Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Catholic Dictionary

Find accurate definitions of over 5,000 Catholic terms and phrases (including abbreviations). Based on Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.

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Mother of Jesus Christ and greatest of the Christian saints. The title "Mary" occurs only once in the Old Testament as the name of Moses' sister (Exodus 15:20). Its etymology has been variously traced to mean beautiful, bitter, rebellion, illuminatrix, lady, and beloved of God. Scholars prefer the last meaning, derived from the Egyptian, which may be explained by the four hundred years' sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt.

The Gospel account of Mary's life begins with the appearance of the archangel Gabriel in Nazareth to announce the choice of her as mother of the Messiah. Though espoused to Joseph, she intended to remain a virgin and asked for an explanation. The angel assured her that this would be done by the power of the Most High, at which Mary gave her consent: "Be it done to me according to your word."

On her visit to Elizabeth, Mary sang the Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord," which recalls the canticle of Anna, mother of Samuel the prophet (I Kings 2:1-10). When she returned to Nazareth, Joseph realized that Mary was pregnant and thought of putting her away privately until an angel appeared to him and revealed the mystery.

In obedience to a census decree of Augustus, Mary and Joseph, who were both of Davidic descent, went to David's city of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in a stable. Forty days later Mary, in the company of Joseph, came to the temple in Jerusalem to be purified according to the law of Moses, and to offer her son to the Lord together with a sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. At this presentation, the old man Simeon took Jesus in his arms and foretold Mary's share in the future sufferings of her son.

During the hidden life of Christ, the Gospels are silent about Mary except for one dramatic incident when Jesus was twelve years old. finding him in the temple in the midst of the doctors, his mother asked him why he had done this. In their first recorded dialogue, Jesus replied that he must be about his Father's business.

Mary was with Christ at the beginning of his public life, when through her intercession he changed water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana of Galilee. She was in his company at Capharnaum for a short time, and on occasion followed him in his ministry.

She stood beneath the cross on Calvary and was placed in the care of the Apostle John, being told, "Behold your son." After the Ascension of Christ into heaven, Mary waited in Jerusalem with the Apostles and disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. From then on there are no further biographical data about Mary in the New Testament, except for the mystical references to the "woman" in St. John's Apocalypse, and St. Paul's description to the Galatians of Christ as "mad of woman."

According to tradition, Mary lived for a time in or near Ephesus, but her permanent home after Pentecost seems to have been Jerusalem. There is no certain place or date for Mary's death, although Ephesus and twelve years after Christ's Ascension appear the most likely.

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