WE HAVE A HEAVENLY MOTHER
First Reading: Numbers 6:22-27
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 66(67):2-3,5,6,8
Second reading: Galatians 4:4-7
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:16-21
In African communities, motherhood transcends being solely a biological phenomenon; it is a vital element juxtaposed with cultural values and communal ties. The expectant mother is seen as a potent symbol of continuity and connection, carrying the legacies of past generations and the hopes of those yet to come. This cultural perspective places significant importance on the maternal role, acknowledging it as a shaping force for individuals and communities. The concept of “ubuntu,” emphasizing the interconnectedness of all people, is influential in the realm of motherhood. The pregnant woman is not merely an individual; she serves as a channel through which the community’s aspirations are carried onward, embodying the bonds that unite. Indeed, Motherhood in the African cultural context is a vivid expression of love, sacrifice, and commitment. It stands as a radiant portrayal of the values ingrained in the collective consciousness of the community. The expectant woman, with her growing belly, becomes a living evidence of life’s endurance and the interdependence of all things. In contemplating the reality of motherhood within the African cultural context and juxtaposing it with the theology of the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos – God bearer, a clearer understanding of today’s Solemnity emerges.
Today, the Holy Mother Church joyfully celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Liturgically, this day marks the culmination of the Christmas Octave, the eighth day counted from December 25. The Christmas Octave is a cherished liturgical tradition, extending the celebration of major feasts over eight days to allow a deeper immersion into the mysteries being commemorated. Throughout this octave, each day builds upon the previous, providing an opportunity for the faithful to get immersed into the manifold aspects of the Incarnation. The liturgical texts, prayers, and readings during this period focus on different facets of the mystery, enabling believers to meditate on the substantial implications of God taking on human form. One of the most profound implications of the Incarnation is the birth of Jesus by a woman – the Blessed Virgin Mary. As we reach the culmination of the octave, today is dedicated to celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God, known theologically as “Theotokos.” This feast holds immense significance within the Catholic Church, emphasizing Mary’s central role in the Incarnation and affirming her divine motherhood. The venerable title of Theotokos acknowledges Mary as the one who carried in her womb the Son of God, Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine. Rooted in Greek, the term Theotokos translates to “God-bearer” or “Mother of God,” underscoring Mary’s unparalleled and unique role in salvation history.
The liturgical readings of today resonate with the essence of our celebration. Commencing with the First Reading from the Book of Numbers (cf. Num. 6:22-27), we encounter God’s instructions to Moses regarding the blessings for the sons of Israel by Aaron and his sons: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.” This blessing serves as a plea for God’s favour and protection, expressing the yearning for God’s goodness and safeguarding presence, symbolized by the radiance of His face and being within the divine gaze. The blessing concludes with a desire for peace, a holistic well-being stemming from a right relationship with God. Astonishingly, these blessings bestowed upon the people in Numbers find their fulfillment in the birth, person, and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder Zachariah exclaims in his song of praise at the advent of Christ: “in the tender compassion of our God, the rising sun has come to visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet on the road of peace.” Hence, in Christ, believers receive the ultimate blessing, grace, and peace. This is because the concept of God turning His face toward His people is reflected in the Incarnation. In Jesus, God becomes “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us,” embodying divine presence in human form. Indeed, humanity is blessed, as vividly depicted in the gospel reading (cf. Lk. 2:16-21), where the shepherds came to behold the face of God in the person of the newborn child lying in a manger, and returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was precisely as they had been told.
In the light of the mystery elucidated above, an undeniable reality persists: the realization of these blessings upon humanity was made possible by the resounding “YES” of the Blessed Virgin Mary in response to God’s will conveyed by the angel. Through this acceptance, Mary was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and became the Mother of God. Similar to the African concept of motherhood, the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary surpasses mere biological occurrence; it stands as a robust symbol of continuity and the fulfilment of God’s promises. Mary carries the memories of previous generations and the aspirations of those yet to come. It’s no wonder that in her “Magnificat,” she declares, “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk. 1:48).
Mary’s motherhood, akin to the African concept of motherhood, is a force that shapes believers and Christian communities. Similarly, the notion of our “Catholic ubuntu,” the interconnectedness of all Christians, is relevant in the context of Mary’s motherhood. This is elucidated by St. Paul in the Second Reading (cf. Galatians 4:4-7), where he explains that it is through Mary’s motherhood, specifically the birth of the Son of God, that we are adopted as sons and daughters. This act redeems humanity under the Law, as God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, enabling us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father’.
Beloved in Christ, today’s celebration of the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, marks a dogma formally defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. This council, known as the Third Ecumenical Council, convened to address the heresy of Nestorianism, which questioned the unity of the divine and human natures in Christ. Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople, proposed a separation between the divine and human aspects of Jesus, asserting that Mary was the “Christotokos” (bearer of Christ) but not the “Theotokos” (Mother of God). The controversy surrounding Nestorianism necessitated a council to clarify the orthodox understanding of the relationship between the divine and human natures in Christ and the role of Mary in this mystery.
The Council of Ephesus, held in 431 AD under the leadership of Cyril of Alexandria, affirmed the Nicene Creed and addressed the Nestorian heresy by proclaiming Mary as the “Theotokos,” signifying the “God-bearer” or “Mother of God.” The council’s decision was articulated in its official declaration, affirming the unity of the divine and human natures in Christ and acknowledging Mary as the Mother of God. The crucial passage from the council’s decree on this matter is as follows: “If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy Virgin is the Mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh), let him be anathema.” This solemn definition aimed to safeguard the orthodox understanding of the Incarnation and Mary’s pivotal role in it.
This declaration firmly established the dogma that Mary, as the mother of Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, rightfully holds the title of the Mother of God. The Council of Ephesus played a crucial role in outlining and preserving the orthodox understanding of the Incarnation and Mary’s integral role in this profound mystery.
Above all, dear friends, considering all that we have learned, we can confidently affirm that Mary, as the Mother of Jesus, who is both true God and true man, becomes our spiritual mother as well. Similar to how John accepted Mary as his own Mother at the foot of the cross (cf. John 19:27), we, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, the sons and daughters of God, can indeed recognize in the Blessed Virgin Mary a spiritual and heavenly mother. In her, we find a source of inspiration in her vibrant faith, motherly love, potent intercession rooted in compassion and love, and a model of discipleship. She consistently directs us to Christ, echoing the words: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). May the great Mother of God (Theotokos) always intercede for us. Amen.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Loreto, Vila Medeiros, São Paulo, Brazil
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