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A modern dictionary of Catholic terms, both common and obscure. Find accurate definitions of words and phrases.


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The mother of Jesus, the wife of Joseph, nd the greatest of Christian saints. The angel Gabriel appeared to her in Nazareth, where she lived with Joseph, and announced to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. "How can this come about," she asked in bewilderment, "since I am a virgin?" When Gabriel assured her that the Most High would overshadow her, she humbly consented (Luke 1:34). She went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, who had recently been told by an angel that, despite her age, she would soon bear a child who must be named John (Luke 1:39-40) (it was on this occasion that Mary sang the Magnificat) (Luke 1:46-55). Joseph was shocked when he became aware that Mary was pregnant. To avoid any public disgrace, he considered putting her away, but an angel comforted him by explaining God's design for Mary. At this difficult time Joseph had to take his wife to Bethlehem in obedience to the census decree of the Roman emperor. Jesus was born during this visit, and all the events familiar to us associated with the Nativity story -- the inn, the stable, the manger, the star, the wise men, and the shepherds -- are reverently presented (Matthew 1:18-25). After eight days the child was circumcised and given the name Jesus in accordance with Gabriel's instructions (Luke 2). Then, after forty days, Mary and Joseph appeared at the Temple for the purification ceremonies (luke 2:21). When the angel warned Joseph that Herod wanted to destroy Jesus, he fled into Egypt with Mary and Jesus and remained there until they learned that Herod was dead. Then they returned to their home in Nazareth (Luke 2:22-28). Only once in the next thirty years do we learn anything more about the Holy Family. When Jesus was twelve and the parents went with him to Jerusalem for the passover, the boy was missing for three days. His parents finally found him in the Temple with the priests. The first recorded words of Jesus were given in answer to his mother's troubled inquiry: "Did you not know that I must be busy with my father's affairs?" (Luke 2:41-50). His public life began at the age of thirty. At a wedding feast in Cana, he performed his first miracle, converting water into wine at the request of Mary to aid the wedding party (John 2:1-11). Several times she appeared with him during his ministry but always remained in the background. She was present at the Crucifixion and heard her Son tell John to take care of her (John 19:25-27). She waited with the Apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Scripture gives no further biographical information about Mary. She apparently lived in Jerusalem for some time, although there is a tradition that she may have died in Ephesus a few years after Jesus' Ascension. The two basic beliefs concerning Mary, the divine maternity and the virginal conception of Jesus, are unequivocally stated in the Gospels. But other aspects of Mariology are also important. They have a Scriptural basis but are not specifically elaborated in the Gospels.

All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.

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