Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is probably the most famous and most loved woman. This is because of her unique role as Mother of God. God chose Mary of Nazareth above all women to be the mother of the Savior, the Son of God. Luke’s Gospel reveals that the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary her role in God’s plan for salvation, and she agreed, calling herself the handmaid of God. As a result of Mary’s yes, the human race regained eternal life. For this reason she is called the second Eve. Certain privileges flow from Mary’s special mission.
First of all, from her conception in her mother’s womb Mary was exempt from original sin. Her purity occurred in anticipation of her son’s redemptive acts. This privilege is known as the Immaculate Conception. The Angel Gabriel addressed Mary as “full of grace.” Through grace, God preserved Mary from original sin and from any personal sin. She is pure and holy. The feast of the Immaculate Conception is December 8.
Second, Mary was always a virgin. As the Angel Gabriel explained, Jesus was conceived not through any man but though the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. St. Joseph, Mary’s spouse, was the legal father of Jesus, who was Mary’s only child.
Third, at the end of Mary’s life, God took her to heaven body and soul. This privilege is called the Assumption. Other human beings will have body and soul reunited at the end of the world. For Mary, God anticipates this. Whether or not Mary died is a mystery. In either case, we believe that she was assumed into heaven where she is queen. We celebrate the Assumption on August 15.
The Gospels offer other information about Mary. They recount that Mary learned from the Angel Gabriel that Elizabeth, her elderly and childless relative, was six months pregnant. Despite her own amazing pregnancy, Mary travelled quickly to Elizabeth’s town to help her. When Mary was nine months pregnant, a census obliged Joseph to register in Bethlehem. Mary accompanied him, and her son was born where animals were kept. Shepherds and kings from the East came to worship him.
Following Jewish law, Joseph and Mary presented baby Jesus in the Temple. There Simeon foretold that Jesus would be opposed and Mary would suffer. Later, when King Herod heard of a newborn king, he sought to kill him. The holy family fled to Egypt and stayed until an angel informed Joseph it was safe to return.
When Jesus was twelve, on the way home from celebrating Passover in Jerusalem his parents discovered he was missing. After three days they found him talking with the teachers in the Temple. He claimed he had to be in his Father’s house. Mary pondered this.
Because of Mary, Jesus worked his first public miracle. They were at a wedding in Cana when the wine ran out. At Mary’s prompting, Jesus turned large quantities of water into wine. This event highlights Mary’s role as our intercessor.
Mary appears again in the Gospels as Jesus is teaching. After she is announced, Jesus replies, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” This is not a putdown of Mary. Who more than she heard God’s word and kept it?
At the crucifixion, Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, stood beneath the cross. Jesus entrusted her as a mother to the apostle John, who represented us. She is our mother, the Mother of the Church.
Mary has appeared on earth, most notably at Lourdes and Fatima. She asks us to pray and do penance. Prayers to Mary include the Hail Mary, the Angelus, the Regina Coeli, the Memorare, and the Rosary.
Kathleen Glavich, SND, is the author of The Catholic Companion to Mary and most recently The Fisherman’s Wife: The Gospel According to St. Peter’s Spouse (Westbow Press). Her blog is at www.kathleenglavich.org.