Last week, I reflected upon how much I love meeting my friends' parents. You can learn so much about your friend, but getting to know their parents. I feel like I am constantly understanding my husband better, the more we hang out with his family, and we've been married almost four years now. So I am almost embarrassed to admit how much I have neglected to learn about Mary, Jesus' own mother. After all, Mary is the one who nursed him as a babe, who sang him to sleep, who taught him his first words and how to walk, who encouraged him throughout his childhood and teenage years, who saw him through his whole ministry and all the way to the cross. Just like getting to know my mother, you will learn more about me, by getting to know Mary, she will teach you more about Jesus. Mary is the fulfillment of three types in the Old Testament: Eve, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Queen Mother. She has five supernatural characteristics that describe her: she is the mother of God, she is sinless, she is a virgin, she is in Heaven, body and soul, and she is a mother to us all. Finally, she has three roles in the church today: to be Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate. Today, I will cover the 5 Characteristics of Mary. You can read my blog posts about Mary Revealed in Three Old Testament Types and Mary's Three Roles in the Church today for more about Mary. These insights come from Scott Hann’s Book Hail Holy Queen and Mark Miravalle’s Book Meet your Mother (or Love Her More), both Catholic books on Mary, because if we are going to learn about Mary, we should learn from the ones who have been getting to know her the longest.
Note: I will be quoting these two books throughout this post. Scott Hann’s page numbers go from (0-150), while Miravalle’s go from (170-700) because I was using the Kindle version on my phone. Therefore, I do not always say the author but you can tell who it is by the page numbers. If you would like to learn more, I provide links for these books at the bottom.
5 Characteristics of Mary’s nature
Now that we have covered the three Old Testament types that foreshadow Mary, we can look to the New Testament to tell us five characteristics about her nature.
Mary is the Mother of God
Mary is the mother of God; here, Protestants and Catholics fully agree. The naivety story clearly describes that Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, who is fully human and fully God. It is something I have heard throughout my whole childhood and never really stopped to comprehend it fully or understand why there would be some debate on the matter. Apparently, early in church history, there was a heresy going around that Mary was the mother of Jesus the man, but not the mother of Jesus the God; for a creature could not give birth to her creator (218). This was a heresy because it separated Jesus’ divinity from his humanity. What can be said on the matter is that “Mary is the Mother of God the Son made man, who is truly God” (235). She is not Mother of God the Father, nor Mother of God the Holy Spirit. As the Trinity is above our ability to fully comprehend as creatures, we must just accept this as what we know. Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine. She felt him grow in her womb, she felt him kick and hiccup, and she gave him his X-chromosome. Jesus’ bones and muscles grew as a result of the oxygen and nutrients that Mary provided and she gave him “the appearance and character under which He should manifest Himself to the world. He was known doubtless by his likeness to her to be her son,” states Hann (96). Miravalle describes it this way:
“A mother is classically defined as a woman who gives to her offspring a nature identical to her own… What did Mary give to Jesus? His divine nature and divine priesthood came from His Heavenly Father. Mary gave to Jesus a nature identical to her own—in this exceptional one time in history case an immaculate (flawless) human nature.”
Mary is sinless
Catholics believe that Mary is sinless, which is the hardest concept for me to wrap my head around as I grew up believing that the only one who ever lived a sinless life was Jesus Christ. So I found it interesting to hear that Muslims and most Protestant founders, such as Martin Luther, believe/d in the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was conceived without stain of Original Sin (brought forth from Adam and Eve). I struggled with this because it seems to raise Mary to a level equal of that of God, but that is not true if you consider Adam and Eve before the fall. God created mankind in his image and for a while, they lived in a state where they were both human and sinless. For that moment in time, it was possible for Adam and Eve to be both human and sinless without equating them to being equal with God. But sin did enter the world, and as such, we all need God’s salvation from sin. Mary was saved by receiving grace at the moment of her conception, grace which was won to her by Jesus’ death on the cross. It’s like the best back-to-the-future time-travel mind kick because “God, who is out of time, can apply the graces of redemption at Calvary to Mary at the moment of her conception. Mary as a daughter of Adam and Eve, needed to be saved, and was saved by the grace of Jesus Christ—applied to her soul at the moment of conception” explains Miravalle (433).
But where in Scripture can the Immaculate Conception be revealed? First, in Genesis, when the Lord promises to put “enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed,” it shows a parallel between Mary and Jesus being in total and absolute opposition (definition of enmity) to Satan (416). In order for the Lord’s promise to be fulfilled, the woman could not participate in sin because she would not then have enmity between her and the serpent. Second, comes when the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with the term “full of grace.” Miravalle points out that the phrase used in Greek is “kecharitomene,” which is a perfect passive participle. Explaining the grammar, he states that it refers to “an action completely entirely in the past, but with relevance to the present” (427). So the Angel Gabriel is addressing Mary by stating her grace that was completed in the past (at conception) is relevant to the News he will deliver. Then, when reflecting upon the meticulous instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant to contain the Word of God, I would image God being just as meticulous in the creation of the body and soul which contained the Word of God in flesh to ensure holiness. For as Mary would pass along her physical likeness through pregnancy, she would also pass along the stain of Original Sin if it was within her soul. Since Jesus is without sin, He could not have received the stain within in blood.
Mary is a virgin, forever
Similar to Mary’s soul being without blemish, her body remains in a state of innocence, as both Catholics and Protestants believe in Mary’s virginity during the conception of Jesus. Scripture is very clear that Mary was a virgin, both in the Old Testament prophesies and in the Gospel accounts. Christ needed to be born of a woman, in order to have a real body. He was born of virgin to make clear His Divinity, so that there would be no question in the role of a man for His birth. However, once He was born, Catholics believe Mary remained a virgin her whole life. The Vatican teaches that “the body expresses the person” so Mary’s intact physical virginity is an outward expression of Mary’s complete devotion to God, body and soul (294). Skeptics question her virginity as a result of the passages referencing Jesus’ brothers, such as in Mark 3:31, where it states “Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him.” But the Hebrew word for brother is the same as cousin, near relative, or kinsman so it does not necessarily imply additional children of Mary (329). Alternatively, in John 19:25-26, when Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, this is your son” and to John “This is your mother,” this depicts a scene where Mary has only one child, Jesus. If she had other children, according to Jewish law, she would go to live with them, instead of John, a close friend (314). Since Jesus came to fulfill the law perfectly, He could not break it while on the cross.
But why would Mary stay a virgin? Because she took a vow of celibacy, which is revealed in her remarks to the Angel Gabriel. Gabriel tells her that she will conceive and give birth to a son, to which she replies “how can this be, since I know not a man?” This conveys again that she is a virgin, but reveals much more than just that. Mary was engaged to be married. Since Gabriel never provided a time table, Mary could have assumed that once married, she would conceive this child. Except in her heart, she knew she never intended to consummate the marriage. Furthermore, the verb tense used in Hebrew expresses a permanent commitment, rather than something that has not happened in the past (318). So from this remark, it can be assumed that she had taken a vow of celibacy earlier in her life. Perhaps Joseph had found out about it and it had become a vow of his too. Either way, Mary was rightly confused of Gabriel’s news as she never expected to become a mother as a result of her vow.
Mary was taken into Heaven, body and soul
Catholics believe that Mary is that she is in Heaven, body and soul, which is referred to as her Assumption into Heaven. Psalm 132:8 states “Arise, O Lord into your resting place, you and the Ark which you have sanctified.” With Mary as the New Ark, sanctified by the Immaculate Conception given through the grace of the cross, Jesus can bring Mary into the resting place together (497). John’s description of Mary in Heaven during Revelations (when describing the Ark) also supports the belief of the Assumption because of the details of what she and her clothes looked like. In addition, because of her Immaculate Conception, and sinless life, it implies she was assumed into Heaven since death and disease entered the world because of sin (491). Since Mary is sinless, she could not have died as a result of old age or disease. Outside of Scripture, traditional leads to this belief as well, for there are no relics (bones) of Mary, unlike the many relics of the Apostles that were often fought over. Finally, scripture does tell us that Elijah and Enoch were taken up to Heaven, because of their holiness and dedication to the law. If I can believe that God can bring a person, body and soul, to Heaven, as in the case of Elijah and Enoch, why would I think he would not do it for His own mother?
Mary is Mother to all Christians
There is one more thing that Catholics believe and teach about Mary; however, it has yet to be declared a dogma (official, infallible belief by the Vatican): Mary is mother to us all. We are all adopted sons of God the Father, a grace given to us at our baptism when we receive the Holy Spirit. This is a real relationship with God, not a saying or a metaphor. Divinization occurs because “the son of God became a son of man so that the sons of men might become sons of God” (119). This was always God’s intention for mankind when he created Adam and Eve, who desired divine life without God, rather than the divine life that was already granted to them. Therefore, Hann points out that “salvation is not only from sin, but for sonship—divine sonship in Christ” (120).
As such, right before Jesus died on the cross, He gave His mother to His disciple whom He loved. While the disciple was John, his name is not included so that it applies universally to every disciple Jesus loves, past, present, and future. How can we know that this message was one to apply to all of us, rather than just a logistical task for Jesus to check off His to-do list before dying? Because on Calvary, everything Jesus did from the cross had a universal impact. He died for everyone’s sins, past, present, future, and to them, He gave His Mother as their spiritual mother. Just as one can choose to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and salvation or not, one can choose to accept Mary’s spiritual motherhood or not (588). Hann encourages all believes to choose to accept Mary, for “if we are to know the brotherhood of Jesus Christ, we must come to know the mother whom we share with Jesus Christ” (91).
I hope I was able to present Mary in a way that provides a deeper desire to get to know the Mother of Jesus, to invite her over for dinner and hear her thoughts and opinions. To learn more about Mary, read my blog posts: Mary Revealed in 3 Old Testament Types and Mary's 3 roles in the Church. If this has sparked an interest for you, I recommend reading the two books that I have summarized here. I will also be reading 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Michael Gaitley. I will be starting on June 13, 2018, so that I can consecrate myself to Mary (if I so choose) on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on July 16. If you would like to accompany me on this Bible Study, I would love the company. You can pick up any of the three books below using my affiliate links, which do not add any additional charge to your order but provide a small commission to me. You can read more about that on my disclosure page.