Salvation Begins in Childbearing?

Today, December 8th, is a traditional holiday commemorating the conception of Mary, the mother of our Lord.  According to Roman Catholic teaching, she was born without the stain of original sin, so they call this feast the Immaculate Conception.  But the rest of us don’t quite have the same theological framework as the Roman system of theology, so we just call it the Conception of Mary.  One of the traditional prayers for this day that has found its way into the Anglican tradition goes as follows:

O Lord, we beseech you to bestow upon your servants the gift of your heavenly grace; that as our salvation began by the childbearing of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so this devout feast of her conception may afford us an increase of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Now, one might ask, what we might mean by saying “our salvation began by the childbearing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  That might even sound blasphemous to some at first glance.  So let’s take a look at this.

One of the Scripture readings often associated with this holiday includes parts of Ephesians chapter 1.  In particular, let’s note verse 5: “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”  Part of our salvation is being adopted as sons of God, and becoming co-heirs with Christ.  But here’s the thing about adoption: there first has to be parents to do the adopting.  And furthermore, as the New Testament authors consistently point out, Jesus is the first-born alongside whom we are adopted as brothers and sisters.

As a result, when we talk about our adoption into God’s family, even though it was “destined… according to the purpose of his will,” it has its effective beginning with the arrival of Christ into the world.  No Jesus, no adoption for the rest of us.  Thus our adoption, a key aspect of salvation, “began by the childbearing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  This prayer is not a blasphemous attempt to credit Mary with granting us salvation.  Rather, it’s acknowledging the one through whom God worked to bring about the human life of God the Son, and thus able to adopt those who believe in him into his family also.
Many of us may not think about this very much, but if we really are united with Christ and in Christ, and are adopted as sons alongside him, that makes Mary an adoptive mother to us all.  Again, this does not imply that she is equal to God our Father – only that she is the one through whom God the Son came into the world and through whom our adoption began.  Therefore we do not worship Mary, but it is right to honor her for her great and necessary role in God’s plan of salvation.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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