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MARY: THEOTOKOS


 

by:

 

Dom Basilio Magno




Mary, Help of Christians

The Many Titles of Mary

 

Mary has many titles.   Some of them are nationalistic titles showing the pride the nations have for Mary's having appeared in their country.  So there is Our Lady of Lourdes, the pride of France; Our Lady of Fatima, the pride of Portugal.

 

And Mary has titles depicting her mysteries and privileges, like Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.  These are of great importance; because by these mysteries she demonstrated to us how she lived up to the teaching of her Son.

 

But her more popular titles are based on her role in the church.  And her main role is to HELP us Christians.  There is, for instance, Our Lady of Perpetual Help as propagated by the Redemptorists; Mary, Help of Christians, as propagated by the Salesians; Our Lady of Kind Deliverance, by St. Francis de Sales.

 

Her role is summarized in her title of Mother of the Church.  The fact that she was assigned by Christ to be our mother and we make up the Church (with Christ as the head and of which she is also the mother) makes her the Mother of the Church.  And what is a mother's role?  Isn't it to help her children?

 

It is because the Protestants had denied her role as a great help that St. Theresa of Avila lamented their having lost the greatest aid to salvation.  This is sad in that even Martin Luther stood in awe before this great privilege of Mary.  He said: “In this work, whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such great good things were given her that no one can grasp them.  Not only is Mary the Mother of Him who was born, but of Him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father.” The virginity of Mary remained unquestionably in the mind of Luther, as shown in his Magnificat.  He saw Mary as the figure of the Church: “This undoubtedly means that on earth the Christian Church remains the spiritual Virgin Mary, and that it will not be destroyed…”

 

What Real Help Can Mary Give us Christians?

 
a) We live in a very evil age.


b) We need all the help we can get.

 
c) With Mary's help we have more than enough.


1.   Kinds of Help She Has Given Man

First and foremost she helps us in working out our salvation and in all things as they pertain directly or indirectly to our salvation.

d) Her role as the HELP of Christians is not a romantic figment of the mind.  It is a doctrine found in the heart of Christianity.

1.       The Story of the Apostles at the Assumption


2.      The statement and documents of Early Christians


Mary's Role as Mediatrix

Jesus is the mediator; Mary is the mediatrix, but in a manner different from her Son.  Jesus is the Mediator of Justice, meaning He died for us so that, in justice, He paid for the sins of all men.  Because He satisfied the demands of justice, He can demand anything from the Father.  Christ acknowledges to the Father that we are sinners and debtors; but He paid up for our sins.

Mary is NOT a mediator in this manner.  She did not die for us.  Even if she did so, it would have been insufficient to cover all the sins of mankind.  As such she cannot demand anything from the Father.  She does not even join the prayer of Christ to the Father.  Instead she joins her prayers to OURS as we address them to Christ. Being the Mother of Christ greatly improves our stand with Christ.

When Christ prays in Heaven, He prays by virtue of Himself.  Mary does not pray by virtue of herself.  She prays as we do, but being the Mother of Christ, with more influence.  Her special role in the church is due to the special role and honor given to her by God – the Divine Maternity.  Therefore, He who honors her, honors her Son.  Thus in Christendom 2 out of 3 churches are dedicated in her honor.

In fact, her role is based on her tri-honor: being the pleasing daughter of the Father, being the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and being the Mother of Christ. Her special relationship with the Three persons of the Blessed Trinity is bound to make her very influential with God.

 



Mary's Role Is as Ancient as Christianity

 

Mary's role as a powerful mediatrix is not a Middle Age romantic and sentimental figment of Christian pietism.  It is a belief as ancient as Christianity.

 

In depicting the Assumption of Our Lady, St. Ambrose repeats the short talks given by both Sts. Peter and Paul at the death to Our Lady.  Both enunciated her role as Mediatrix for mankind.  She is a great HELP to mankind; firstly, she helps mankind in their work of salvation and she also gives countless other physical helps.

Mary can help us only if she is willing to help.  And she can do both by virtue of the role of spiritual motherhood imposed on her by Christ in these words: “Son, behold thy mother; mother, behold thy son.”  She is willing to help us; and by her being the physical mother of Christ, she has the power to help us.

Her role as helper is further affirmed by her apparitions.  The first credible one was narrated by St. Gregory of Nyssa wherein Our Lady appeared to St. Gregory the Wonder-worker.  She appeared with St. John the Apostle and was ordering John to teach Gregory “the mystery of true piety.”

 

Help in Man's Salvation

Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius were the first to propose that imitation of Mary is a means of attaining Christian perfection.  And the Gnomai or proverbs of the Council of Nicaea states: “You have the conduct of Mary, who is the type and image of the life that is proper to heaven.” And St. Ambrose adds: “Mary's life is a rule of life for all.”

Cu Cuimhe the Wise (747), an Irish poet, in his Cantemus in Omni Dei describes Mary thus: “We must intercede to Mary for our eternal salvation and escape the flames and dwell on high.”

The word ADVOCATA was used by St. Irenaeus in Adversus Haereses to describe Mary's role.  This became popular in medieval times signifying Mary's special power of intercession: “Virginal obedience should undo and destroy virginal disobedience.”

St. Romanos, the singer (6th century), pictures Mary addressing our sad, fallen first parents thus: “Cease your lamentations.  I shall be your advocate with my Son.” Towards the end of the 6th century Theoteknos of Livias called Mary “advocate of the human race.”  Advocate was her title in Eastern hymnography.  In the 12th century she was referred to as Advocata Nostra in the Salve Regina, in a form of prayer known from the ninth century called Clamor.  With an advocate like her, why, we can get any help we need from Christ! Thus, beginning with the great Benedictine monastery of Cluny, the Salve Regina was sung daily.  The practice was picked up by the Dominicans and Franciscans by the 13th century.  And up to the present it is sung after Compline, before going to bed, together with the Sub Tuum Praesidium by monks all over the world.

And a footnote in American History narrates that Christopher Columbus, despairing in finding the New World, sung the Salve Regina.  Next day they sighted the Americas. (He probably sung it in one of his boats, the Santa Maria?)

The Sub Tuum Praesidium, an early and very impressive piece of literature, evidenced Mary's powerful intercession in heaven.

Basil of Seleucia states Mary's role thus: “She, herself, can accomplish what she is asked for.” And Theoteknos of Livias confirms this saying: “Raised to heaven, she remains for the human race an unconquerable rampart, interceding for us before her Son and God.”

Decreed by Christ on the cross to be our mother, her role is primarily to HELP in our salvation.  Thus aside from such titles as Mother of God, Mother of the Church and Mother of Divine Grace, St. Nilus referred to her as Mother of all those who live by the Gospel.  Severian of Gabala called her Mother of Salvation.

From earliest times, St. Germanus called her Mother of Mercy and said: “No one without you will be granted the gift of mercy.”  And St. Alphonsus Liguori, writing the Glories of Mary, exalted Mary's help of mankind by being intercessor, i.e., Mediatrix and Advocate.

St. Catherine of Sienna prayed much to Mary in her great work of reforming the church, for “nothing can be refused to her.”

Absolom of Sprinkirsbach (1205) affirmed her role as intercessor: “By intervention, she effects our reconciliation, she gives us an example to imitate, and by her help protect us.”

Mary’s help was not limited to purely spiritual matters; it encompassed everything natural inasmuch as it redounded to one’s spiritual benefit.  St. Gregory of Nazianzus described how Justina, whose virginity was threatened by her suitor, was protected through Mary's intercession.  Abbot of  St. Germain produced a prayer for HELP to the Blessed Virgin, the use of which saved Paris during a Norman attack in 885.

The AKATHISTOS hymn, the most ancient, the most beautiful and the most profound hymn to Mary in Christian literature, is about the protection and deliverance of Constantinople under the siege of 626 A.D.   In fact, Constantinople (Istambul),  gloried as being the “City of the Theotokos”, was saved three times miraculously by her Patroness – in 619, 626 and 718.  The battle of Lepanto was also won through her intercession.

St. Peter Canisius described succinctly the role and influence of Mary: The mother of the Judge and the mother of the accused is the same.


Attacks on Mary

Just as the devil saw how successful he was in destroying the human race by merely attacking the first woman, he has decreed to destroy the rest of the human race by attacking man’s greatest help – Mary. By removing Mary from one’s spirituality, the devil knows mankind is like a ship tossed about by a storm without the stars to guide it.

God made Eve to be a helper of man.  But, through the devil’s machinations, she who was meant to be of help became the source of disaster to her husband and children.  Mary was made by God to be a helper to man again.  But knowing she cannot be corrupted, the devil is bent on getting her out of man’s mind and in the work of his personal salvation.

And so, even from earliest times of Christianity, her role had been questioned and argued and rejected, more specifically in the THEOTOKOS debate.  And through the Reformation, up to the present amongst the “born-again”, her role is not only relegated to oblivion but the very thought of her is hated.  But clearly, the gates of hell had not prevailed against devotion to her.

 

Mary in the Liturgy

Liturgy is one of the better sources of Catholic belief where devotion to Mary, specially showing her role as a great help to salvation, abounds.  First and foremost is the feast of Christmas, a popular feast of our Lady.

In the Egyptian Liturgy, about the second century, the Divine Motherhood's feast was widely celebrated.  In the third century, the Sub Tuum Praesidium was part of the liturgy.

Other popular feasts of Our Lady were the Meeting of the Child Jesus and Simeon or the Purification and Presentation, the Dormition, the Annunciation and the Nativity of Our Lady (a feast taken from the Apocrypha).  All these feasts formulate her important role in the history of salvation and were observed by both Eastern and Western churches.

The Constitution on the Liturgy declaring the essential link between doctrine and liturgy stated: “In celebrating the annual cycle of Christ’s mysteries, holy Church honors with special love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son.”  Thus the Consilium, while assigning all Sundays as the Lord’s day, had also assigned all Saturdays for the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Pope Pius X11, in Mediator Dei, emphasized the fact that whatever is in the Liturgy makes up the Catholic Faith inasmuch as it is a public profession of faith of the Church.  And the Church Liturgy had always honored Mary and acknowledged her invaluable help in the work of Christ: the salvation of man.


Mary in Church Documents

True to her role, the Church, quoting from the ancient teachings and tradition of the Church, reiterates the role of Mary.

In Ad Diem Illum (2 Feb. 1904), St. Pius enunciated Mary's role in the distribution of graces.  In Ad Coeli Reginam (11 Oct. 1954), Pius XII emphasized Mary’s influence on man’s soul.  And in Marialis Cultus, Pope Paul VI emphasized what is admirable in Mary – not so much the way she lived her life but in the kind of person she was, a result of living Scriptures to the full.

 

What Must We Do To Deserve This Help

a)  We must invoke her help.  We must call on her as Mother of Christ to help us because she is also our mother.

b)  We must obey her who said: “Do whatever he tells you.”

1.  Obedience to Christ. Though Mary helps everyone, the very special helps are given to those who are obedient to all the commands of Christ.


2.  Her Greatest Help is her teachings by word and example; she taught us how to “Do whatever He tells you.”  The mysteries of her life, as shown by St. Francis de Sales in his Sermons on Our lady, show how she obeyed all the commands of Christ.
 

c)     If we invoke her and DO whatever Christ tells us, then she will help us in all our needs.

 

d)     Mary and Eve: the good and the bad example

Just as Eve is the example showing the steps on how to go away from God, Mary is the exemplar of the steps to take to go to God.  Because of Eve’s doings sin entered into the world; because of Mary’s Fiat salvation entered into the world.  In paradise, Eve showed all the signs of an impending fall; Mary’s first response to the angel Gabriel showed signs of great holiness.  Eve showed contempt for a command that was easy to obey because it did not involve much of herself; Mary showed love of God's command that was difficult to obey because it meant the possibility of losing her honor, being pregnant out of wedlock (in the Jewish law this crime called for death by stoning). And so in the end, Eve’s contempt for the command brought her to contempt of Him who gave the command; while Mary, because of her love for God’s command, eventually graduated to love of Him who gave the command.  Indeed, the whole message of the Gospel was summarized in the narration of the Annunciation.  If we answer like her, we have lived the Gospel.

If you want Mary to listen to you and help you, invoke her and listen to her.  And what is she saying? “Do as He tells you.”  This way her Son may be King of your heart and soul.  This is your duty for your salvation.

As she speaks, thus she acts.  Thus St. Francis de Sales stresses the virtue of Mary: “She hears the Word of God and keeps it.”  And she exhorts us to do the same.  Her life was Christ’s life.  Christ said: “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart.” And Mary was meek and humble of heart: “He has looked at the lowliness of His handmaid.”  She was only 15!  This is the scenario St. Ambrose narrated of Mary: at 15, standing pregnant before her betrothed, Joseph; here was the mother of God, proclaimed such by God through an angel; here was the spouse of the Holy Spirit, facing her just betrothed who discovered she is with child…  and she remains silent. She could have given the most Divine excuses, but she kept silent.  God has done all this; God will defend her.  Here, St. Ambrose states, is a living example of a person who is exhibiting the fullness of the humility of Christ as preached by the Gospel.

 

The Woman of Revelation

The woman of Revelation is definitely the Catholic Church.  But the Church is also appropriately symbolized by Mary.  Appearing to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, Mexico, Mary appeared as the Woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet.  But even as early as the fourth century, Andrew of Caesarea identified the woman with Mary.  And in the next century Quotvultdeus, friend and disciple of St. Augustine, was explicit: “None of you is ignorant of the fact that the dragon was the devil. The woman signified the Virgin Mary…  who showed forth herself in the image of the Holy Church…” In the sixth century Oecumenius, the earliest Greek commentator of the Apocalypse, describes the woman as “Our Lady, the holy, ever virgin and THEOTOKOS Mary.”

St. Bernard, in his homily Signum Magnum describes the prophetic vision of the Woman as the Church and conveniently applied it also to Mary.   St. Bonaventure thought that the literal sense was Marian and the mystical sense ecclesiological.

The significant thing about the Woman of the Apocalypse is that we, Christians, will only be protected by God if we are with the woman who “fled to the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she will be taken care of for 1,260 days”.  We must be with the Church and Our Lady, living all the commands of Christ (i.e., “going to the desert”) if God must HELP us.  Thus when the first Christians wanted to live the fullness of the Gospel, they went to the desert.  And in the evenings they sung the Sub Tuum Praesidium to invoke Mary's help.

 

Conclusion

Mary’s help, both for the salvation of souls and for other things inasmuch as they are aids for one’s salvation, can never be overestimated.  That she is man’s greatest help is a pillar of Christian teaching.  And again, St. Teresa of Avila decries the fact that, by putting her aside, the Protestants lost the greatest aid to their salvation.

It is said that St. Francis de Sales and Martin Luther had similar tormenting problems.  Francis went to Mary.  Martin went to the Bible.  The one who went to Mary was enlightened and became a great saint.  The other remained confused and was lost to the Church.

Francis was tormented by an overwhelming feeling that he was destined for eternal damnation.  He went straight to God in prayer but in vain.  Then one day, in the church of St. Stephen, he knelt down in the Chapel of Our Lady and vowed perpetual chastity.  He was 19.  He felt a profound transformation come over him.  He felt like a leper seeing his sores vanishing before his eyes.  And a great peace came upon him.  That image, a black virgin, was Our Lady of Kind Deliverance.  And it is still there today in the motherhouse of the Sisters Hospitalers of St. Nicholas of Villanova in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

Martin Luther, tragically, was devoted to Mary, shown by some splendid work in her honor.  But during his break with Rome, his fundamental idea of Deus solus, more of an angry reaction to Rome rather than a theological stand, relegated Mary’s help not only to a minimum but to almost nil.  Instead of going to Mary and vowing perpetual chastity, he went to Scriptures and married.  Yet in his last sermon on 17 January 1546, as death was approaching, he spoke, revealing what was ingrained in his soul: “Is Christ only to be adored? Or is the Holy Mother of God rather not to be honored.  This is the woman who crushed the serpent’s head.  Hear us.  For your Son denies you nothing;” then his talk gradually reverted to his Deus solus.  It was a sad picture of a man who had to deny what he deeply believes in simply out of spite for the papacy that he learned to detest.

Islam honors Mary, too, the virgin mother of Jesus.  At times they call on her. Devotion to her is manifest at Moslem shrines, notably at Meryemana near Ephesus in Turkey.   Mary is named 34 times in the Koran (Sura III on the family of Imram, Mary’s father, and Sura XIX).

Mary is truly the help of the church, the help of all superiors, bishops and prelates, and the help of the Holy Father.  We shall only deserve such help if we invoke her and obey what Christ commanded.  Then and only then may we say “Mary, Help of Christians, pray for me,” confident that she will truly help us.   She is the most valuable help we Christians have.

It is said that in the early monastic communities, which were communities of laymen trying to live the Gospel seriously, every evening after night prayers, they would gather together before an image of the Blessed Virgin and chant the Salve Regina followed by that ancient hymn in her honor which today even the more sophisticated monk-priests still chant. It is the Sub Tuum; “We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O Ever Glorious and Blessed Virgin.” 

 

 

 

 

(updated 01-03-02)

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