Like Mary we are the fruit of God’s mercy in Christ —only by this do we have real life…
(CUSA) – In his final Advent sermon for 2015, Fr. Cantalamessa tackles the thorny issue of reverence for Mary and how she should be a source of Christian unity not division. She is an ecumenical model for believers in Christ.
Mary is also a vessel of mercy, having received the grace of God, and the best way to preach mercy? Bear witness to the mercy God has shown to us. —Ed.
FR. RANIERO CANTALAMESSA—
Mariology in Lumen gentium
The topic of this last Advent meditation is Chapter 8 of Lumen gentium called “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.” Let us listen to what the Council says on this issue:
The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, gave birth to, and nourished Christ, she presented Him to the Father in the temple, shared his sufferings as He died on the Cross. Thus, in a very special way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.
Alongside the title of Mother of God and of believers, the other fundamental category that the Council uses to illustrate Mary’s role is that of a model or a type:
By reason of the gift and role of her divine motherhood, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with her unique graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united to the church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ.
The greatest novelty in the Council’s treatment of Mary consists, as we know, precisely in the place in which she was inserted, which was within the Constitution on the Church. In so doing the Council—not without tensions and difficulties—carried out a profound renewal of Mariology with respect to that of recent centuries.
The discussion on Mary is no longer separate, as if she held an intermediary position between Christ and the Church; she is placed back into the context of the Church, as she was during the time of the Fathers. Mary is seen, as Saint Augustine said, as the most excellent member of the Church but nonetheless a member of it, not outside of it or above it:
Mary is holy, Mary is blessed, but the Church is something better than the virgin Mary. Why? Because Mary is part of the Church, a holy member, a quite exceptional member, the supremely wonderful member, but still a member of the whole body. That being so, it follows that the body is something greater than the member.
Two realities are reciprocally illumined here. If in fact the discussion on the Church sheds light on who Mary is, the discussion on Mary also sheds light on what the Church is, “the body of Christ,” and as such, it is “almost an extension of the incarnation of the Word.” John Paul II highlighted this reciprocity in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater: “The Second Vatican Council, by presenting Mary in the mystery of Christ, also finds the path to a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Church.”
Another novelty from the Council on Mariology is its emphasis on Mary’s faith. This was also a theme that was taken up and developed more fully by John Paul II who made it the central theme of his Marian encyclical. This represents a return to the Mariology of the Fathers who emphasized the Blessed Virgin’s faith, more than her privileges, as her personal contribution to the mystery of salvation. Here too we can note the influence of Saint Augustine:
The blessed Mary herself conceived by believing the one whom she bore by believing. . . . When the angel [spoke], she was so full of faith [fide plena] that she conceived Christ in her mind before doing so in her womb, and said, Behold the maidservant of the Lord; may it happen to me according to your word.
An Ecumenical Perspective on Mary as the Mother of Believers
What I would like to do is to highlight the ecumenical importance of the Council’s Mariology, that is, how it can contribute—and is already contributing—to bringing Catholics and Protestants closer together on the sensitive and controversial issue of devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
First I want to clarify the principle at the basis of the reflections that follow. If Mary is fundamentally positioned as a part of the Church, it follows that the biblical categories and affirmations from which to begin to shed light on her, then, are those relative to human beings who constitute the Church and applied to her a fortiori, rather than those relative to the divine Persons and applied to her “by reduction.”
For example, to understand the sensitive issue of the mediation of Mary in the work of salvation in the right way, it is more helpful to start with her mediation as a creature, or from below, as is the case with the mediation of Abraham, the apostles, and the sacraments of the Church itself, rather than from the divine-human mediation of Christ.
The greatest gap, in fact, is not that which exists between Mary and the rest of the Church, but that which exists between Mary and the Church on one side, and Christ and the Trinity on the other side, that is, between the creatures and the Creator.
Let us now draw the conclusion from this. If Abraham, because of what he had done, merited in the Bible the name of “father of us all,” which means the father of all believers, we can better understand why the Church does not hesitate to call Mary “the mother of us all,” the mother of all believers.