Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Keeping 'Mary' After Christmas

As Advent comes to a close, another reflection on a passage from Pope Benedict’s Images of Hope...

Catholics have a special place for Mary among the Saints. She is Queen of Heaven and Mother of God. She is our spiritual Mother and the archetype of the Church. She is the New Eve, conceived without original sin. Christmas especially highlights her role in salvation history, though we have many feasts dedicated to her throughout the rest of the liturgical year. All of this means that Mary is ever-present in Catholic spirituality and devotional practices. The Rosary, the Angelus, statuary and artwork, all bring us closer to the Mother of our Lord.

Our Protestant brethren do not share the same doctrinal beliefs and practices concerning Mary. I have often heard it said that for Protestants Mary is confined to the Nativity crèche. She is “taken out” and “dusted off” once a year, and placed next to the infant Jesus only to be “boxed up” again when the season has ended without much consideration until the next Christmas.

The Holy Father reminds us that Mary’s role as mother of Jesus did not end with His nativity. Just as the Incarnation has implications that go beyond the infancy of Jesus, so too  does Mary’s Motherhood extend beyond the stable at Bethlehem:

“…Christ counts for us not only through his work, through what he did, but above all through what he was and what he is in the entirety of his person. He counts for us differently from any other man because he is not merely man. He counts because in him earth and heaven touch, and thus in him God for us is tangible as man. The Church Fathers called Mary the holy earth from which he was formed as man. And the miracle is that God in Christ forever remains in union with the earth. Augustine expressed the same thought once as follows: Christ did not want a human father in order to make visible his sonship to God, but he wanted a human mother.

“'He wanted to take up the male sex in himself and give distinction to the female sex by honoring his mother…If Christ had appeared as man without regard for the female sex, women would have to despair of it. However he honored both, recommended both, assumed both. He is born of the woman. Men, do not despair! Christ saw fit to become a man. Women, do not despair! Christ saw fit to be born of woman. Both sexes work together for salvation. Come the male or come the female, in the faith there is neither man nor woman.'

“Let us express it a bit differently. In the drama of salvation it is not the case that Mary had a part to play before exiting the stage like an actor who has said his lines and departs. The Incarnation from woman is not a role that is completed after a short time; rather, it is the abiding being of God with the earth, with men, with us who are earth.”

Mary should not “exit the stage” when Christmas is over. She should not be packed up with the tree and the stockings, the garland and lights. These objects are used by us to celebrate the holy event of God-made-flesh; they are removed at the proper time. But Mary is not used in this way – she is an active participant not a passive symbol. God became flesh through the Virgin Mary and through her He raised up mankind. This is a fact that should be celebrated year-round, as indeed Catholics do. We should pray that all Christian find such a place for Mary long after the Christmas season has ended.

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