Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Blessing of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and grant you peace.
The readings for today, the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the Octave of Christmas, begin with a passage from Numbers 6:22-27, from which we get the above blessing, known as the Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) in Jewish worship.

In Mary, Mother of God, the Lord has indeed blessed us and made His face to shine upon us and been gracious to us and lifted up His countenance upon us and granted us peace.

In her title of Theotókos (God bearer), we recognize that Mary is not merely mother of Jesus in His humanity or merely mother of the Christ (as some people had insisted in the early centuries of the Church), but she is rightly called the Mother of God because Jesus is one, both fully human and fully God. He is not half-God, half-man, and He is not divisible in His being. Rather, Jesus is fully God and fully man, two in one, and He always has been. His divinity did not enter into His Body at some later point, but upon the Incarnation of that Body at the Annunciation, when Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit. As such, Mary carries within her womb God Himself. The Lord Himself dwells within her, she is a living temple and Ark of the Covenant.

Dwelling with her, Mary takes Jesus to us, as she did when she visited Elizabeth and John the Baptist leapt for joy within his mother’s womb.

Born to her and receiving the shepherds and Magi, Mary invites us to come to Jesus. In the smiles of Baby Jesus, the Lord’s face shines upon us. And to show that an intimate relationship with Jesus was not meant to be her’s alone, to show that all the faithful are called to intimately receive Him into our own bodies, as she did, Mary placed the newborn Jesus in a manger. As with the straw that was food for the animals, so too Jesus is shown to be food for us in the Eucharist.

Taken by her to be circumcised on the eighth day, the octave of Christmas, Mary signifies His union with His people and His promises. Through that visible sign in the flesh, in the cutting of that physical instrument of human propagation, Jesus unites Himself to all generations and to the Covenant of the Lord. For those that accept Him and love Him, they will be His people and the Lord will be their God, and He will lead them to the land of eternal life and salvation.

Growing up with her, Mary provides for little Jesus, feeding Him, clothing Him, teaching Him, including instruction in the Faith, and comforting Him when He needs comforting. In raising Jesus our Savior, Mary protects and advances the work of salvation; devoting the entirety of her life to guarding and protecting Jesus, she thereby joins in His mission of redemption.

Joining her in the celebration of the wedding feast at Cana, Mary instructs us to do as her Son Jesus says. When the wine runs out in our lives, Mary is sensitive and attentive to our needs, and she intercedes and asks her Son to provide for us.

Raised above her on the Cross, Mary faithfully perseveres in her union with Jesus. There she stands at the foot of the Cross in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of His suffering, joining herself with His sacrifice in her mother’s heart. And Jesus makes explicit what is already implicit in her motherhood of Him, that she is our mother too. That, if we accept this adoption by Him and her, we too are children of the new Eve, the mother of those who truly live, those who live in Him.

In eternal communion with her, Mary prays with the faithful to Jesus and with Him as at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit, long promised by the Lord, descended upon the faithful. As Pope Benedict has said,
Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church she always remains the Star of salvation.”
In the face of the Virgin, we see the face of Jesus the Lord, so that when she smiles upon us, the face of the Lord shines upon us. On this Solemnity last year, Pope Benedict said,
The face is the expression par excellence of the person, namely, that which makes him recognizable and which shows his sentiments, thoughts and his heart’s intentions. God, by His nature, is invisible, but the Bible uses the image of the face even for Him. . . .

All of Biblical narration can be read as the progressive revelation of the Face of God, until it reaches its full manifestation in Jesus Christ. “When the fullness of time had come,” the Apostle Paul reminds us even today, “God sent his Son,” adding right away, “born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4).

The face of God took on a human face, allowing Himself to be seen and recognized in the son of the Virgin Mary, whom we honor because of this with the most elevated title of “Mother of God.” She, who kept in her heart the secret of her divine motherhood, was the first to see the Face of God made man in the tiny fruit of her womb.

The mother has a very special relationship that is unique and somewhat exclusive with her newborn son. The first face that the baby sees is that of his mother, and this look is decisive for his relationship to life, with himself and with others, and with God. It is decisive, as well, so that he may become a “child of peace” (Lk 10:6).

Among the many typologies of the icon of the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine tradition, there is that which is called “tenderness” which shows the Baby Jesus with His face held, cheek to cheek, on His Mother’s. The Baby looks at the Mother, and she looks at us, almost reflecting to Him who observes, who prays, the tenderness of God, who had descended to her from heaven and incarnated in this Son of man that she carries in her arms.

In this Marian icon, we can contemplate something of God Himself: a sign of the ineffable love that impelled Him “to give His only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). But the same icon also shows us, in Mary, the face of the Church which reflects on us and the entire world the light of Christ – the Church through which the good news comes to every man: “You are no longer slaves but children,” as we read from St. Paul. (Gal 4:7). . . .
The Lord has greatly blessed us and kept us with the gift that is His mother Mary. With her, His countenance is upon us, she is our life, our sweetness, and our hope. In Mary, Mother of God, the Queen of Peace, we can find peace ourselves.


See also The Smile of Mary is a True Reflection of God’s Tenderness and Source of Invincible Hope

(The foregoing was also posted as a guest contributor for the blog Runs With Angels . . . Lives With Saints.)

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