by Theologian Father William G. Most
"As a result, she is our Mother in
the order of grace." With these few words Vatican II
(On the Church 61) gave us a
brilliant theology of the Motherhood of Our Lady,
and a marvelous help to understand the motherhood
of all mothers. To follow it, we need to read the two sentences that come before it: "The Blessed Virgin, predestined from eternity along with the
Incarnation of the Divine Word, as the Mother of God, on this earth was the gracious
Mother of the Divine Redeemer, His associate more than others, in a singular way, and the
humble maid-servant of the Lord. In conceiving Christ, in bringing Him forth, in
nourishing Him, in presenting Him to the Father in the Temple, in suffering with her Son
as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether
singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to
souls. As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace."
We should really call her the Eternal Mother - for her Motherhood of her divine Son
was planned for from all eternity, as the Council
tells us. At first sight this might seem strange, yet it is obvious when we think of it.
For all the decrees of God are as eternal as His own
Person - really, they are
identified with Him Who is
unchangeable. Hence they
always are there - we should not simply say they were there. They are eternal. Now when God
decreed to send His Son to become man,
of course that included the provision for the Mother through whom it would take place. Hence it is evident: she was eternally called to be His Mother.
The Council tells us that she
was His Mother
also in sharing His work,
as His associate,
even to the extent of sharing the work of Redemption,
as the text goes on to say. We think of that work of Redemption especially as accomplished on the Cross, and that is true.
But really, everything He did was of itself
more than enough to earn redemption for us -
any act of the God-man was infinite in worth. So the Greek
Fathers of the Church liked to
speak of what is called physical-mystical solidarity. It means this: All
humanity forms a unit, a solidarity. But, the Sacred Humanity of Christ was part of
that solidarity. Further, His
humanity was joined in the unity of one Person
to the divinity. Hence, as it were, power
spread out across His humanity
to the rest of humanity and healed
it. This picturesque way of expressing the profound reality brings out
the fact that the very fact of the Incarnation
alone, without anything following, would have
redeemed us. For
that was an infinite merit, an infinite satisfaction for
the Second Person of the Holy Trinity
to lower Himself
so as to become man. In itself
that alone could have redeemed countless
worlds. Yet by the will of the Father,
there was to be more, much more, than the mere Incarnation.
He was to do enough to redeem
us, as we said, many times over. Hence the Council adds:
"In conceiving Christ, in bringing Him forth, in nourishing
Him, in presenting Him to the Father in the Temple, in suffering with Him as He died on
the Cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior," in
"As a result, she is our Mother in the order of
grace." An ordinary mother does two things to gain that glorious title:
she shares in bringing a new life into being, she
takes care of that life so long as she is needed, as long as she
is willing and able.
Our Lady did share in bringing forth a new
life. She did not
suffer the physical
pain of bringing Him
forth (i.e. Virgin Birth),
as ordinary mothers do - a great work, yet part of Our Father's plan, a work
sometimes fraught with danger of
death, before the advances of modern
medicine came, for they literally went down into the valley of death to bring us to light.
Suffering, Self-emptying of
Mary on Calvary -
by Andrea MANTEGNA - from Musée du Louvre,
No, Vatican II taught earlier that "He
did not diminish but consecrated her virginal integrity" that is, the
state of being physically untouched, without lesion.
Our Lady, most fittingly, did not experience
those things in the birth of
Jesus. Yet she
more than made up for that in the pain of
bringing us forth to new
life on Calvary.
For John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemptoris
Mater (Mother of the Redeemer),
said that there she underwent the "greatest self-emptying in history."
Yes. Any soul that is holy
must align its will with the will of God, must positively will, not just tolerate, whatever He positively wills.
Now it was and is evident, at that dark hour,
it was the will of the Father, that
should die, die
then, die so horribly.
Hence, in spite of her love
for Him, she
was called on to positively will
that He die,
die then, die
so horribly. We said in spite of her love
- in practice, love and holiness are interchangeable terms. So when Pius
IX told us in his Apostolic
Deus, that already at the start, her
holiness was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can
comprehend it" - he told us something staggering. God could of course create a creature capable of
understanding her love
- yet He has not
actually done that - so, only God Himself
can comprehend her love. Yet she
was called on to go directly counter to a literally incomprehensible love by willing
what that Father willed, what her Son willed,
that He die,
die then, die
The Annunciation - by Pedro Berruguete, from the
Monastery of Miraflores, Burgos . . . .
In this depiction of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel announces the Will of God
to Mary, whose purity is symbolized by the white lilies, and whose prior knowledge
of the Messiah is symbolized by the Holy Book at the right containing the words of
the inspired writers of Genesis and Isaiah, of which she had intimate prior knowledge.
The Holy Spirit is depicted above Gabriel, awaiting Mary's 'fiat'.
Really, her suffering
with Him had begun years before, at the very
day of the Annunciation. For as soon as the Archangel told her
that her Son
would reign over the house of Jacob forever, even an ordinary
Jew - how much more the one full
of grace - would see that He was to be the Messiah.
Then, if not at that hour, at least very soon, in pondering in her
would understand the terrible words of
Isaiah the Prophet in Chapter
53 about the lamb, bruised for our offenses,
led to the slaughter.
The hardened Jews
distorted that chapter, not being able to grasp it. But she
would, she did understand it. In saying fiat (yes),
to the Archangel, she
was actually saying yes to being
the associate in such suffering.
The Epistle to the Hebrews (10:5-7) tell us that "on entering into this world" He
said "Behold, I come to do Your will, O God."
was the echo, the counterpart of that acceptance He
made from the first instant of His
conception. For already then, as several documents of
the Popes assure us, His human soul
saw the vision of God,
in which all knowledge
is present. In that,
He saw all His
So in presenting Him in
the Temple, she knew that she was not really buying Him
back from the service of God,
as other mothers were doing - no, she
was turning Him
over to it, in the offertory
of the great sacrifice.
At that moment His human
soul of course echoed, or rather, continued, the obedience
He presented on entering into this world: "Behold,
I come to do Your will O God." That dread pledge of consent was to
continue, to exact its tremendous toll at
the foot of the Cross.
So it was in this way that Our Lady fulfilled
the first of the requirements for
being our Mother, namely, that of sharing in
bringing a new life into being. The cost, as we saw, was
literally beyond the comprehension of any actually existing creature. For her love
was greater than, and beyond the understanding of even the highest Seraphim
and Cherubim. Yet she
had to sacrifice that love, to will
the Great Sacrifice that was to bring us to
And what a life that is! Compared to it, mere mortal life is as
nothing. The Second Epistle of Saint Peter (1:4) says that in it we are made "sharers
in the divine nature."
Let us try to explore this mystery a bit. Saint Paul says
that in heaven we will see
Now of course, God does not have a face. Nor
do souls have mortal eyes.
But the solid reality is far beyond what the words can readily convey. When I look at
another person in this life, I do not take that one into my mind
- no, I take in an image. The person is finite,
limited, and so a finite image
can let me know about that one. But God is
infinite. No image
could begin to convey what He is like. So
the next, the inevitable step is staggering: it must be that the divinity
will join itself
to the created human soul immediately, without
even an image in between, so that the soul can know Him even as His Son
knows Him, as He knows His Son. Within that divinity
there as it were flow infinite
streams of knowledge and of love. For the first chapter
of John's Gospel tells us that in the beginning
the Father spoke
the Word. That Word
is not a ripple in the air as our words are. Now, it
is substantial, it is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Between Father and Son
there arises love - again, not the feeble
reality we know, but it too is substantial, it is another Divine
Person, the Holy Spirit,
proceeding by way of infinite love. Only a
being at least partly divine could as it
were plug into these infinite streams, of
knowledge, of love. Yet that is what it means to be "sharers in the divine nature", which we are by the life of grace, which she shared in gaining for us, at a cost so great
that, as we said, only God can comprehend
it. So she really is our Mother in the order of
But a mother has a second
role to fulfill: to take care of the new life,
so long as she is willing, able, and needed. In ordinary human affairs,
there comes a time when the mother is not really much needed, for the
child grows to adult stature. But in the spiritual life,
we remain children - for unless we become as little
children we shall not inherit the kingdom.
Or, to put it more clearly, we always stand in the need of grace
as long as we have not yet entered the mansions of
our Father. That grace,
every grace, comes to us through
her, for, as Vatican II
taught (62), she is
the Mediatrix - and in a note it referred us
to the teachings of many Popes who specify "of
all graces." That was really obvious - for since she
shared in earning all graces, of course she
would share similarly in giving out all graces. So our need of her
never ends in this life.
We said an ordinary mother should give care as long as she
is willing and able. Sadly, some human mothers stop
being willing. Not so
our Heavenly Mother. The children
she brought into life by such tremendous pain she
will never forget. She
is always willing.
An ordinary mother may come to points at which she is
unable to help, howsoever pathetically she way wish to do so. Not
so our Mother in
Heaven: Pope Benedict XV
called her "suppliant
omnipotence". That is, all that God
can do by His very inherent power, she can obtain by asking Him
for it. And that she does.
From what we have said, we see that she brought
us forth on Calvary. Yet there
is a sense in which we can correctly say that she
became our Mother
even before that day. On June 19, 1947, Pope
Pius XII sent a message to the Marian Congress of Ottawa, Canada.
He said: "When the little maid of Nazareth
uttered her fiat to the message of the angel... she became not only the
Mother of God in the physical order of nature, but also in the supernatural order of grace
she became the Mother of all who...would be made one under the Headship of her divine Son.
The Mother of the Head would be the Mother of the members. The Mother of the vine would be
the Mother of the branches."
The thought is obvious. Her Son is the Head
of the Mystical
Body, of which we are members. She
really could not become the Mother of
the Head without automatically, as it were,
becoming the Mother of
the members of Her
Son. Of course, that was only begun
at the Annunciation. It was to be brought
to light, with immense
pain, only on the hill of Calvary.
There was a mysterious day on which she and some of His
relatives came to a crowd where Her Son was teaching. Her presence was announced to Him. His
reply was puzzling (Mark
3:33-35): "Who is My Mother? Whoever does the will of my
Father in heaven is brother and sister and mother to Me."
At first sight this might seem like a rejection.
But no, He would never do that. He Whose Father gave the commandment
to honor Father and Mother would never
break that commandment.
Really, as Vatican II makes clear (56), He
was teaching dramatically, as He often did.
It said: "She received His words in which her Son,
extolling the kingdom beyond the reasons and bonds of flesh and blood, proclaimed blessed
those who hear the word of God and keep it - as she was faithfully doing."
So really, there are two forms of greatness:
the one, being physically
the Mother of God -
the other, hearing
the word of God and keeping it.
She was at the peak in both
categories. For at the Annunciation
she did hear the word
of God, and kept it,
thereby receiving within her womb that very Word Himself. And throughout all the days
thereafter, she faithfully
continued her fiat, at immense cost, hearing and doing
the word of God. So her holiness
was so great that, as Pius IX told us, "none
greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it".
We saw that under the Cross, where her fidelity to the word
of God, to His will,
caused her to even will
the dreadful death of
a Son so beloved
that only God can comprehend her love.
So she was at the peak in both
We might wonder why the Father put her into such difficult
straits? The answer is that any soul
grows greatly not by doing easy things, but by holding on with determination in its will to His will even when that is difficult,
even when it seems impossible. So His reply
to her was seemingly a rejection
- actually, it was an act of immense love.
She was, indeed, full of grace from the start. Yet her
capacity for grace could grow, and it did
that all the days of her life.
Pieta - by Michelangelo
Ordinary mothers cannot of course be both virgin and mother.
But they can imitate, at a distance, her
devotion to the Word of God, her fidelity to His
will, her carrying out of
the role designed for her by our Father's plan. Even when the need for physical
care of their sons dims, the sons still need spiritual
care - and that the mothers should provide, even as she did.
Saint Luke tells us that when young, He
went down to Nazareth and was subject to them. He,
in His strictly divine
humility, allowed Himself to
be formed, humanly, by His Mother and Saint
Joseph. Ordinary mothers can imitate this and should
realize that to form a new life in the likeness of Jesus
or His Mother
is far higher than to be a business
executive, a policewoman, a tram operator, or whatever - it is far
higher and nobler than the masterpieces
of Michelangelo, who
carved in marble - mothers carve
in human souls!