Who is Mary?

Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and as such, is the most influential woman in human history.

When she was just a teenager living in Nazareth, a town in Northern Israel, Mary said a radical and selfless ‘yes’ to God’s will for her life. In the Bible, we read that when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her that she would give birth to the Son of God, she responded with complete faith, saying:

‘”Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Through her free choice and at that young age, Mary decided to cooperate with God’s plan. In 2019, Pope Francis described her momentous choice by saying that:

‘This was no merely passive or resigned acceptance, or a faint ‘yes’ … she knew what was at stake and she said ‘yes’ without thinking twice. Hers was the ‘yes’ of someone prepared to be committed, someone willing to take a risk.’ (Pope Francis)

Through Mary’s risk, Jesus Christ entered the world. Through a purely historical lens, Jesus of Nazareth, has arguably had a greater impact upon the way in which we live our lives today than any other historical figure and His moral teachings are upheld by many, among non-Christians as well as Christians. Histories outside of the Gospels refer to Jesus as ‘a doer of wonderful works’ and Matthew’s Gospel describes the phenomenon around Him this way:

‘His fame spread throughout Syria, and those who were suffering from diseases and painful complaints of one kind or another, the possessed, epileptics, the paralysed, were all brought to him, and He cured them all.’ (Matthew 4:24)

Mary raised Jesus Christ from childhood to adulthood and accompanied Him throughout much of His life, likely spending more time in His presence than any other person in His life. She is present at His birth, she prompts Him to begin His public ministry at the Wedding at Cana, she is there at the foot of the cross when He is crucified, and is there in the ‘upper room’ when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples at Pentecost.

World renowned biblical scholar Dr Scott Hahn observes that this must mean that God trusted Mary greatly as He entrusted to her, ‘such tasks as feeding His Son with her own milk, singing Him to sleep, and accompanying Him all the way to the cross, where she gave her sorrowful yes to His self-offering. In short, the Father willed that His Son’s entire existence as a man would hinge, so to speak, upon the ongoing consent of Mary. Can there be a more intimate coworker?’.

As Jesus Christ was God and man, Mary lived within the greatest Christian mystery – the Emmanuel, the God with us – bringing His life into the world and giving Him the security of a home and a family when He was a vulnerable child. The Gospel of Luke beautifully describes how this closeness to Jesus throughout His life allowed Mary to grow into wise and truly faith filled woman. ‘But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ (Luke 2:19)

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Why Is Mary Important?

Through her ‘yes’, Jesus, the Son of God, became man, and through Him salvation was won for the World.

The Bible tells the story of how mankind became distant from God by rebelling and yet, through Mary, Jesus could come to live among us, to redeem mankind. This is often referred to as salvation or the Gospel, the good news, that we can be reunited with our creator. Saint Athanasius, a saint from the Early Church put it this way: ‘The Son of God became a son of man so that the sons of men might become sons of God.’

This is what is meant by the ‘New Covenant’. A covenant in ancient times meant a bond or a promise that brought someone into a family or tribe, and the Old Testament books of the Bible record how mankind struggled to remain loyal to the promises it had made to God. Mary is the person who changes humanity’s track record of failing to keep its word with God. In his book Hail Holy Queen, Dr Scott Hahn puts it this way:

‘God remained constantly faithful; Adam did not, and neither did Moses, neither did David. In fact, sacred history leads us to conclude that only God keeps His covenant promises. How then, could mankind fulfil the human end of a covenant in a way that would last forever? That would require a man to be sinless and as constant as God. Thus, for the new and everlasting covenant, God became man in Jesus Christ, and He established the covenant by which we become part of His family: the family of God. … Every family needs a Mother; only Christ could choose His own … Now, everything He has He shares with us, His divine life is ours, His home is our home; His Father is our Father … and His mother is our mother, too.’

He concludes:

‘It is the new covenant, borne into the world by the Blessed Virgin Mary, that has made all the difference in our lives – in my life and yours – and in human history.’

Out of all of the great figures of Biblical history, it is Mary who has the strength to be the gateway for God’s grace, to be the one who brings the family back together. This ushers in a new age of hope and truly makes Mary’s decision to say yes to God’s plan for mankind the most significant decision in human history. Because,

In Jesus of Nazareth we encounter the face of God, who came down from his heaven to immerse himself in the human world … and to teach “the art of living”, the road to happiness; to set us free from sin and make us children of God.’  (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)

The British Catholic poet and writer, Caryll Houselander, depicts this beautifully:

‘It was as If the human race were a little dark house, without light or air, locked and latched. … But one day a girl opened the door and the little house was swept pure and sweet by the wind. Seas of light swept through it and the light remained in it; and in that little house a human child was born and the child was God. Our Lady said yes for the human race.’

This is why Mary is known as ‘The Mother of God’, because Jesus is both God and man, and she birthed that amazing reality into the world. This is one of her most ancient titles, found as early as the third century, and coming from the Greek word Theotokos, meaning literally “God-bearer”.

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Mary’s Yes:  The Annunciation

“… Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your Word”  (Luke 1:38)

At the Annunciation, Mary said yes to the Angel Gabriel, who asked her to give birth to God’s son, she freely accepts God’s will in her life. We also are free to say yes or no to God.

Mary’s yes changed the world.

“Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.”  (St Bernard of Clairvaux)

The story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) perfectly describes the route of our spiritual journey: Before ever we seek God,  He is seeking us and initiates the conversation; but we are hesitant and fearful; as we seek to understand God’s will in our life; God reminds us of our experience of His love for us, and that “nothing is impossible for God”.

If we, like Mary, say yes to God, we will conceive the Word in our heart, and bring Christ’s love into our families, communities, and our world, for we shall share her joy that

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for the Almighty has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:46)