Mary is indeed a very special person for us Catholics. Episcopalian and Lutheran Christians also hold her in high esteem for her special role in salvation history. It is impossible to think of our faith, both in doctrine and practice, without thinking of the mother of Jesus—the Mother of God.
Right here, it might be good to explain what we mean, because calling “Mary the Mother” of God sounds outrageous to many other Christians. After all, if God is the eternal, giver of life, and she is created and born in time, how in the world can she be given the title of Mother of God? The answer: because God became flesh in Jesus Christ (Jn 1:14).
From all eternity, the Trinity existed—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course, we did not know this until Jesus revealed it to us, especially in the Gospel of John. In the Trinity, the Son is referred to as the Word of God (1:1ff). And as John told us, “The Word became flesh.” Now that is truly a mystery.
We simply cannot comprehend how an infinite, almighty God could become a tiny infant, grow into manhood and even suffer death as all of us do. But Jesus is not really a human being in the same sense that we are. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is a divine person (God) who has both a divine nature and a human nature. This mystery we refer to is the Incarnation. When Mary conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation, it was she who gave (as every mother does) the very flesh and blood, the human nature to this Word becoming flesh within her.
When the Blessed Virgin gave birth to Jesus, she was indeed the mother of Jesus. However, because Jesus was the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh, she is also rightly called the Mother of God. But her motherhood is not over the eternal triune God who existed from eternity, but rather the Word of God who entered human history in the person of Jesus Christ.
Because of that fact, mystery though it may be, Mary has always had a preeminent place in our Catholic faith and practice. Two semi-recent Hollywood films, which many of you may have seen, depict the importance of the Blessed Virgin in the whole history of salvation. In fact, in God’s plan, she was an absolutely essential person—without her that plan would not have taken place.
The Christmas film, The Nativity Story, gave the biblical account of the conception and birth of Jesus. When it was shown at the Vatican, the audience stood and applauded the film as it came to an end. Jesus' mother was depicted as an ordinary young girl who became enveloped in a mystery far too great for her to comprehend.
But her commitment to the Lord in the midst of all the difficulties that her pregnancy brought—to Joseph, her betrothed, her confused parents and critical and suspicious townspeople—only enhanced her role as an essential person in the whole mystery of God becoming flesh.
Released in 2004, The Passion of the Christ was filled with the presence of Our Lady as she watched and followed Jesus all through his passion and death. There is that poignant scene when Jesus is chained in the basement of the palace of the High Priest and Jesus’ mother is upstairs with Mary Magdalene and John. They see her search and move through the rooms until finally she kneels and puts her head to the floor and the camera drops beneath the floor to show Jesus right beneath her. It’s as if she is mysteriously drawn to him even though she cannot see him. It was a powerful scene.
All through the passion, Our Lady's place is emphasized again and again until at the end when the crucified Jesus is placed in her arms and, in a most powerful scene, holding Jesus, she looks out at the audience with a questioning look on her face and seems to ask all of us, “Why would you do this to my son?”
As Catholics, our 2000-year tradition has always held the Mother of Jesus to be our mother also, the Mother of the Church. John quotes Jesus saying, “Son (John) receive your mother” (19:26ff). How fortunate we are to have the mother of Jesus for our own mother as well.