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What Catholics Believe - Chapter Twelve

Mary: The Church’s First and Most Perfect Member

As we continue our review of the Catechism for Adults, we come to chapter 12: Mary: The Church’s First and Most Perfect Member. From the earliest of times, Mary was held in high esteem, venerated and her intercession sought. After all, Jesus gave her to us on the cross when He said to the disciple John, “Behold your mother,” and to Mary, “Behold your son.” In those simple six words, Jesus presented His mother to us as our mother. Mary is the first among many disciples of Jesus Christ. She is the model par excellence of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The primary mission of the Church is to evangelize all peoples and all cultures. However, in order to evangelize one must have the words to express what it is we believe and why. Throughout the course of its history, the Church has repeatedly asked itself, what is it we believe about Mary?

Early on, the Church began to ask and clarify questions about Mary. The very first debate was whether or not Mary was the Mother of God. There was no question that she gave flesh to Jesus, the Son of God, the Second person of the Blessed Trinity. But was she also the mother of God? The Council of Ephesus, in 251, resolved the question, and as Catholics, we believe that Mary is truly the mother of God since Her son, Jesus, is true God and true man.

Another truth about Mary which the Church articulated throughout the course of its history is that Mary was a virgin. Her conception of Jesus Christ was through the power of the Holy Spirit, and she remained a virgin. Additionally, Mary was born without the stain of original sin, unlike the rest of us. In view of the tremendous role Mary was to have in the salvation of the world, her salvation was anticipated so that Jesus would be born of someone who had not been defiled by sin. We celebrate this truth on December 8 of each year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

When I first learned this truth, I thought that life was easy for Mary since she really did not have the temptations that we experience. But that is not true. Mary had the same struggles we have, and I can’t imagine that she went through life without any doubts. Can’t you just hear her at the foot of the cross saying to herself: “What does it all mean?” She didn’t know Jesus was going to rise from the dead! She believed; she continued to have faith, and it is in this regard she is our model and our guide.

Mary is given homage through many titles which reflect her unique role in the Church. Our country and our diocese have been placed under the patronage of Mary under her title of Immaculate Conception. Likewise, some of our parishes and churches have been placed under the protection of Mary, for example, Stella Maris (Star of the Sea); Immaculate Heart of Mary; St. Mary; Our Lady of the Rosary; Immaculate Conception; Our Lady Queen of Peace, Our Lady of Perpetual Help; Our Lady of the Lakes; Our Lady of the Valley; St. Mary of Lourdes, Our Lady of the Snows, etc.
The importance of Mary in the life of the Church can become evident when one visits the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., which is dedicated to the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What is particularly unique is that the Basilica has over 70 chapels each honoring Mary under a different title. They include: Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland), Our Lady of China, Our Mother of Africa, Our Lady of LaVang (Vietnam).

Mary has also made her presence known to the Church through her apparitions. This chapter of the Adult Catechism tells of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary’s appearance to St. Juan Diego at Tepeyac.. Many are familiar with the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima. If we look at the messages that Mary gave each time she appeared we find a similarity: a call to conversion and repentance. Always, her message is to lead people to her Son. Mary is the primordial evangelizer. It is never about Mary but about Jesus.

Probably the most popular Marion prayer is the rosary. Yet when one examines the mysteries of the rosary, it is the life and ministry of Jesus we contemplate. It is only in the last two decades of the glorious mysteries that we find two other truths about Mary, namely, her assumption into heaven, body and soul, upon her earthly death and her crowning as Queen of Heaven.

Mary our Mother, be with us and pray for us. Lead us to your Son, so that we may be united with you one day in paradise.

Sister Rita-Mae Bissonnette, RSR
Chancellor, Diocese of Portland

What Catholics Believe is an ongoing Harvest series on the United States Catholic Catechism of Adults.