Previously, I described the theological identity of Mary, mother of Jesus, as a type (or representative) both of Israel and of the Church. This has to do with her receptivity to God generally, her relationship to Jesus specifically, and her being a fulfillment for Old Covenant people and a model for New Covenant people. You can read that post here. What I’m setting out to explore now is her motherhood, and the relationships that come out of that.
First of all, Mary is the mother of Jesus…. duh. This has three direct results: she’s the mother of God, she is a Queen, and she is the mother of the faithful. I’ll walk through each of these in order.
Mary is the mother of God.
This is actually a critically important theological statement that the Early Church declared and clung to. It has nothing to do with Mary herself – her deserving or merit or holiness – but everything to do with who Jesus is. Jesus is fully man and fully God. He is not God in disguise as a human; he is not a man whom God somehow jumped inside after birth. No, from his conception, Jesus was a human who was also God. Even in the womb, Jesus was God. Therefore Mary had God in her womb, gave birth to God, and nursed and raised God. The technical term applied to this concept is theotokos, meaning God-bearer.
Of course, this does not mean Mary bore the entire Godhead in her womb. She only carried the Logos, the Word, the second person of the Trinity, the Son. The Son is God, and so Mary is the mother of God, but she was only the mother of God the Son. She was not the mother of God the Father, nor of the Holy Spirit. Affirming Mary is the Mother of God is a statement of affirmation of the full divinity of Christ, nothing more, nothing less.
Mary is the Queen of Heaven.
Like “Mother of God,” calling Mary the Queen of Heaven can sound really idolatrous at first, but has a very simple Scriptural explanation. Let’s start in 1 Kings 15:11-13.
And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father. And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron.
In ancient Israelite practice (as well as other ancient Near Eastern civilizations), the Queen was not the King’s wife, but the King’s mother. Most Bible translations today call Maacah the “queen mother,” instead of just “queen” because that’s our culture’s term for that person. But back then, kings often had many wives. The most important woman in the palace, therefore, is not necessarily one of them, but Mom. In some cases the queen even sat on a throne next to her son, the king. Solomon and Bathsheba are a prominent example of this.
So, quite simply, because Mary is Jesus’ mother, and he now reigns in heaven, Mary is the Queen of Heaven. I’ve written on this subject before, so if you want more thoughts and explanations on Mary as Queen, feel free to read this blog post from last year.
Mary is the mother of the Church.
There are two more titles that befit Mary: “mother of the Church” and “mother of the faithful.” These two are basically the same thing.
The simplest explanation is this: when we’re born again, Jesus’ Father becomes our Father; we are adopted into God’s family. So, as I once said in a sermon, if we are adopted by God, then he becomes our Father, Jesus becomes our elder brother (the firstborn of creation), and Mary becomes our mother. It’s a simple matter of adoption.
When Jesus was dying on the cross, he set up another adoption:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
Given that, by adoption in Christ, Mary becomes our mother, it becomes reasonable to see this moment in John’s gospel as typological for all Christians. (If you forget what a typology is, read my previous post on that subject.) When Jesus presented Mary and John to be one another’s mother and son, he was also presenting Mary and and all believers to one another to enter into the mother-child relationship. As we take on the identity of Christ and submit ourselves to the fatherhood of God, we are also called to “behold our mother!”
Besides adoption, another way we can understand Mary to be the mother of the Church runs along more spiritual lines – our spiritual identity as the Body of Christ. St. Paul wrote to the Romans:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
This is what’s called the “mystical union.” Through the grace of Baptism we gain the identity of Christ, and Christ takes us into himself. This is elsewhere described as the body of Christ, of which we are members and Jesus is the head. Everyone who follows Christ is made a part of Christ.
As this applies to Mary, one must first assert that Mary is, like us, a member of this “mystical body.” However, she is also Jesus’ mother. Like the old Temple housing God, she housed him in her womb. If we are as truly and completely in Christ as St. Paul writes, then we too (in a mystical or spiritual sense) find the beginning of our lives in Christ in Mary’s womb. Although God the Son is an eternal person of the Triune Godhead, his existence as a human has a definite beginning: his conception upon the Annunciation. Similarly, our calling (and/or election) to faith in Christ is eternally foreknown by God, yet our New Life in Christ has a definite beginning: when we’re baptized and regenerated. There’s a spiritual parallel here: as Christ was physically conceived in Mary’s womb at the beginning of his God-Man existence, we are spiritually conceived in Mary’s womb at the beginning of our Born-again life. Paired with the typological fact that she’s our predecessor in the faith (as described in the previous post), we get a bigger spiritual picture: Mary is the mother of those who put their faith in Christ.