“Mary is a special young lady, but she is human and depraved, just as you and I are,” was the non-denominational pastor’s Christmas post this week. As I read the word depraved, I shuddered.
That’s ironic, since—as a non-Catholic researching my way into the Catholic Church—my complete incredulity regarding the Church’s teachings on Mary cannot be overstated. I shared this Protestant pastor’s sentiment up to my full communion, and continued to harbor the suspicion for years afterward.
Honestly? I was scandalized by the Church’s assertions that God predestined, created, and preserved Mary in lifelong sinlessness and ever-virginity.
And yet I read the primary sources. I knew the Catholic Church has preserved and maintained these teachings from the apostles.
For any rational, thinking person, what makes the claims of the Church regarding Mary as Mother of God so difficult to fathom is the question of “Why?” What possible reason could God have for preserving Mary as both the perpetual Ark of the New Covenant and as the sinless, ever-virgin New Eve—as Church history and our Christian heritage say God did?
The answer is eschatological and lies in Jesus, all the way forward in salvation history to his Second Coming and the marriage feast that will consummate the new heavens and new earth.
We think so small. Our sight is so short. Like Israel’s expectation for the Messiah, we journey with the Magi to the Mother and the Baby and the manger and stop our Christmas consideration with her human maternity. Every Israelite alive expected a merely human messiah with a regular human kingdom, and every married woman in Israel hoped to be his mother in the normal way. How else could it be?
But only one was “blessed among women,” and she through consecrated celibacy. She is “full of grace,”—sinless—by a special work of her Savior (Luke 1:28, 47). She is “overshadowed” like the first ark (Exodus 40:35 and Luke 1:35). She is betrothed, but resolved to remain virgin: “How can this be…?” (Luke 1:34).
This ever-virgin Woman is the fulfillment of Genesis and “portent” of Revelation 12. She is Mother by direct action from God himself with no human intervention, an unimagined, unforeseen possibility up to this point in Israelite and human history. This new, divine motherhood embraces all of those “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ,” her Son (Revelation 12:17).
From the moment of his miraculous Incarnation within her, God began directing Messianic Kingdom expectations to a “new Israel” and its ultimate spiritual finality: a new Eve for his new Adam, a new Ark for his new Covenant, a spotless Bride for his Bridegroom.
Jesus affirmed this eschatological long view by directing our own expectations further ahead than human motherhood. His teachings on the absolute indissolubility of marriage and the even higher state of celibacy that He Himself chose along with his mother point far beyond themselves.
Together, the New Adam and New Eve; the New Ark and the New Covenant; the Bridegroom and Bride—pure and virgin, celibate but fecund—give spiritual birth to a spiritual Kingdom of spiritual children through the Holy Spirit. This Kingdom will, for its perfection and divine genesis, endure for all eternity. “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it,” (Matthew 19:11-12).
Thy Kingdom Come
We are the Body of Christ, and Christ was born of Mary. Precisely because the Kingdom to come is to be fulfilled in flesh and blood, its beginning is in the Mother. Mary’s motherhood is the sign of our new Covenant with God who is himself pure spirit. Her perpetually sinless, virgin motherhood is the beginning and prototype of the Church, the spotless Bride of Christ.
Do you see, now, why the non-Catholic view of a sexual and/or sinful Mary is so coarse and shortsighted that its articulation made me shudder? Mary can never be “depraved,” as she is the great “sign” of the Church as spiritual mother.
She remains both sinless and virgin, because her motherhood is completely, utterly, eternally spiritual and pure—giving birth to the Word in innumerable spiritual children, all conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God. She nurtures our holiness so that we, too, can give birth to the Word in the world as well through faith.
“Unless one looks to the Mother of God, it is impossible to understand the mystery of the Church, her reality, her essential vitality…There is an analogy in God’s salvific economy: if we wish to understand it fully in relation to the whole of human history, we cannot omit, in the perspective of our faith, the mystery of ‘woman,’: virgin-mother-spouse” (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, St. John Paul II).
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