, whose sufferings reverberated in her heart.
After the death of Jesus, according
to the pope, Mary's motherly office assumes a new form. In saying
to the Beloved Disciple, "Behold your mother," Jesus places the
apostles under her maternal care (Jn 19:25-27). In the days following
the Ascension we find Mary in the company of the Apostles prayerfully
and confidently waiting for the Holy Spirit, who had already overshadowed
her at the Annunciation, to descend upon the Church.
There is a mysterious correspondence,
therefore, in Mary's maternal relationships to Jesus and to the
Church. By her unceasing intercession she cooperates with maternal
love in the spiritual birth and development of the sons and daughters
of the Church (Redemptoris Mater, 44). "Choosing her as Mother
of all humanity," writes the pope elsewhere, "...the heavenly Father
wanted to reveal the maternal dimension of his divine tenderness
and care for men and women of every age."
Preparing for the jubilee year
In his apostolic letter The Coming
Third Millennium John Paul II makes a number of concrete suggestions
with implications for Marian practice and devotion. He relates the
last three years of the second millennium to the three divine persons
and the three theological virtues. The year 1997, he declares, was
a time to concentrate on faith with special reference to Jesus Christ
as the divine Son. The year 1998 would then be a time for emphasizing
the Holy Spirit and the virtue of hope. And 1999 is declared to
be an occasion for turning to God the Father and for special emphasis
on the virtue of charity.
Each of these three years, according
to the pope, has a Marian dimension. She is the virginal mother
of the Son, the immaculate spouse of the Holy Spirit and the fairest
daughter of the Father. She is also exemplary in her faith, hope
In the year 1997, therefore, we were
urged to contemplate Mary's journey of faith in relation to the
incarnate Son. At the Annunciation, she responded in faith to the
angel's message that she was chosen to become the mother of the
redeemer. In uttering her fiat ("May it be done to me according
to your word," Lk 1:38) she entered the history of the world's salvation
through the obedience of faith (see the 1986 encyclical Dominum
et Vivificantem). At the Visitation she was praised by Elizabeth
with the words: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken
to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:45).
Mary's faith was to be severely tested
by the flight into Egypt, the loss of the child Jesus in the Temple,
his rejection at Nazareth, and especially his crucifixion at Golgotha,
which the pope describes as "perhaps the deepest kenosis
[self- emptying, outpouring] of faith in human history" (Redemptoris
Mater, 18). But her faith continually grew as she pondered the
meaning of the words addressed to her. Her obedient submission in
faith was, in the expression of Irenaeus, the act that untied the
knot of Eve's disobedience, thus enabling humanity to rise again
to communion with God. Mary's faith is perpetuated in the Church
as it makes its own pilgrimage of faith.
By pondering Mary's faith in Christ
in 1997, Christians disposed themselves for meditation on the Holy
Spirit and on hope, the themes proposed for 1998. Mary's faith,
itself a gift of the Holy Spirit, enabled her to conceive her Son
by the power of that same Spirit. Her faith flowered in an ardent
and unfailing hope. Just as Abraham hoped against hope that he would
become the father of many nations (Rom 4:18), so Mary trusted against
all appearances that the Lord would place her Son upon the throne
of David, where he would reign in unending glory (Lk 1:32-33).
The hope of the whole people of ancient
Israel came to its culmination in Mary, who in her Magnificat praised
God's fidelity to the promises he had made to Abraham and to his
posterity forever (Lk 1:55). She is thus a radiant model for all
who entrust themselves to God's promises. The image of the Virgin
praying with the apostles in the Cenacle, says John Paul II, can
become a sign of hope for all who call upon the Holy Spirit to deepen
their union with God.
Finally, as the most highly favored
daughter of the Father, Mary may be viewed as the supreme model
of love toward God and neighborthe theme for 1999. Out of
affection for her cousin Elizabeth, she hastens into the hill country
to assist her and share with her the good news of the Annunciation.
In the Magnificat she expresses her joy of spirit in God her savior,
who has looked upon her lowliness and done great things for her.
In the same hymn she expresses solidarity
with Yahweh's beloved poor, thus anticipating the Church's preferential
option for the poor. At Cana she manifests her active charity by
helping to relieve the embarrassment of her hosts, thus occasioning
the miracle by which Christ first displayed his messianic power
over nature. Mary's love for God is brought to its deepest fulfillment
in heaven, where she continues to intercede lovingly for her children
on earth. This she will continue to do until all things are subjected
to the Father, so that God will become all in all.
The Church follows in the paths marked
out for her by Mary. Like her the Church believes, accepting with
fidelity the word of God. It preserves the faith by keeping and
pondering in its heart all that God speaks to it. Sustained by the
Holy Spirit amid the afflictions and hardships of the world, the
Church unceasingly looks forward in hope to the promise of future
glory. In imitation of Mary, the fair daughter of Zion, the Church
continually praises the Father's mercies and imitates his love for
men and women of every nation, the righteous and the unrighteous.
The Church's prayers for the needs of the whole world blend with
Mary's petitions before the throne of God.
Besides being an icon of the whole Church,
Mary is in a particular way a model for women. The contrasting vocations
of virginity and motherhood meet and coexist in her (see John Paul
II's 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem). The single,
the married and the widowed can all look to her for inspiration.
In Mary women can find an exemplar of "the loftiest sentiments of
which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of
love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows;
limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to
combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement"
(Redemptoris Mater, 46).
Meaning of the jubilee
Pope John Paul's Mariology is closely
interwoven with his theology of time. Mary could receive the fullness
of grace because the fullness of time had arrived (Gal 4:4). This
fullness, says the pope, "marks the moment when, with the entrance
of the eternal into time, time itself is redeemed."
Jubilee years are more than sentimental
recollections of the past. They are woven into the texture of salvation
history. Christ began his public ministry by proclaiming the arrival
of the great jubilee, the year of the Lord's favor predicted by
the prophet Isaiah (Lk 4:16-30).
We continue to live in this era of redemption,
this jubilee season of grace and liberation. Just as the Scripture
was fulfilled in the hearing of those gathered in the synagogue
of Nazareth, so it is fulfilled anew in our hearing, if we will
only listen. Every jubilee celebration of the Church recalls and
reactivates the arrival of the fullness of time.
The coming jubilee recalls the wonders
of Mary while it celebrates her son. The child does not enter the
world apart from Mary his blessed mother, the theotokos.
In her pilgrimage of faith, hope and love she blazes the trail on
which the Church is to follow. She continues to go before the people
of God (Redemptoris Mater, 6, 25, 28), coming to the help
of her clients who seek to rise above their sins and misery.
Just as before the coming of Christ
Mary was the "morning star" (stella matutina), so she remains,
for us who are still on the journey of faith, the"star of the sea"
(stella maris). She guides us through the dark journey toward
the moment when faith will be transformed into the everlasting vision
in which we look upon God our Savior face-to-face.