Carlos Caso-Rosendi

To understand the Catholic devotion for the Mother of God it is necessary to grasp the meaning of Mary’s spiritual maternity of all those who believe in Christ, participating with Him in His suffering for the redemption of the world. Mary is the first believer to participate in Christ’s redemptive suffering. Mary’s communion in the sufferings of the Christ are prophesied by St. Simeon in the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 2, 21-37 — And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

This passage of the Gospel shows how the Messiah was born to experience both suffering and glory for the benefit of his people. Simeon tells Mary: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” thus preparing Mary for the grievous days of the Crucifixion, when she will suffer a mother’s ultimate pain and loss. There are several details in the account of Luke that point at the suffering condition of the righteous among mankind. The first is poverty. Joseph and Mary can only offer a modest sacrifice “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” This sacrifice was prescribed for the poor who could not afford to give a sheep or a goat. It shows how the Sacred Family shared their sufferings with the poor of all ages. The prophet Simeon had been waiting all his life to see the Messiah. He exemplifies the hope and patience of the poor. Finally, the promise of God is fulfilled. He gets to see the baby that will become known as the Messiah. The prophetess Anna, the widow who had survived her husband many decades, personifies true love ravaged by death.

Here Luke presents the longing of mankind for God. Framed by sadness, loss, suffering, and death, hope for mankind is presented in the arms of Mary. The poorest of all mothers, comes to the Temple, offering God her most precious possession, her firstborn. There she is told that more suffering will be needed before the promised glory of Israel is revealed.

All those presented in this scene are participants in the suffering of Christ. The Messiah chooses to be born into their sorrows and afflictions. The first element of this divine participation in the pains of mankind, is the maternity of Mary. She is the first to experience the presence of God in herself, first as a virgin consecrated as a daughter of God the Father, then as the spouse of the Holy Spirit and now as the mother of God the Son. Later, the Church will fully participate with her in the sufferings of Christ as Mary’s Christian offspring (Colossians 1, 24).

Mary is the very first person in history to become part of the family of God. By divine grace, her familiar union with God is complete. Her trust in God is absolute.

John 19, 25-30 — So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, 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 to his own home. After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.” A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The last time that Jesus addresses the believers from the Cross, he speaks to give Mary to the care of Saint John, and to give Saint John to the care of Mary. John is the youngest of his disciples, the only one who dares to be with his Master until the bitter end. Observing the scene we see three women, all of them called Mary. These women represent womanhood in the Church. Mary of Nazareth is a consecrated virgin. Mary Magdalene in a former sinner, now dedicated to God. Mary the wife of Cleopas, is the mother of a godly family (Matthew 27, 55). These three women are a living sample of all the feminine vocations in the Church. In the same scene Saint John seems to represent the Church loyal to Christ (John 10, 27; Revelation 14, 4).

In that most important moment, Jesus trusts Mary to the care of his beloved disciple, calling them to be mother and son. John’s new life in Christ is forever tied to Mary’s. These words are the beginning of a new creation. John[1] is now—by the word of Jesus speaking from the Cross—part of the offspring of Mary (see Revelation 12, 17).

This event is particularly tied to the being “born anew” that Jesus had taught about. That will be the center of the Christian message to the Hebrews who had trusted so far in their natural inheritance of the promise made to their father Abraham. Early in his ministry Jesus had explained that mystery to Nicodemus, a master of the Mosaic Law.

John 3, 1-8 — Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus question is recorded in John’s Gospel to remind us that a man must be born again, he must be re-created, to enter in the Kingdom of the Heavens. Thus such new man must become like a child, as Jesus said in Mark 10, 15: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Nicodemus come to Jesus “at night”. He is still in the dark about the true meaning of the words of Jesus. Still, he understands rather instinctively that a mother is needed to fulfill this process. He does not understand that the process is not physical, but spiritual.

The dialog of Jesus and Nicodemus precedes John’s account of the baptisms by the Jordan. There Jesus reveals that the Holy Spirit is begetting this new creation, with new men and women. Christian disciples must be born again and begotten just as Jesus’ perfect human nature was conceived in Mary by her Spouse, the Holy Spirit (Luke 1, 35). Later, Saint Paul explains that this being “born again” is not realized physically in the present condition of mankind, tied to sin and death inherited from Adam’s flesh.

1 Corinthians 15, 19-25 — If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Christ is the firstborn of this new creation. He chooses to be born from Mary, making her “the mother of all who shall live” (please compare with Genesis 3, 20; Romans 8, 29; Colossians 1, 15).

The spiritual maternity of Mary is better understood as a counterpoint to the fleshly maternity of Eve. Eve is to be the mother of all who live in the flesh (Genesis 3, 20). Eve’s offspring will unfailingly die to fulfill the curse placed upon mankind in Genesis 3, 17-19, for having disobeyed God and eaten from the fruit of the forbidden tree.

In contrast, Mary’s offspring “keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” by eating the fruit of that other tree, the Cross (Acts 2, 42; John 6, 53-58; 66-67). This fruit—Jesus—is also the fruit of Mary’s womb (Luke 1, 42).

The first son of Eve is Cain. His name in Hebrew, Ka-yin means “a spear”. Suggestively, it shares the same consonant spelling as kin’ah, meaning “envy”.[2] Cain offers a sacrifice to God. His sacrifice is rejected. He had offered fruits of the soil, the same soil that God had cursed (Genesis 3, 19). His younger brother Abel (Ab-el, in Hebrew, “of God”) offers animal sacrifices instead. Abel’s sacrifices are more pleasing to God. Overtaken by envy and hate for his brother, Cain then murders him.

In contrast, the firstborn of Mary is Jesus. He “lays down his life for his friends” (John 15, 13) and his sacrifice is perfect, pleasing to God (Hebrews 9, 11-14). He loves his brothers to the point of giving his own life for them, “taking the form of a servant […] he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2, 5-8).

There are many other counterpoints that can be made, all of which are divine signs that signal to the new creation in Christ. The old creation, polluted by Adam’s sin brings death through Eve. In contrast the new creation is redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice. Mary, as the New Eve, brings eternal supernatural life to all her offspring: those who are born of the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism (John 3, 1-8). Mary transmits to us the supernatural life in Christ in the same way that she became the mother of John.

Once this supernatural, mystical maternity of Mary is understood, we have to face our duties as sons and daughters. The first of those duties is detailed in the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20,12; Deuteronomy 5,16).

Jesus set the perfect example for us when living on this earth as a man, he was subject to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2, 51). Thus if God Incarnate was subject to Mary, when she was a simple mother, how much more should we be subject to her and make her the object of our loving devotion!

The apostle Saint Paul offers this wise counsel: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ (This is the first commandment with a promise.) ‘that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth'” (Ephesians 6, 1-3; see also Mark 7, 8-13).

In previous chapters we have established the uniqueness of Mary’s role in the history of salvation. We know she is the Ark of the New Covenant.[3] The old Ark of the Covenant is a prophetic figure of Mary—it was considered by the Israelites as a very holy object, something so holy that no one could touch it! That old Ark of the Covenant had dedicated servants (1 Chronicles 16, 4) who reverently ministered that sacred object, calling it “The Glory of Israel” (see 1 Samuel 4, 22).

Mary is also the Queen of Israel, (1 Kings 2, 13-25) the eternal gebirah, the Great Lady[4] described in this prophetic Psalm:

Psalm 45, 6-17 — Your divine throne endures for ever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house; and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; the people of Tyre will sue your favor with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions, her escort, in her train. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever

Compare the previous Psalm with Mary’s Magnificat:

Luke 1, 46-55 — And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”

In Leviticus 19, 30 God orders: “You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary.” God orders to treat holy objects such as the Ark, or the Sanctuary with reverence. How much more deserving of reverence must be the holy person those objects represent! Could God require us to treat Mary with less reverence than He required for His earthly sanctuary and His Ark of the Covenant? (Psalm 134, 2; 138, 2).

Mary is the glory of Israel in a sense much more real than those holy religious objects of the past. She is the most perfect creature of God, created to be the New Eve, the mother of all those who believe in Christ. Like the Ark, she is the witness of God’s good will for mankind. Mary has been given the extraordinary privilege to be the eternal mother of all those redeemed by the precious blood of her Son.

All Christian believers are Mary’s sons and daughters. Mary—Our Blessed Mother—is certainly deserving of our gratefulness, admiration, honor, and devotion.

[1] English form of Iohannes, the Latin form of the Greek name Ιωαννης (Ioannes), itself derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan meaning “YAHWEH is gracious”. The first to bear this name in the New Testament is John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ. The second is the apostle John, who is also the author of the Gospel of John and the Revelation, or Apocalypse.

[2] “Thus when G-d asks Cain where his brother is, He asks Cain “where is your soul?” Indeed in his very name (Kayin), one discovers the ruin of his soul. For words related to his name include kanah, which is to “acquire” or to “possess.” and kinah, the word for “envy.” Quoted from Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought, by David Patterson, pp. 94-95, publ. Rutledge Curzon, Taylor and Francis Group, London – New York.

[3] Please see Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant.

[4] Please see Mary is our Powerful Intercessor.