“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)
This beautiful feast of the Divine Maternity, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, reminds us of one of the four Catholic dogmas relating to the Blessed Virgin (the others being Her perpetual virginity, Her Immaculate Conception, and Her bodily Assumption into Heaven). Those other three all surround this central belief – that Mary is truly the Mother of God.
It says a great deal about the Blessed Virgin that the Most Holy Trinity deigned to make Her the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God. But if you think about it carefully, this Solemnity actually says far more about the Son of God.
The Solemnity celebrates Mary as the ‘Mother of God’ – what does this mean?
It means that we believe that the little Child born in Bethlehem that first Christmas, is truly the Son of God in the way announced to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel; its means that the power of the Most High God genuinely covered Mary in It’s shadow so that the Child She conceived really is “holy.. the Son of God” (cf. Lk.1:35). It means that everything said of Him in the Scriptures is true.
It also says something else; that this little Child, while being the Son of God and so fully Divine, is also fully human. On that first Christmas, the Most High God took human flesh and became Man. In the Hypostatic Union, the Divine and the human became one in the Person of Jesus. The Uncreated One touched His creation in a very real way, for He walked among us, spoke with us, sanctified and redeemed us by His Presence and by His Sacrifice on Calvary.
This title, ‘Mother of God’, goes back at least to the year 250AD, around which time there came into being the prayer we now call the ‘Sub Tuum Praesidium’, in which we pray –
“We fly to Thy protection, O holy Mother of God; despise not our prayers in our necessities but ever deliver us from all dangers, O glorious and Blessed Virgin”.
It is the oldest such prayer which the Church possesses. Note that in it, we explicitly call Mary the ‘Mother of God’.
The dogmatic expression of this belief was defined by the Council of Ephesus in the early history of the Church, in the year 431. The declaration of this dogma, and the prayer above expressing it so beautifully, makes this a particularly ancient title of the Blessed Virgin.
The dogmatic proclamation was in response to a heresy called Nestorianism, which said that the Blessed Virgin was the ‘bringer of Christ’ (‘Christotokos’) but not the bringer or Mother of God (‘Theotokos’); consequently, this heresy sought to separate the Divine and human natures of Jesus Christ and so to deny the Hypostatic Union. This erroneous belief was duly condemned by the Church at the Council.
Many centuries later, on 21 November 1964, this title and dogma would be echoed and re-affirmed at the Second Vatican Council, in the ‘Dogmatic Constitution of the Church’, called ‘Lumen Gentium’ –
“Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most holy mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ: she is rightly honoured by a special cult in the Church. From the earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honoured under the title of Mother of God, whose protection the faithful take refuge together in prayer in all their perils and needs. Accordingly, following the Council of Ephesus, there was a remarkable growth in the cult of the People of God towards Mary, in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: “all generations shall call me blessed, because he that is mighty has done great things to me” (Lk. 1:48)” – Lumen Gentium 4:66
And so the title ‘Mother of God’ really does say much more about the Son of God, Our Lord, than it does about His Mother – although it says a great deal about Her, too.
It also reveals to us that of all the ways the Incarnate Word could have chosen to come to us as as man, He chose to come in the way that all men come – from the womb of a mother. This was the plan of God, the way He chose. And it is this plan which was foretold in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah, which we refer back to so much around Christmas in the liturgy of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council would make one other pronouncement about the Blessed Virgin which is of note here – that She truly is the ‘Mother of the Church’, and so, our Mother. This beautifully rounds off the Divine Maternity, echoing the spiritual maternity bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin by Her Son on Calvary, when He said –
“Woman, behold Thy son; son, behold thy Mother” (John 19:26-27)
Referring to Saint John, also standing at the foot of the Cross, the Lord saw in John all of us; this spiritual maternity was for all people of all times, because John represented each and every one of us.
Throughout the history of our faith, the Church has constantly pointed us toward the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, as our intercessor with the Lord, counselling us to approach Her in all our needs, without fear, and with the assurance that She hears and answers every prayer. The Church reminds us, too, that She is our own Mother as much as She is the Mother of the Lord. Also throughout the history of the Church, the Saints and the Popes have similarly counselled us – and we would be foolish to neglect the advice of those who have gone before us on the path of sanctity.
Down to the present day, the Church reminds us to look to Mary, the Mother of God, to ask Her help in all our needs, and particularly in bringing us ever closer to the Lord, Her Divine Son, as these three recent Papal quotations show –
“At the beginning of a new year, the Church invites us to contemplate Mary’s divine maternity as an icon of peace. In Her, the ancient promise finds fulfilment. She believed in the words of the Angel, conceived Her Son and thus became the Mother of the Lord. Through Her, through Her ‘yes’, the fullness of time came about. The Gospel we have just heard tells us that the Virgin Mary ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in Her Heart’ (Lk 2:19). She appears to us as a vessel filled to the brim with the memory of Jesus, as the Seat of Wisdom to whom we can have recourse to understand His teaching aright. Today Mary makes it possible for us to grasp the meaning of events which affect us personally, events which also affect our families, our countries and the entire world. Where philosophical reason and political negotiation cannot reach, there the power of faith, which brings the grace of Christ’s Gospel, can reach, opening ever new pathways to reason and to negotiation.. Blessed are You, Mary, for You gave the Son of God to our world.”
– Pope Francis, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 2016
“From this child, a new light issues forth.. it is from Him that blessing comes, from His Name – Jesus, meaning “God saves” – and from His human Face, in which God, the almighty Lord of heaven and earth, chose to become incarnate, concealing His glory under the veil of our flesh, so as to reveal fully to us His goodness. The first to be swept up by this blessing was Mary the Virgin, the spouse of Joseph, chosen by God from the first moment of Her existence to be the Mother of His incarnate Son. She is the “blessed among women” .. Her whole life was spent in the light of the Lord.. the ‘blessed fruit of her womb’. This is how Luke’s Gospel presents Her to us: fully intent upon guarding and meditating in Her Heart upon everything concerning Her Son, Jesus. The mystery of Her divine Motherhood that we celebrate today contains in superabundant measure the gift of grace that all human motherhood bears within it.. The Mother of God is the first of the blessed, and it is She who bears the blessing; She is the woman who received Jesus into Herself and brought Him forth for the whole human family. In the words of the liturgy: ‘without losing the glory of virginity, [She] brought forth into the world the eternal light, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Preface I of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Mary is the Mother and model of the Church, who receives the divine Word in faith and offers Herself to God as the ‘good soil’ in which He can continue to accomplish His mystery of salvation.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 2012
Pope St John Paul:
“The Octave of Christmas ends on the first day of the new year, which is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, venerated as the Mother of God. The Gospel reminds us that She ‘kept all these things, pondering on them in Her Heart’. So She did in Bethlehem, on Golgotha at the foot of the Cross, and on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended in the Upper Room. And so She does today, too. The Mother of God and of human beings keeps in Her Heart all of humanity’s problems, great and difficult, and meditates upon them. The Alma Redemptoris Mater walks with us and guides us with motherly tenderness towards the future. Thus She helps humanity cross all the ‘thresholds’ of the years, the centuries, the millenniums, by sustaining their hope in the One who is the Lord of history.”
– St John Paul II
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Main image, ‘Mother and Child (Yellow) 2001’ © J Kirk Richards