A few weeks ago I was in a heated debate with a couple of anglicans and they persisted in refusing to acknowledge Our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Heaven as the Mother of God - they merely accredited her with the title 'Mother of Jesus' - pure adoptionist ignorance verging upon dismissive vitriol of course. Thank God for His Holiness's Address at His general audience last Wednesday :
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
A very ancient formula of benediction, reported in the Book of Numbers, says: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord make his countenance to shine upon you and be propitious to you. May the Lord turn his face to you and grant you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). With these words that the liturgy offered for our hearing yesterday, the first day of the year, I would like to formulate cordial greetings to you, here present, and to those who in these Christmas holidays have sent me attestations of affectionate spiritual nearness.
Yesterday we celebrated the solemn feast of Mary, Mother of God. “Mother of God,” “Theotokos,” is the title officially attributed to Mary in the fifth century, exactly by the Council of Ephesus in 431, but affirmed in the devotion of the Christian people already since the third century, in the context of the discussions that arose in that period over the person of Christ. It is underscored, with that title, that Christ is God and he is truly born as man from Mary: thus his unity as true God and true man was preserved. In truth, although the debate seemed to focus on Mary, it essentially regarded the Son. Wanting to safeguard the humanity of Christ, some fathers suggested a more attenuated term: Instead of the title “Theotokos,” they proposed that of “Christotokos,” “Mother of Christ”: Rightly, however, that was seen as a threat to the doctrine of the complete unity of the divinity with the humanity of Christ. For this reason, after ample discussion in the Council of Ephesus of 431, there was solemnly affirmed on one hand, the unity of the two natures, the divine and the human, in the person of the Son of God (cf. DS, No. 250) and, on the other hand, the legitimacy of the attribution to the Virgin the title of “Theotokos,” Mother of God (DS, No. 251).
After this council there is recorded a true explosion of marian devotion and numerous churches were constructed that were dedicated to the Mother of God. Among these, there stands out with primacy the Basilica of Saint Mary Major here in Rome. The doctrine concerning Mary, Mother of God, found further confirmation in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 in which Christ was declared “true God and true man […] born for us and for our salvation from Mary, Virgin and Mother of God, in his humanity” (DS, No. 301). As is known, the Second Vatican Council gathered up the doctrine on Mary in Chapter 8 of the dogmatic constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” reaffirming her divine maternity. The chapter is entitled: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.”
The title Mother of God, which is so profoundly linked to the Christmas celebrations, is for this reason the fundamental appellation with which the community of believers has, we might say, always honored the Holy Virgin. It expresses very well Mary’s mission in the history of salvation. All of the other titles attributed to the Madonna find their basis in her vocation to be the Mother of the Redeemer, the human creature elected by God to realize the plan of salvation, centered on the great mystery of the incarnation of the divine Word. In these festive days we have paused to contemplate the representation of the Nativity in the crèche. At the center of this scene we find the Virgin Mother who offers the child Jesus to the contemplation of those who come to adore the Savior: the shepherds, the poor folk of Bethlehem, the magi who have come from the East.
Later, on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which we celebrate on Feb. 2, it will be the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna to receive into their arms from the Mother the little Child to adore him. The devotion of the Christian people has always considered the birth of Jesus and the divine maternity of Mary as two aspects of the same mystery of the incarnation of the divine Word and for this reason never considered the Nativity as something of the past. We are “contemporaries” of the shepherds, of the magi, of Simeon and Anna, and while we go with them we are full with joy, because God has desired to be the God with us and he has a mother, who is our mother.
From the title “Mother of God” are drawn all the other titles with which the Church honors Mary, but this one is the fundamental title. We think of the privilege of the “Immaculate Conception,” of being, that is, immune from sin from the moment of her conception: Mary was preserved from every stain of sin because she had to be the Mother of the Redeemer. The same goes for the title “Assumed”: she who gave birth to the Savior could not be subjected to the corruption that comes from original sin. And we know that all these privileges are not given to distance Mary from us, but on the contrary to make her more near; in fact, being totally with God, this Woman is very close to us and helps us as mother and sister. Even the unique and unrepeatable place that Mary has in the community of believers derives from this fundamental vocation of being the Mother of the Redeemer. Precisely as such, Mary is also the Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Justly, then, during the Second Vatican Council, on November 21, 1964, Paul VI solemnly attributed to Mary the title of “Mother of the Church.”
Precisely because Mother of the Church, the Virgin is also Mother of each one of us, who are members of the Mystical Body of Christ. From the cross Jesus entrusted the Mother to each of his disciples and, at the same time, entrusted each of his disciples to the love his Mother. The evangelist John concludes his brief and suggestive account with the words: “And from that moment the disciple took her into his house” (John 19:27). That is how the Greek text is translated in Italian. The Greek says “eis tai dia,” he welcomed her into his own reality, into his being. In this way she is part of his life and the two lives interpenetrate; and this welcoming her (“eis tai dia”) in his own life is the testament of the Lord. Thus, in the supreme moment of the fulfillment of his messianic mission, Jesus leaves to each of his disciples, as a precious inheritance, his own Mother, the Virgin Mary.
Dear brothers and sisters, in these first days of the year we are invited to attentively consider the importance of the presence of Mary in the life of the Church and in our personal existence. Let us entrust ourselves to her that she may guide our steps in the his new period of time that the Lord has given to us to live, and that she may help us to be authentic friends of her Son and thus courageous builders of the his Kingdom in this world, Kingdom of light and of truth. Happy New Year to all! This is the greeting that I desire to address to you here present and to your loved ones in this first general audience of 2008. May the new year, begun under the sign of the Virgin Mary, make us feel her maternal presence with more vivacity, so that, sustained and comforted by the protection of the Virgin, we can contemplate the countenance of her Son Jesus with renewed eyes and walk in the paths of the good with greater vigor.
Once again, Happy New Year to all!
[At the end of the audience, Benedict XVI greeted pilgrims in several languages. In Italian, he said:]
I address a special greeting to the Community of the Legionaries of Christ, who come from different countries, in particular to the new priests and to the representatives of Regnum Christi. My dear friends, may the mystery of the Incarnation that we celebrate in this liturgical season enlighten you along the path of fidelity to Christ. Following the example of Mary, may you know how to bear, meditate and follow the Word that became flesh in Bethlehem and spread the message of salvation with enthusiasm.
Finally, I greet the young people, the sick and newlyweds. I wish for you young people that you will know how to consider every day as a gift of God, to be accepted with gratitude and to be lived with rectitude. For you dear ones who are sick may the new year bring consolation in body and spirit. And you, dear newlyweds, put yourselves into the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth, so that you will learn how to realize an authentic communion of life and love.
[Translated by Joseph G. Trabbic]
[In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of this New Year, I offer prayerful good wishes to all of you and to your families! Yesterday, the Church joyfully celebrated the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This ancient title of Our Lady – Theotokos – reflects the truth that Jesus, her Son, is true God and true man. The confirmation of this title at the Council of Ephesus in the fifth century led to ever greater devotion to Mary and the dedication of numerous churches in her honour, including the Basilica of Saint Mary Major here in Rome. During this Christmas season, we can sense the close relationship between the Incarnation and our Lady’s dignity as the Mother of God. Indeed, the title “Mother of God” expresses Mary’s special mission in the history of salvation and her particular role in the mystery of Christ and the Church. Our Lady’s divine motherhood is in fact the basis of every other title by which the Church honours her. Mother of God and Mother of the Church, Mary was also entrusted by Christ to be the Mother of each of his disciples (cf. Jn 19:27). In this New Year, may we turn to her with confidence and, through her protection and prayers, be strengthened in our love for Jesus her Son and our service to the coming of his Kingdom.
I greet the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from Ireland and the United States. I especially greet the various pilgrimages of priests and seminarians, and the many student groups in our midst. I also thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. May the New Year bring God’s richest blessings to you and your families