The Catechism of the Catholic Church – 17th January 2024

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Commentary no 13.

The first official Marian dogma defined by the Church was Mary’s status as Mother of God. The Greek word for the title is Theotokos, which literally means “God-bearer.” It is one of the oldest and most commonly used titles for Mary which was used by Christians in the very first centuries of the Church. It was declared a dogma at the Council of Ephesus AD 431. The title also appears in one of the oldest known Christian prayers, “Beneath Your Protection,” which was an early form of the Memorare that dates back to the third century.

Debated by medieval theologians, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, i.e., that Mary was “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) from the beginning was not defined as a dogma until 1854, by Pope Pius IX. When Mary appeared to St Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes  she responded to her oft-repeated question, “who are you?” by replying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This response echoed what Our Lady had already said to St Catherine Laboure in the Rue de Bac in 1830. St Maximilian maintained that there are two “Immaculate Conceptions.”

Firstly, the Holy Spirit is the divine uncreated Immaculate Conception who is eternally begotten by the Father and the Son and as such is the prototype of all conceptions.

Secondly, Mary is the human created Immaculate Conception who from the beginning of her existence was free from original and personal sin. Kolbe said: “It is above all an interior union, a union of Mary’s essence with the “essence” of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in her, lives in her. This was true from the first instance of her existence. It is always true; it will always be true.”    Therefore, we can say, Mary is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. Although she was, and is a creature and not divine by nature, she has been divinised by the free gift of the grace of her Son. As a result,  in her life the Holy Spirit becomes visible. So, we could say of Mary, “He or she who sees her, sees the Holy Spirit, just as those who see her divine Son see the Father.” Kolbe was keen to avoid any misunderstanding of what he was saying, so he wrote: The Holy Spirit is in the Immaculate as the second person of the most Holy Trinity is in Jesus, but with this difference; there are in Jesus two natures, the divine and the human, and one sole person, the divine. The nature and person of the Immaculate are distinct from the nature and person of the Holy Spirit.”

Catholics believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary: she was  a virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ.  This belief was first mentioned in the Protoevangelium of St James (2nd cent). It states that when Mary was expecting the birth of Jesus, Joseph searched for a 2 midwives. When He returned, they stood at the mouth of the cave, a cloud overshadowed it, an intense light filled it, and suddenly a baby was at Mary’s breast.

Joseph and the midwife marveled at the miracle, but the second midwife named Salome insisted on examining Mary, upon which her hand withered as a sign of her lack of faith; Salome prayed to God for forgiveness and an angel appeared and told her to touch the Christ Child, upon which her hand was healed. Catholics believe that as Mother of God, Mary’s motherhood is universal and intimately associated with the saving work of her Son. As a result, the Church believes that she is the co-redemptrix, i.e., Mary’s role in the redemption of all peoples. Pars 61-62 of Lumen gentium stated, “in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope, and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace.” She is also referred to as the mediatrix of all God’s graces. That was implicit in the apparition of Our Lady to St Catherine Laboure who saw the precious stones in Mary’s rings beaming with light. She told Catherine these “symbolize the graces I shed upon those who ask for them. “ Speaking about Mary’s role Vat II said, “the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of  . . . Mediatrix. This however it to be so understood that it takes nothing away or adds nothing to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature can ever be put on the same level with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer….”