On August 15th, we again celebrate the great feast of the Assumption when Mary is assumed body and soul into heaven. This feast is the crowning jewel in the life of Mary and her Assumption is directly attributed to the fact that she is full of grace and that she lived a life of perfect union with her Son. Thus, the Assumption highlights in many ways Mary’s role as Mother and Model of the Church. This title of Mary is not new, but has been attributed to her from the beginning of Christianity, especially by the early Fathers of the Church. More recently, Vatican II affirmed and reflected upon this important role of Mary in the life of the Church and in our own lives. As Catholics, Mary is a great gift to us from Christ who wills and desires that we love and honor her as our own spiritual mother, and follow her great example of faith, charity, and holiness.
Mary enjoys a special place of honor in the Church, an honor that is even exulted above that which we give the angels and the saints. Why is this? First, we do not worship Mary—for Mary would be horrified if we ever exulted her to be at the same level as God. However, we do honor Mary in a special or exulted way because of her unique faith and holiness, and because it was through Mary’s faith that Christ was able to come into the world and accomplish his work of salvation. Without Mary’s yes or fiat at the Annunciation, Jesus would not have become incarnate: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) As St. Augustine reflected, “All of creation held its breath awaiting the fiat of Mary.”
Thus, Mary is the perfect model of faith and exemplifies the type of faith all of us in the Church should possess. Mary desired nothing but to do the will of God and all through her life she pondered with an open and docile heart the mighty works of God and the mystery of her Son, Jesus Christ. Thus, Mary is the first and perfect model of the Church’s “pilgrimage of faith”. As Vatican II teaches:
“Thus, the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth.. (Lumen Gentium, 58)
Not only is Mary the model of the Church’s pilgrimage of faith, but Mary is also the model and image of the Church’s destiny in glorification in Christ. Mary, by being assumed body and soul into heaven, already enjoys the fullness of the Resurrection and is a great sign and witness to the victory won by Christ through the blood of the Cross. Mary shows us in herself the ultimate and final end of our pilgrimage of faith—sharing in the glory of the most Holy Trinity and living in the communion of all the saints. Mary shows us all that salvation in Christ is real and is the ultimate goal and destiny of the Church. This is why the two final Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, the Assumption of Mary and the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, are ultimately about Christ: They show us that the grace of Christ’s redemption is real and effective, and Mary stands as a great sign of hope and encouragement for us all. As Vatican II again states:
“In the interim just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected is the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth.” (Lumen Gentium, 68)
Mary is not only the Model of the Church, but she is also the Mother of the Church in the order of grace. We see this most profoundly in John’s gospel when Jesus, as his last gift to us on earth, lovingly hands over to us the motherhood of Mary:
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother”s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)
Through this gift of Christ, Mary’s Motherhood not only is for Christ the Head, but also extends to the Body of Christ, the Church. Just as Mary nurtured, protected, and provided for her Son, so does Mary nurture, protect, and provide for her children in the Church. Mary is our spiritual Mother who through her motherhood desires only to bring us into a deeper and intimate communion with her Son.
What does this mean? It means that just in the same way that she brought forth her Son into the world through her faith and instrumentality at the Annunciation, and the manifestation of his public ministry through the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, Mary continues to manifest and present her Son to souls through her constant prayers and intercession and through her gentle witness “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) As Vatican II powerfully teaches:
“This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until The eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into the happiness of their true home.” (Lumen Gentium, 62)
Therefore, since Mary’s motherhood is a gift to each of us from Christ, devotion to Mary should be an essential part of the life of every Christian. Devotion to Mary should always lead us to deeper union with Christ. We never pray to Mary as an end, but ask her to intercede for us to Christ. She would be horrified if devotion to her ever took away our focus on him! Everything that she was and did was not only to bring about her own deeper communion with Christ, but to also bring others to a more intimate knowledge and union with him. This is why we honor Mary as the perfect disciple of Christ and the Model of the Church.
Devotion to Mary does not take away from Christ, but rather augments our knowledge of his life and virtues. Mary shows us that salvation in Christ is real and possible, and she also shows us what it looks like. If you want to know Christ, know his Mother! Mary is the perfect model of faith, hope, and charily and she continues to show us even today how to come into a stronger and more real relationship with Jesus.
Mary’s prayers and intercession before Christ on our behalf are very powerful because of who she is and the role she played in God’s plan of salvation. She is the Mother of Christ, so she has a unique and special relationship with him. He has a special place in his heart for his Mother, and so he honors in a very special way her prayers and requests. Through Mary’s prayers and intercession, we have a unique and privileged way to the heart of Jesus. This is why prayers and devotion to her have been at the heart of the Church’s life from the very beginning.
In addition, Mary, through her Immaculate Conception, was created free from sin and was completely filled with grace and love throughout her life. She was created with a capacity to love God and others that far exceeds any of us. Thus, her love for us and her prayers for us are extraordinarily powerful.
Therefore, as we continue on along our own journey of faith, seeking and contemplating the face of the Lord, and especially during this holy and penitential season of Lent, may we all strive to grow in our relationship with Mary and entrust ourselves more deeply to her maternal care, that she may present us as a pure and holy gift to Christ her Son. Pray for us O holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ!