One of the most effective means by which Holy Church exercises her office of teaching is the institution of feasts in the liturgical year. During the seasons of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, to mention only three prominent examples, the whole world is flooded with grace, and all men are taught dogmatic truths.
Now such a feast was instituted in our own century-the Feast of the Divine Maternity of Our Blessed Lady. It must be meant, therefore, to teach a doctrine-one that is especially appropriate to our times.
In the year of Our Lord 1931, the fifteenth centenary of the Council of Ephesus, Pope Pius XI gave this new feast to the universal Church. It commemorates the dogmatic proclamation by the third Ecumenical Council, held at Ephesus in 431, declaring Our Lady as “Theotókos”-that is, really and truly “God-Bearer,” or Mother of God.
The feast was assigned the date of October 11, a day that becomes henceforth a banner to be raised and followed by all those who sincerely seek salvation. It is the banner of Mary, styled as “Scepter of Orthodoxy” by the leader of that same Council, Saint Cyril of Alexandria.
Like Her Son, Mary is indeed a sign to be contradicted. Is hers the Divine Maternity, or is it not? If it is, then Jesus her Son is true God and true Man. If it is not, then either Jesus is not God, or else He is not truly man. If Mary’s maternity cannot be affirmed as divine, then either the Divinity of Jesus is not coequal to that of the Father, or else His Sacred Humanity is a phantom or mere appearance, or is somehow defective or incomplete. These are the terms from which everyone calling himself “Christian” ineluctably must choose. The Catholic choice is already made: October 11 is the Feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary.
Even before the Council of Ephesus had struck with anathema anyone who would dare to deny Mary her title of “Mother of God,” a Doctor of the Church who died forty-two years before that Council, Saint Gregory Nazianzen, had already declared the traditional Catholic doctrine in these words:
If anyone does not believe that Holy Mary is Mother of God, he is outside the divine order. If anyone shall say that Christ flowed through the Virgin as through a channel, and was not formed in her in a fashion both divine and human . . . such a one too is an atheist. If anyone shall say that (in the case of Christ) first a man was made and that afterwards God entered into Him-he is subject to damnation.
All this is true because the mystery of the Divine Maternity is a consequence of a deeper mystery-namely, the Hypostatic Union, or the union in Christ of two complete natures, the human and the divine, in one Divine Person. In this mortal life we cannot fully understand either of these two mysteries. But we are approaching in the right direction when we begin to know the difference between person and nature. Nature is generic; person is individual. Nature answers the question “What is it?” and person answers the question “Who is it?”
I may ask you, for example, “What is that object moving away off in the distance?”
“It is a man,” you answer.
“And who is he?” I ask.
At which you might reply, “I can tell by the way he walks that he is John.”
Now in this little dialogue the first question and answer were concerned with nature; the second concerned person.
So to return to our subject: What was born of Mary nine months after the angel appeared to Her? A true man was born, just as truly man as you or I or any human being-excepting, of course, the fact that Our Lady gave virginal birth to Jesus. But who was that man born of Mary? He was and is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. One and the same Person, who is always God in eternity, now has another nature. Mary, to be sure, did not give Him His divine nature, but she did give Him His human nature. Just as we derive our body and blood from our parents, so did Jesus from His unique parent, Mary. We did not receive from our mothers our complete person, for a person has a body and soul. Our souls were created directly by God. So it was with Jesus, whose human soul was created at the moment of conception. And Mary has the same right to be called mother of Jesus-and consequently Mother of God-as our mothers have to call themselves our mothers.
This privilege of Mary-namely, her dignity as Mother of God-is the foundation of all her other titles, dignities, and graces. It is the first title by which she is recognized in the Litany of Loretto.
Mary is Virgin of virgins, the unique virgin-mother who miraculously gave birth to Her Son without ever losing the attribute of virginity, because Her Son is God and the Son of God, Who has a Father in eternity and none in time. It was also in view of her predestined Divine Maternity that she was preserved free from the stain of Original Sin from the very moment of her conception, as the definition of Pope Pius IX infallibly declared. And since the fruit of her womb is Jesus, she is blessed among women, and full to overflowing with grace.
It is as Mother of our Creator that God preserved Mary to be “Mother Most Chaste” and “Mother Inviolate.” For the same reason, she is justly declared to be “Mother of Divine Grace” and “Mother of Good Counsel” and “The Seat of Wisdom.”
It is no wonder that Mary, holding the Omnipotent in her arms as her loving and obedient Child, is styled “Virgin Most Powerful, “Virgin Most Renowned,” and “Virgin Most Venerable.”
Being the Mother of the Eternal King, she is “Queen of Angels” and of all Saints. The Savior of our fallen race came forth from her; she is, therefore, “Cause of Our Joy.”
And since Mary has given Jesus His very Flesh and Blood, the means of His merciful designs in our regard, it is no wonder that He in return adorned her with every blessing. Thus she is “Health of the Sick,” “Refuge of Sinners,” “Comforter of the Afflicted.”
God the Holy Ghost became her heavenly Spouse and cause of her Divine Maternity. And she in consequence became “Singular Vessel of Devotion”- that is, the vessel of the Divinity, the same Divinity with which God the Father and God the Holy Ghost are consubstantial. The Trinity, therefore, makes Mary to be a “Mystical Rose,” a “Tower of Ivory,” and a “House of Gold.”
Thus it was most fitting that the “Virgin Undefiled” should suffer no corruption after death, but rather was assumed into Heaven and crowned as its Queen. And if, in this life, we choose her as our Queen now, when we do have a choice, she will deign to be our Queen also in Heaven for all eternity.