Virgin Mary, St. Mary's Life

Virgin Mary | St. Mary's Life

The words from Virgin Mary: “While I had him in my womb, I bore him without any pain, without any heaviness or discomfort. I humbled myself in all things, knowing that he whom I bore was the Almighty! When I gave birth to him, it was also without any pain or sin, just as I had conceived him, but with such exaltation and joy of soul and body that my feet did not feel the ground where they had been standing because of this indescribable joy! Just as he had entered my limbs to the joy of all my soul, he left my body, leaving my virginity intact. When I gazed upon and contemplated his beauty, joy seeped through my soul like dewdrops and I knew myself to be unworthy of such a son...” From the Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden

The Blessed Virgin Mary (St. Mary)

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, the mother of God.

In general, the theology and history of Mary the Mother of God follow the chronological order of their respective sources, i.e. the Old Testament, the New Testament, the early Christian and Jewish witnesses.

Titles given to Mary

Queen of Heaven
Queen of Heaven

Mary's most common titles include “The Blessed Virgin Mary,” “Our Lady” (Notre Dame, Nuestra Señora, Nossa Senhora, Madonna), “Mother of God,” and the “Queen of Heaven.”

Mary is frequently referred to as Theotokos, meaning "God-bearer," a title recognized at the Third Ecumenical Council, held in 431 A.D. at Ephesus, against the teachings of Nestorius. The name was used theologically to emphasize that Mary's child, Jesus Christ, was in fact fully God as well as fully man.

Mary prophesied in the Old Testament

The Old Testament refers to Our Blessed Lady both in its prophecies and its types or figures.

Genesis 3:15
The first prophecy referring to Mary is found in the very opening chapters of the Book of Genesis (3:15): "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." This rendering appears to differ in two respects from the original Hebrew text:

1. First, the Hebrew text employs the same verb for the two renderings "she shall crush" and "thou shalt lie in wait"; the Septuagint renders the verb both times by terein, to lie in wait; Aquila, Symmachus, the Syriac and the Samaritan translators, interpret the Hebrew verb by expressions which mean to crush, to bruise; the Itala renders the terein employed in the Septuagint by the Latin "servare", to guard; St. Jerome maintains that the Hebrew verb has the meaning of "crushing" or "bruising" rather than of "lying in wait", "guarding". Still in his own work, which became the Latin Vulgate, the saint employs the verb "to crush" (conterere) in the first place, and "to lie in wait" (insidiari) in the second. Hence the punishment inflicted on the serpent and the serpent's retaliation are expressed by the same verb: but the wound of the serpent is mortal, since it affects his head, while the wound inflicted by the serpent is not mortal, being inflicted on the heel.

2. The second point of difference between the Hebrew text and our version concerns the agent who is to inflict the mortal wound on the serpent: our version agrees with the present Vulgate text in reading "she" (ipsa) which refers to the woman, while the Hebrew text reads hu' (autos, ipse) which refers to the seed of the woman. According to our version, and the Vulgate reading, the woman herself will win the victory; according to the Hebrew text, she will be victorious through her seed. In this sense does the Bull "Ineffabilis" ascribe the victory to Our Blessed Lady. The reading "she" (ipsa) is neither an intentional corruption of the original text, nor is it an accidental error; it is rather an explanatory version expressing explicitly the fact of Our Lady's part in the victory over the serpent, which is contained implicitly in the Hebrew original. The strength of the Christian tradition as to Mary's share in this victory may be inferred from the retention of "she" in St. Jerome's version in spite of his acquaintance with the original text and with the reading "he" (ipse) in the old Latin version.

As it is quite commonly admitted that the Divine judgment is directed not so much against the serpent as against the originator of sin, the seed of the serpent denotes the followers of the serpent, the "brood of vipers", the "generation of vipers", those whose father is the Devil, the children of evil, imitando, non nascendo (Augustine). One may be tempted to understand the seed of the woman in a similar collective sense, embracing all who are born of God. But seed not only may denote a particular person, but has such a meaning usually, if the context allows it. St. Paul (Galatians 3:16) gives this explanation of the word "seed" as it occurs in the patriarchal promises: "To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed. He saith not, and to his seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to his seed, which is Christ". Finally the expression "the woman" in the clause "I will put enmities between thee and the woman" is a literal version of the Hebrew text. The Hebrew Grammar of Gesenius-Kautzsch establishes the rule: Peculiar to the Hebrew is the use of the article in order to indicate a person or thing, not yet known and not yet to be more clearly described, either as present or as to be taken into account under the contextual conditions. Since our indefinite article serves this purpose, we may translate: "I will put enmities between you and a woman". Hence the prophecy promises a woman, Our Blessed Lady, who will be the enemy of the serpent to a marked degree; besides, the same woman will be victorious over the Devil, at least through her offspring. The completeness of the victory is emphasized by the contextual phrase "earth shall thou eat", which is according to Winckler a common old-oriental expression denoting the deepest humiliation.

Mary standing on the serpent
Mary standing on the serpent

Jeremiah 31:22
Another prophecy referring to Mary is found in Jeremiah 31:22; "The Lord has created a new thing upon the earth: A woman shall compass a man". The text of the prophet Jeremias offers no small difficulties for the scientific interpreter; we shall follow the Vulgate version of the Hebrew original.

The Greek Fathers generally follow the Septuagint version, "The Lord has created salvation in a new plantation, men shall go about in safety"; but St. Athanasius twice combines Aquila's version "God has created a new thing in woman" with that of the Septuagint, saying that the new plantation is Jesus Christ, and that the new thing created in woman is the body of the Lord, conceived within the virgin without the co-operation of man. St. Jerome too understands the prophetic text of the virgin conceiving the Messias. This meaning of the passage satisfies the text and the context. As the Word Incarnate possessed from the first moment of His conception all His perfections excepting those connected with His bodily development, His mother is rightly said to "compass a man". No need to point out that such a condition of a newly conceived child is rightly called "a new thing upon earth". The context of the prophecy describes after a short general introduction (30:1-3) Israel's future freedom and restoration in four stanzas: 30:4-11, 12-22; 30:23; 31:14, 15-26; the first three stanzas end with the hope of the Messianic time. The fourth stanza, too, must be expected to have a similar ending. Moreover, the prophecy of Jeremias, uttered about 589 B.C. and understood in the sense just explained, agrees with the contemporary Messianic expectations based on Isaias 7:14; 9:6; Micah 5:3. According to Jeremias, the mother of Christ is to differ from other mothers in this, that her child, even while within her womb, shall possess all those properties which constitute real manhood. The Old Testament refers indirectly to Mary in those prophecies which predict the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Mary in the New Testament

Mary was a relative of Elizabeth, wife of the priest Zechariah, who herself was of the lineage of Aaron (Luke 1:5; 1:36). Mary resided at Nazareth in Galilee while betrothed to Joseph of the House of David (Luke 1:26). During their betrothal—the first stage of a Jewish marriage—the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to become the mother of the promised Messiah.

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. Luke 1:32-33

The Annunciation
The Annunciation

Asking how this could be since "I have known no man", Mary was told about Elizabeth's miraculous conception and informed that the "power of the Most High will overshadow you." (Luke 1:35). Mary immediately left for Zechariah's house, where she was greeted prophetically by Elizabeth and remained for three months. Matthew's gospel tells us that Joseph intended to divorce her when he learned of her pregnancy. However, an angel informed him in a dream to be unafraid and take her as his wife, because her unborn child is "from the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18-25).

According to the Gospel of Luke, a decree of the Roman emperor Augustus (Luke 2:1) required that Joseph and his betrothed should proceed to Bethlehem for an enrollment. While they were there, Mary gave birth to Jesus; but because there was no place for them in the inn, she had to use an animal manger as a crib.

After eight days, the boy was circumcised and named Jesus. These customary ceremonies were followed by Jesus' presentation at the Temple of Jerusalem in accordance with the law that firstborn males must been redeemed. The Gospel of Matthew adds the visit of the Magi and the family's flight into Egypt, while Luke portrays them as returning to Nazareth without any mention of Egypt. In Matthew's account, they return to Nazareth after the death of King Herod the Great about 2/1 B.C. (Matthew 2).

Little is said of Mary's relationship with Jesus during his infancy and youth. However, one dramatic event is portrayed when Jesus was 12 years old. Jesus separated from his parents and remained in Jerusalem without their knowledge after a Passover pilgrimage to the holy city. His family left for Nazareth and—thinking he was in another part of their caravan—only began to look for him after a day's journey, finally returning to Jerusalem and discovering him after three days. Jesus had been in the Temple courtyards among the teachers, hungrily "listening to them and asking questions." Luke adds that "everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:41-52). However, when Mary arrived at the scene she asked him, "Why have you done so to us?" Jesus replied, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" Luke indicates that Jesus was "obedient" to his parents thereafter, but nothing else appears in this record about their relationship until after Jesus began his public ministry, at age 30. Most readers assume that sometime in the intervening period, Mary was widowed, for Joseph is not mentioned again.

In John's gospel, Mary occasioned Jesus' first miracle at the marriage in Cana when she informed him that the hosts have run out of wine. Jesus' response to her request was: "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come." Nevertheless, he satisfied her request by turning water into wine (John 2:1-11).

If the relationship between mother and son is only hinted at here, it is openly described in a later episode in all three synoptic gospels. Mark's account, thought to be the earliest, explains that Mary and Jesus' brothers had come "to take charge of him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind.'" Jesus rejected them, famously saying: "Who are my mother and my brothers? … Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:21-34).

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

Mary is depicted as being present during the crucifixion standing near "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (traditionally John the Beloved), two other women named Mary—Mary Magdalene and the Mary the wife of Clopas (John 19:25-26)—and, in Matthew's account, "the mother of the sons of Zebedee." From the cross, Jesus tells her: "Woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother."

Thereafter, Mary became associated with the community of disciples in Jerusalem. She is the only woman mentioned by name as being present at the election of Matthias to replace Judas as one of the 12 apostles (Acts 1:12-26). This, however, is her last appearance in the New Testament accounts and her death is unrecorded.

Marian Doctrines

Immaculate Conception of Mary
The Immaculate Conception is the doctrine that states that Mary herself was conceived and born free of original sin. Only the Roman Catholic Church has officially adopted this teaching, and the title "Immaculate Conception" is one used by Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church observes the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.

Virgin Birth of Jesus
The Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed both refer to Jesus as born to "the Virgin Mary." This alludes to the belief that Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and not through sexual intercourse. That she was a virgin at this time is affirmed by ”Eastern Christianity”, Roman Catholicism and many Protestants. The Gospel of Matthew describes Mary as a virgin who fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. It is clear that the authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke assert that Mary had "no relations with man" before Jesus' conception (Matthew 1:18, 25; Luke 1:34). It is commonplace for Christian believers to accept this claim—especially given its theological import that Jesus was literally the Son of God.

Perpetual virginity
That Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus is a doctrinal stance of the Catholic, ”Eastern, and Oriental Orthodox churches”. The issue of Mary's perpetual virginity is related to the interpretation of the New Testament references to the siblings of Jesus. Those who defend the doctrine point out that Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ and his disciples, lacked a specific word for "cousin," so that the word "brother" was used instead. Others argue that Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters" were sons of Joseph by a previous wife, and thus Jesus' stepbrothers.

Assumption of Mary
Assumption of Mary

Assumption of Mary
The term "assumption" is distinguished from "resurrection." In the case of resurrection, the spirit separates from the body and ascends first to heaven while the body rises from the dead later. In "assumption," body and spirit ascend as one. The belief in the assumption of Mary was formally declared to be dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950. He stated in Munificentissimus Deus:

”The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”

In the Eastern "Orthodox" tradition, Mary, the Theotokos, seemed to die normally but was soon found to have ascended. Eleven of the apostles were present and conducted the funeral. The apostle Thomas, however, was delayed and arrived a few days later. The tomb was opened so that Thomas could venerate the body; however the body had mysteriously vanished. It was their conclusion that she had been taken, body and soul, into heaven. Feast day of the Assumption is August 15.

What is the Role of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church?

The veneration of the Virgin Mary is an important practice in Catholicism. To Catholics, the Virgin Mary holds extreme importance as the mother of God, the vessel through which God became man. However, there is confusion and accusation, particularly from other sects of Christianity, that Catholics worship Mary, and other saints. This is a conflict that has existed for centuries, since according to scripture, honor and worship are to be given to God alone, and “worshipping” the Virgin Mary would be in direct violation of the worship of the one God.

In fact, Catholics do not view the Virgin Mary as a God, and have never done so. But many prayers and petitions are said to Mary to ask her to intercede with her son. The nature of intercessory prayer is that it is a request for a person in heaven to intervene with God and bring the petitioners prayers to the notice of God. The Virgin Mary, in the Hail Mary prayer is asked to “pray for us,” not to “grant our wishes.” For a long time, especially when purgatorial views were common, it was believed that only the intercessory prayers of a person in heaven could lift people from purgatory to heaven.

The Virgin Mary is viewed as the ultimate compassionate human being, and holy, in part, because of her willingness to accede to God’s wishes. For the time period in which she lived, carrying a child without first being married was a monumental request. Further, Virgin Mary had to willingly sacrifice that child, surpassing even Abraham, in her ability not to interfere in God’s ways and means.

The teaching of the Immaculate Conception also bears mention. Mary is a virgin, is filled with God’s love, which creates Christ, and despite her virginity gives birth. She is the living example of the good God can do if only people will obey, and she gives birth to Christianity and Catholicism. This makes her both powerful and important. Catholics do not believe that the Virgin Mary is the source of Christ’s divinity, but instead the most willing and compassionate servant of God, save Christ.

Another important aspect of the Virgin Mary is that she is born without “original sin.” Catholics believe all who were not baptized retained the original sin of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in Genesis. Unbaptized children had to remain outside the gates of heaven in Limbo, for eternity for failure to be baptized. Though the Catholic Church depended on the doctrine of original sin as a premise for baptism, insistence that Mary was born without original sin was an important teaching. Only a sinless individual was an appropriate vessel for Christ.

From a practical sense, the Virgin Mary also supports the woman’s role in the church. Mary is a servant, a mother and lives free of sin. She does what God tells her to do. Women should be servants, mothers, caretakers, and strive for sinless living. Copying Mary assumes that women do not take a leadership role in the Church, but instead a role of servitude. This reinforces Catholic doctrine that women are not meant to be priests.

Lastly, most Catholics feel a strong personal relationship to Mary, because she is in a sense, mother to all. To the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit, represented as God, you would bring your large concerns. Prayers for Mary’s intercessions can bring up the small wounds and hurts that may not be big enough to talk to God about. Just as a child might run to a mother for comfort after a fall, many Catholics feel Mary is accessible in this way as a mother figure. Catholics turn to her for support, remembering she is fully human and not divine, and ask for her prayers, her compassion and love, knowing her nature to be one of eternal hope and mercy.

Virgin Mary (St. Mary)
Virgin Mary (St. Mary)

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