FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
The mother, our mother, is the icon and model of mercy and tenderness. Saint John Vianney, a lovely soul, says that the Blessed Virgin is better than the best of mothers. Hence, Mary is the Mother of Mercy, Mater Misericordiae.
Mary is the Mother of God, of Jesus who is the Son of God and her Son: Mary’s “entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus). Mary, Our Lady, is also our Mother, the Mother of Mercy.
St John the Evangelist speaks of Mary twice in his Gospel: Mary at Cana, and Mary at Calvary, and in both cases, the Evangelist presents Mary as the Mother of Jesus (Jn 2:1-3; Jn 19:25-27; cf. Lk 1:31-32). In a deep sense, the expression Mother of God tells us everything about Mary. The motherhood of Mary is the source of all her privileges and graces: she was conceived without original sin (she is the Immaculate Conception); she was taken up to heaven in body and soul (the Assumption of Mary); she is the Virgin Mary and the Mother of God.
Mary, the Mother of God! This is how she is called through the first centuries of Christianity. She was dogmatically declared Mother of God in the Council of Ephesus in 431: “Theotokos,” that is, God’s Mother. Vatican II says that “Mary is the Mother of God and the Mother of the Redeemer, and, therefore, she surpasses all other creatures in heaven and on earth.” In the Church, “she is the highest after Christ and yet very close to us” (LG, 54), and she is the Mother of the Church. Mary is the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God: “She conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ; Presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him in suffering as He died on the cross” (Vatican II, LG, 61).How can Mary, a creature, be the Mother of God, the Creator? Mary is the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God, not only of the body of Jesus, but of Him who took flesh in her and who existed before her.
Mary, the Mother of the Son of God, is our Mother. Jesus from the cross looked at Mary and John and pronounced the third word from the cross. Jesus says to Mary: “Woman, behold your son,” and to John: “Behold your Mother” (Jn 19:25-27). Jesus then and there gives to John, and to each one of us, what was dearest to him – his Mother Mary. From now on, Mary is our Mother too
What kind of motherhood is the Motherhood of Mary? Mary does not replace our own mother. She is our Mother in a different dimension: Mother in the Spirit, Mother of those reborn in the grace of the Spirit, Mother of the Redeemer and of the redeemed. In the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, Mary is our spiritual Mother under Christ, who is our Head, “because she cooperated with her charity in the birth of the faithful of the Church that are members of the head” (St. Augustine). Mary’s maternity is a maternity of grace – she is the “full of grace.”
The life of Mary is “a rule of life for all” (St. Ambrose). As the disciple of disciples, Mary is “a model of the virtues” (LG 65). She is an example, in particular, of the following virtues: of faith (“Blessed are you because you have believed”- Lk 1:19); of prayer (she treasured everything that happened around Jesus in her heart and ponder upon it – Lk 1:19), of obedience (“Let it be, Fiat” – Lk 1:37-38); of missionary zeal (she visited Elizabeth and proclaimed Jesus to her – Lk 1:39-45), of solidarity with the poor neighbor (Lk 1:46-55), and her compassion for all the needy, that is her mercy (Lk 1:45-55).
Mary is called the Mother of Mercy, our Lady of Mercy, and Mother of Divine Mercy. Mary received mercy from God in “an exceptional way” and in “an equally exceptional way” ‘merits’ God’s mercy through her earthly life by sharing in Jesus’s messianic mission and merciful love. Mary is the Mother of Mercy and, above all, the Mother of the Crucified and Risen Lord. Mary shared like no one else in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross: “Her sacrifice is a unique sharing in revealing God’s mercy… No one has experienced, to the same degree as the Mother of the Crucified One, the mystery of the Cross, the overwhelming encounter of divine transcendent justice with love: that ‘kiss’ given by mercy to justice” (John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia). “The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because she participated intimately in the mystery of his love” (Pope Francis, MV 23).
As the disciple of disciples, Our Lady is the most merciful disciple of Christ. Romanus the Melodist (6th century) writes: “Fittingly, the Merciful One has a merciful Mother.” As the closest to Jesus, Mary has, according to St. John Paul II, “the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy” (DM, 9).
As true followers of Christ, the Merciful One, all the saints practiced merciful love after Mary, the Mother of Mercy. Like the saints, the followers of Christ are asked to imitate Mary’s mercy: Mary is icon and model of mercy. In her Magnificat, Our Lady sings a great song of praise, gratitude and merciful love – a merciful love that “extends from age to age…” (Lk 1:50). God’s infinite merciful love extends to our age, a love which we are asked to respond with merciful love.
We Christians believe that Mary is the Mother of God. Because she is the Mother of Jesus, Our Savior and Redeemer, and because she is our Mother, we are asked to have a special devotion to her – a devotion that is above our devotions to the saints. Our Marian devotion includes imitating Mary’s mercy.
Special devotion to Mary means basically filial love to Mary as the Mother of Jesus and Our Mother. As our Mother, Mary wants us, above all, to follow Jesus. Our filial devotion to Mary is ordered to our devotion to Christ. Christ is the end of all devotions, including the devotion to Mary. Saint Bernard, a great devotee of Mary, said: “The reason for our love of Mary is the Lord Jesus; the measure of our love for her is to love her without measure.”
As Mother of Mercy, Mary prays for us and we approach her to ask her to intercede for us. The Christian prays confidently: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…” At Cana, Mary shows her role for us as merciful intercessor: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). We often sing to her: “Salve Regina Mater Misericordiae.” The Marian devotion of the people to merciful Mary is expressed in the varied avocations naming the Virgin Mary, in particular Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sorrowful Mother and Mother of the Poor (cf. W. Kasper, Mercy).
At the Immaculate Conception Shrine in Washington D.C., there is an altar presided over by a beautiful statue of Mother and Child, with the inscription: “More Mother than Queen.” I love it! Mary Queen of all creation, of course. Above all, Mary Mother of Jesus, the Son of God, and the Mother of the Church and our Mother, the Mother of Mercy.
Mother Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us!
With Saint Thomas Aquinas we pray:
O most blessed and sweet Virgin Mary, Mother of God… I entrust to your merciful heart…my entire life… Obtain for me as well, O most Sweet Lady, true charity with which from the depths of my heart I may love your most Holy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and, after him, love you above all other things…and my neighbor, in God and for God
(In Benedict XVI, Great Christian Thinkers from Early Church through the Middle Ages).
(Originally published in O Clarim, Macau Catholic Weekly: July 8, 2016)