By Reverend Father George Adimike
The celebration of birthdays and similar anniversaries are not just mere events in themselves, but also moments of acknowledging individuals who have left indelible imprints in the lives of others and have left good lessons for posterity.
Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ is a transcript of God’s grace; her birth, life and virtues, all bespeak someone who is indeed full of grace. This implies that the commemoration of the birthday of Virgin Mary is not a mere recount of a historical event, but also an affirmation and a celebration of divine grace.
Grace is the interpretative key to understanding the mystery of Mary. Devotion to Virgin Mary ordinarily starts with Hail Mary, full of grace! The centrality of grace relative to Christian’s veneration of her testifies to God’s great privilege to her, for which all generations call her blessed (Lk 1:48).
Mary is the unique concrete humanity in whom grace is perfectly, completely and totally effective. Christians of virtually all confessions hold that our salvation, justification and divinization are a function of grace. We are saved by grace to witness to the good news.
Therefore, we are indigents in need of God’s grace of which Mary possesses in full measure according to the scriptural testimony, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’ (Lk. 1:28). The distinction between Mary and Christians is rooted in the availability and reception of grace; she was prompt and ever ready in cooperating with the grace of God. In her, grace is wholly efficacious. Grace funds her claim to pre-eminence in the communion of saints. She is the fullest instance and greatest tribute to the greatest possibilities of human reception and co-operation with grace: ‘may it be done to me according to your words’ (Lk 1:38).
Rooted in the capital grace of her Son, Christ Jesus, who possesses the Spirit without measure (Jn 3:34) as the source of grace, Mary is, therefore, an exemplar of the fate of the Church. She is the icon of the eschatological glory, a bride without wrinkles and spots (Eph 5:27). She is the woman, the Virgin mother and daughter of Zion.
The allegorical use of the word ‘woman’ in both the Old and New Testaments attests to its cardinal importance and underlines its centrality in the economy of salvation. Both Testaments would hold up ‘woman’ in her most sublime eminence and grace according to God’s salvific plan. And certainly, Mary is the person who fits the bill (Gen 3:15, Rev 12: 1-6, 17). In the mystery of salvation, the woman was the identity of Mary. The ‘woman’ was present in the prophecy of Isaiah as the virgin in the heart of God’s salvation plan (cf. Is 7: 10-15). She was intimately linked with the redemption of Israel. Her universal role was confirmed on the Cross when, as his last testament and ultimate will, Christ handed her over to John to be the mother of the new people of God, the new Israel. The new Israel, the Church, includes those whose faith is known to God alone, not limited by tribe, creed, and colour. She is therefore a woman of the promise and a woman of the fulfilment (cf. Gen 3:15, Is 7:10-15, cf. Matt. 1:20-23, John 2:3-4).
It is generally accepted that the dragon/serpent represents Satan, the child represents Jesus Christ, and the woman represents Mary. Though some exegetes assign the woman to Israel or to the Church, and it sounds good. However, it fails the basic exegetical test. It falls short of consistent hermeneutics because it changed the principle midway thereby becomes inconsistent in application of the exegetical tool to the text. It is absurd to represent the two signs out of three with individual persons and the third of the signs as impersonal or collective.
If Jesus is identified as the child signified in the texts, then the natural implication is that the woman-mother of the child is Mary. Any other extraneous explanations would certainly be absurd. Israel and the Church retain their feminine qualifications but in this instance it could only refer to them tangentially while Mary is the central feminine figure discussed. As much as they relate to her as the archetype of the two, then such interpretations can be considered. However, the single interpretation consistent with the proper exegesis is that Mary is the woman. She is the woman-mother in the Scriptural books of Genesis and Revelation.
The image of the woman has been in God’s creative and redemptive plan. Mary is “The woman” of Genesis (Gen 3:15); the “woman” of John 19:26; “a woman clothed with sun” of Rev 12:1, “O woman” of John 2:3; the “Woman” human origin of the Word made flesh in Gal 4:4. Virgin Mary knows that God’s mercy is not limited by time and space; it is beyond timetable and appeals to this timeless, never-ending mercy of God on His people as exemplified in her intercession in the wedding at Cana.
Devotion to Mary is, therefore, true when it connects one to and deepens one relationship with God, when it is rooted in Christ, when it points to the grace of the Holy Spirit who engraced and empowered her, when it gives glory and praise to God, when it honours her with the Church as her mother and a member, when it looks to the future with hope, confidence and love in humility and faithfulness (Magnificat Lk 1: 46 – 55).
Spiritually, relationship never ends; it intensifies. Since relationship has an everlasting span and infinite consequences, such a relationship contains enormous spiritual goods and benefits. Obviously, Mary’s motherhood is everlasting and her maternal relationship with us is never-ending enterprise. In that sense, it continues in the communion of saints, in that open heaven, where the Church dwells and thrives savouring the spiritual goods of the Lamb upon whom the angels ascend and descend (cf. Jn 1:51).
In that open heaven, which locates the communion of the Church where saints in heaven and on earth inter-course in the Spirit, Mary enjoys pre-eminence as the mother of the friends of her Son and queen of the angels. Relationship in open heaven never ends. Devotion to Virgin Mary is, thus, a participation in the spiritual interaction in the open heaven. It is an affirmation of the triumph of grace of an eschatological magnitude in anticipation of the ultimate Parousia. It is a victory celebration of the on-going triumph of grace in the whole Christ. Virgin Mary is the irreversible gaze turned to the Church which looks up to her memory as an icon of holiness and personal example present in their midst.
It is evident that there is a sole mediator between God and man. Mary’s exemplary value in the mediatorship of Christ does not detract from her Son’s role; it accentuates it. The mother of the glorified Christ, by the extension of grace, is, as well, the mother of humanity on the way of glorification. In her song of gratitude, Magnificat (cf. Lk 1: 46 – 55), Mother Mary demonstrates that she understands and appreciates her role in the web of relationships that is human family.
Mary’s blessedness is intimately connected with her relationship with Jesus Christ, which is both biological and spiritual. It is rooted in her absolute total submission to the Word of God (Lk 11:28), her mysterious intimate bond and spiritual kinship with Christ.
Again, gratuitousness of grace explains the mystery of Mary. It requires faith. Devotion to Mary is only a response to God’s example. Love of Mary takes nothing away from her Son and honour to her is only but a tribute to Christ, who saved her in anticipation. It is a tribute to God who chose her as a human instrument to bring about the work of salvation. It is a privilege to be counted among those who call her blessed. With all her children living in both sides of eternity, I say Happy Birthday Mother Mary!
- Fr George Adimike writes from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.