Some Christians struggle with the titles that the Catholic Church has given to Mary. This article seeks to bring understanding about where the Catholic Church is coming from, by explaining what one such title means and its roots in the Bible.
Mary, Mother of God
Today (Jan.1st), the Catholic Church celebrates the ‘Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God’. This occasion falls on the last day of the ‘octave’ of Christmas and thus underlines that it celebrates an aspect of the mystery of the birth of Christ – Him being both – truly God and truly man.
As the Catholic bishops of Canada have explained, “Mary conceived and gave birth not to a mere man, but to the person of the Son of God. To be sure, she did not conceive and give birth to his infinite divinity. She bore the Son of God in his humanity conceived from her flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. Recognition and praise of Mary as Mother of God preserves the basic truth about the person and being of Jesus Christ as true God. This title also emphasizes his true humanity because he was truly born of a human mother.” – Jesus Christ, Centre of the Christian Life, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ottawa: Publication Service of CCCB, 1981, p.23.
So, as explained above, this title of Mary & the doctrine behind it actually preserves & proclaims an important truth about Jesus – that He was and is both God and man. As the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’ (CCC) teaches: “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.” – CCC487
We find the roots of this title of Mary in Luke 1:43, where Luke records these words on the lips of Elizabeth, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The CCC states, “This title reveals the mysteries of Jesus’ divinity and Mary’s divine maternity” (CCC 449, 495).
Note that every occurrence of the word ‘Lord’ in the immediate (1:45) and surrounding context refers to God (1:28, 32, 38, 46, 58, 68). Mary’s divine motherhood was the first Marian dogma expounded by the Church. The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) defined her unique relationship to Christ and honoured her with the title “Mother of God” (Greek: Theotokos). This was reaffirmed in 1964 at Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, 53).
Following are some beautiful prayers from the ‘Evening Prayer’ (Vespers) and ‘Morning Prayer’ (Lauds) of the Catholic Church, which brings out this aspect of the celebration:
“O wonderful exchange! The Creator of human nature took on a human body and was born of the Virgin. He became man without having a human father and has bestowed on us his divine nature” (Ant.1, Evening Prayer I & II).
“Today a wonderful mystery is announced: something new has taken place; God has become man; he remained what he was and has become that which he was not; and though the two natures remain distinct, he is one” (Benedictus Antiphon, Morning Prayer).
“Mary gave birth to the king whose name is eternal; she united the joy of a mother with the honour of a virgin; such as this has never happened before nor will it happen again, alleluia” (Ant.3, Morning Prayer).