Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God • Year C

Andrés G. Niño, O.S.A.
St. Mary’s Rectory
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Nm 6:22-27
Ps 67:2-3,5,6,8
Gal 4:4-7
Lk 2:16-21

It is New Year and there is rejoicing in the ways of the world around us with the suggestive trappings of externals. Despite the countless troubles afflicting humanity, the date stirs expectations in our quest for happiness. We respond with fascination to the sound of promises and prospects of all kinds, and in the streets of our cities a multitude moves and dances around in a social ritual that overpowers the transient time that makes our days old. Something we would like to forget for the sake of the new.

The pilgrim church also gathers a crowd to mark the present in its passing brightness, but in a different way. It is a meaning-making celebration that remembers the past in the light of God creator of all times (Conf. I.20.31). In its paused liturgical calendar, the first day “is the day that the Lord has made” (Ps 118:24), the starting of “a year of the Lord” in the most biblical sense of the expression. And it will be a link in the chain of events in a continuous mystical journey that carries forward the believers through a mystery of faith. It embraces holy narratives and symbols, names and places that fill pages of human history. But above all that, is the memorial about Mary Mother of God, with a message from the prophecy: “Behold I make all things new” (Rev 21:1-8).

Let us gather our minds and hearts and contemplate in a triad the main events of the mystery.

A promise fulfilled

From the timeless realm of primordial silence, comes the angel to speak and reveal the hidden wisdom of God, the things beyond the mind of man (1 Cor 2:7-10) that will unfold through our time. The coming of the One who is sent to be in the flesh, to kindle the hopes of humanity through a promise of salvation in fulfillment of the prophecy (Is 7:14). A mystery hidden to the learned and revealed to the humble, like this virgin, the handmaid who hears the words and believes even beyond the unknown (Lk 1:28).

The Spirit will overshadow Mary to bring the author of life and the light into the world (Lk 1:35; Jn 1:1). The virgin becoming the mother of God is the mystery that opens a horizon of divine life for us, the many “living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79) The humanity that Augustine saw carrying without hope the marks of transience and mortality:

Indeed, we would despair in our condition thinking your Word remote from any conjunction with humankind, had he not become flesh and made his dwelling among us (Conf., X.43.69).

He, who for us is life itself, he came into the Virgin’s womb so that mortal flesh should not forever be mortal (Conf., IV.12.19).

All that is grace to be acknowledged and thanked without end. And Mary responded with utmost humility: Fiat, let it be done according to the Lord’s will and promise (Lk 1:38). Fra Angelico captured in his painting the visible event for our contemplation of the invisible. Moreover, Mary went on with those words of unrivaled simplicity and depth of feeling: Magnificat anima mea Dominum, “my soul glorifies the Lord” (Lk 1:47-55). J. S. Bach will wrap the saying later in musical splendor. And generations of believers will pray with untiring fervor, Ave Maria gratia plena, in a murmur that will resound throughout the ages.

Abiding in God

It was one of Jesus’s disciples who described, with sublime inspiration, Jesus entering human history: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:1-4). The fulness of time had come (Gal 4:4) to manifest the immensity of God’s love for the world (Jn 3:16) and inhabited the heart of Mary, the mother. It also compelled Jesus to go “through all the towns and villages teaching and preaching” (Mt 9:35). Augustine describes this trajectory and its purpose in a powerful synthesis:

He did not delay, but ran, crying out loud by his words, deeds, death, life, descent, and ascent – calling us to return to him. Finally, he has gone from our sight that we should “return to our heart” and find him there. He went away and behold, here he is (Conf., IV.12.19).

In contrast, the sacred narrative of the Gospel keeps a gentle approach to the role of Mary in her son’s mission. She learned, rather, “to treasure up all these things and ponder them in her heart (Lk 2:19) and to go silently, following Jesus through a uniquely personal and demanding “inward journey.” The Mother is there, centered in Christ, with unified and “total will.” Her fiat as a virgin has transformed her into the mother that lives “abiding in God.”

In the process, she shows that “God with us” not only defines her son’s name and purpose towards humanity but marks also a “way of life” by returning to him through the path of interiority. Augustine captured the implication of this truth when he said that God is Intimior intimis meis, “more interior to me than I am to myself” (Conf., III.6.11). Mary invites our restless hearts to search and find in this relationship the inner peace that the world cannot give. And as each day of the journey ends, praise God with the ancient song crafted with the deepest and filial expression of Christian devotion: “Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae…”(1)

Embracing the Cross

The grand prediction of suffering was announced to her in striking terms: “a sword will pierce your very soul” (Lk 2:25-35). At that time there was no graceful angel and no joyful message, but a prophetic metaphor of a reality in the making. Mary’s silence sheltered the unsayable in her inner self. But as a mother, she went beyond words and assumed the mission that Jesus carried for the sake of humanity: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Mt 11:4-6).

And Mary accepted her Son’s unshakable decision to seek them, be with them, and even die for them. He had a redemptive purpose in mind, and she was amidst his followers (Mt 12:46-50), inspiring them to be of “one heart and soul” with Jesus (Acts 4:32-35).

She counted the mornings and evenings of those days until “his hour” came (Jn 12:23-24).

It was the moment of ultimate truth for Mary the mother, when the Word made flesh, the One who was sent to “the many,” accepted and suffered death in the flesh as a testimony of love for them all. Her Son’s ascent to Jerusalem was a Passion of immeasurable depth beyond human comprehension. She was there, as ever, and so it was also her passion. The clamor of a sacred text speaks for her:

O all you who walk by on the road, pay attention, and see: if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. (2)

The Church has kept alive in memory a few and solemn words from those events that created a powerful bond between Mary and the rest of us. None more important than this: “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (Jn 19:26-27). A painful farewell from Son to his mother as the journey ended within the span of our time. Our words break down to insignificance. Here, by the cross, was the mother, as in van der Weyden’s masterpiece (3), and we can only quiet our soul and let the Spirit guide us in contemplation of the drama.

It is New Year, and we celebrate Mary mother of God and our mother. Gathered in the upper room around her, we remember Jesus, the joys, and sorrows of a journey of salvation. Let us light a lamp and pray with filial devotion: “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death,” when we arrive at the city of God to encounter the One you gave us, Christ, the beginning, and the end, in “a new heaven and new earth” (Is 65:17). Amen.

1 Marian antiphon recited and sung since the 13th century in the monastic tradition that spread through the Church particularly in its Gregorian chant mode.

2 Lamentations 1:12. This verse was part of the Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday.

3 “Stabat mater dolorosa, juxta crucem lacrimosa,” a 13th c. hymn, reflected in the Descent from the Cross, Rogier van der Weyden, ca. 1435 (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid).