MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD
The unique, and privileged place of Jesus’ mother, Mary, among His disciples is also clearly presented in Scripture. The angel Gabriel, in announcing that she would play a special role of bringing Christ and His redemption to the world addresses her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28) and tells her “you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). The special favor and grace that God gave her is confirmed in the exchange with her cousin, Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”Luke 1:41-43
And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”Luke 1:46-49
Mary was blessed by God in this unique way in order that she would be worthy to bear in herself, and raise as a human boy, the Son of God.
To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”. In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.Catechism of the Catholic Church, 490
Mary’s Immaculate Conception
In order to be the Mother of the Son of God who would redeem the world from sin, she was kept free from sin by the very redemption her Son would bring about on the cross.
Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.CCC, 491
The honor given to Mary, the Mother of God, should not be confused with the worship which is reserved for God alone. The Church honors her for the grace God showed her in preserving her from sin, in choosing her to be the earthly mother of His Son, and her obedience to and faith in His word. We also ask for her to pray to God on our behalf. But the Church never offers her praise, adoration, sacrifice or worship; all of the honor given to her is on account of the favor God showed her.
The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . .. This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.CCC, 971
Thus, the Church honors Mary, the mother of Jesus, as our mother. Indeed, Jesus gave the Church into her care and she into the Church’s affection, when she and the Apostle John stood together at the foot of the cross.
When Jesus saw his mother* and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.John 19:26-17
That Mary is the spiritual mother to all Christians in virtue of the grace she received to become the mother of Jesus is also attested to in the Book of Revelation:
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne…. Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.Revelation 12:1,5,17
If Mary was conceived without sin, was she not saved?
Some have thought that when the Church teaches that Mary was conceived without sin and lived a sinless life, that this means we believe the mother of Jesus was not and did not need to be redeemed by Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection.
And when they read in scripture that Mary declares her “spirit rejoices in God my savior,” they believe this means that she is admitting her sinfulness and need for redemption.
But the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception acknowledges that Mary was redeemed and saved by Christ, but that His redemptive sacrifice is not bound by time.
The redeeming action of Christ’s loving obedience to the Father extended into prior human history, pre-redeeming His mother, and preserving her from sin, just as we are redeemed, justified and saved by Christ in the human history subsequent to his dying on the cross.
Moreover, God the Son pre-redeems his human mother in order to prepare the sinless human nature He receives from her. It was by being perfectly obedient to the will of his Heavenly Father that his human nature was the instrument by which he atones for the sins of all of fallen humanity.
Jesus could not redeem all humanity in his human nature if his human nature first had itself to be redeemed. Thus, in order to receive for himself a sinless human nature, he pre-redeemed his mother, and preserved her from original sin.
In God’s mysterious plan, the unique grace given to Mary which kept her sinless and free from original sin and any personal sins is precisely what allows Jesus to redeem the rest of us from both original sin and our own personal sins.
The Immaculate Conception therefore declares the extraordinary lengths God goes in sending His Only Begotten Son as a man to redeem all men and women from their sins, and so reconcile the world to Himself.
As with all Marian dogmas and devotions, the Church declares the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in order to affirm and point to the saving action God brought about through His Son, Jesus Christ.
PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS
In addition to benefitting from the prayers of other Christians on earth, we Catholics believe that we can also be helped by the prayers of those who have been made perfect in following Christ, the saints in heaven. It is clear that we should pray, and ask for the prayers, of each other.
‘And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not God of the dead, but of the living . . .’Mark 12:26-27
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely . . .Hebrews 12:1
No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.Hebrews 12:22-24
Pray at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me . . .Ephesians 6:18
First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human.1 Timothy 2:1-5
But since all who follow Christ are bound together as His Body, the saints who have gone before us are in an especially good position to present our prayers and petitions to God. If it is good and pleasing to pray for each other here on earth, so much more can those in the presence of God in heaven hear and present our prayers on our behalf. As it says in the Book of Revelation, the saints in heaven offer our prayers to God under the form of “gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.” (5:8)