General Audience Jan. 2, 2008
During his first general audience of the New Year on Jan. 2, Pope Benedict XVI offered his reflections on Mary, the Mother of God, whose feast day was celebrated on Jan. 1. The Holy Father highlighted the fact that Mary’s divine motherhood is the basis of every other title by which the Church honors her.
Dear brothers and sisters,
An ancient blessing found in the Book of Numbers says, “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numbers 6:24-26).
With these same words, which you heard yesterday, the first day of the year, I would like to cordially extend these same wishes to those who are present here and to all those who have lovingly expressed their spiritual solidarity with me during the Christmas holidays.
The Mother of God
Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. Theotokos (Mother of God) is the official title that the Council of Ephesus gave to Mary in the fifth century. However, this title had an established place in the devotion of the Christian people beginning in the third century as a result of a heated controversy at that time regarding the person of Christ.
This title highlighted the fact that Christ is God yet was truly born as man of Mary. In this way, his unity as true God and true man was preserved.
Even though all the discussions seemed to revolve around Mary, they actually were related to the Son. Out of desire to safeguard Jesus’ full humanity, some Church Fathers proposed a more toned-down expression. Instead of the title of Theotokos, they suggested the title of Christotokos (Mother of Christ).
However, this was seen — and rightfully so — as a threat to the doctrine of the full unity of Christ’s divinity and humanity.
For this reason, as I said, the Council of Ephesus in 431, after much discussion, solemnly decreed on one hand the unity of the two natures of the person of the Son of God — his divine nature and his human nature (see DS, 250) — and on the other hand the legitimacy of attributing to the Virgin Mary the title of Theotokos (Mother of God, see DS, 251).
Explosion of Marian Devotion
After this council, a true explosion of Marian devotion took place, and numerous churches were built that were dedicated to the Mother of God. The Basilica of St. Mary Major here in Rome is one of the best examples. This doctrine regarding Mary, the Mother of God, was confirmed once again during the Council of Chalcedon in 451 when Christ was declared to be “true God and true man … born for us and for our salvation through Mary, Virgin and Mother of God, in his humanity” (DS, 301).
It is worth noting that the Second Vatican Council gathered together this teaching on Mary in the eighth chapter of the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, which confirms her divine motherhood. The chapter is entitled “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.”
However, this title of Mother of God, which is so deeply associated with the holy days of Christmas, is fundamentally the name with which the community of believers has honored the Blessed Virgin since the very beginning. It aptly expresses Mary’s mission in the history of salvation.
All other titles that are attributed to the Virgin Mary have their basis in her vocation as the Mother of the Redeemer, the human creature whom God chose in order to fulfill the plan of salvation that is at the center of that great mystery of the incarnation of the Divine Word.
During these days of celebration, we pause to contemplate in the Nativity the depiction of Christ’s birth. We find the Virgin Mother at the center of this scene, offering the Baby Jesus for contemplation to all those who have come to adore the Savior: the shepherds, the poor people of Bethlehem and the Magi, who came from the East.
Later, on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord that we celebrate Feb. 2, the old man Simeon and the prophetess Anna will receive the little baby from the arms of Mary in order to adore him.
In the devotion of the Christian people, the birth of Jesus and Mary’s divine motherhood have always been considered two aspects of this same mystery of the incarnation of the Divine Word and, for this reason, Christ’s birth has never been considered as something of the past.
We are “contemporaries” of the shepherds, of the Magi and of Simeon and Anna; we accompany them full of joy because God wanted to be God with us and has a mother who is our mother.
Basis of All Other Titles
Thus, all the other titles with which the Church honors the Virgin Mary are derived from the title of “Mother of God” and this is their foundation. We recall her privilege of being the “Immaculate Conception,” of being immune from sin from the moment of her conception.
Mary was preserved from every stain of sin since she was to be the Mother of the Redeemer. The same thing is true for the Assumption. She, from whom the Savior was born, could not be subject to the corruption that was the result of original sin. Yet we know that all these privileges were not granted in order to distance Mary from us.
On the contrary, their intent was to make her closer to us.
Indeed, by being totally with God, she is even closer to us and helps us as a mother and a sister. Moreover, the place that Mary has within the community of believers, which is unique and is nowhere else to be found, is derived from her fundamental vocation to be the Mother of the Redeemer. As such, Mary is also the Mother of the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church.
It is for good reason that, during the Second Vatican Council on Nov. 21, 1964, Pope Paul VI solemnly conferred upon Mary the title of “Mother of the Church.”
Mary Our Mother
It is precisely because she is the Mother of the Church that the Blessed Virgin is also the mother of each one of us, who are members of the mystical body of Christ. Jesus entrusted his mother to each of his disciples when he was on the cross and, at the same time, he entrusted each of his disciples to the love of his mother.
John the Evangelist concludes his brief and thought-provoking account with the words, “And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27).
This is the translation of the Greek text, εis tà íδια — he received her within his own reality, within his own being. Thus, she becomes part of his life and their two lives are intertwined and this acceptance of her (εis tà íδια) into his own life is the Lord’s legacy. Therefore, at the culminating moment when his mission as Messiah was fulfilled, Jesus left to each of his disciples his own Mother, the Virgin Mary, as his precious legacy.
Dear brothers and sisters, during these first days of the year, we are invited to attentively ponder the importance of the presence of Mary in the Church and in our own personal lives.
Let us entrust ourselves to her so that we will guide our steps in this new period of time that the Lord is giving to us to live and may she help us to be true friends of her Son as well as courageous architects of his Kingdom in this world, the Kingdom of light and of truth.
Happy New Year to all! During this first general audience of the year 2008, I wish to express my best wishes both to all those who are present here and to their loved ones. May we experience in a more vivid way the maternal presence of Virgin Mary during this New Year, which begins under her patronage, so that sustained and comforted by the protection of the Blessed Virgin, we might contemplate with renewed eyes the countenance of Jesus her son and walk more quickly on the path of goodwill.
Once again, Happy New Year to all!