The Father William Most Collection
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
"As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace." With these few words Vatican II (On the Church 61) gave us a brilliant theology of the Motherhood of Our Lady, and a marvelous help to understand the motherhood of all Mothers. To follow it, we need to read the two sentences that come before it: "The Blessed Virgin, predestined from eternity along with the Incarnation of the Divine Word, as the Mother of God, on this earth was the gracious Mother of the Divine Redeemer, His associate more than others, in a singular way, and the humble maid-servant of the Lord. In conceiving Christ, in bringing Him forth, in nourishing Him, in presenting Him to the Father in the Temple, in suffering with her Son as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace."
We should really call her the eternal Mother - for her Motherhood of her divine Son was planned for from all eternity, as the Council tells us. At first sight this might seem strange, yet it is obvious when we think of it. For all the decrees of God are as eternal as His own Person - really, they are identified with Him who is unchangeable. Hence they always are there - we should not simply say they were there. They are eternal. Now when God decreed to send His Son to become man, of course that included the provision for the Mother through whom it would take place. Hence it is evident: she was eternally called to be His Mother.
The Council tells us that she was His Mother also in sharing His work, as His associate, even to the extent of sharing the work of redemption, as the text goes on to say. We think of that work of redemption especially as accomplished on the cross, and that is true. But really, everything He did was of itself more than enough to earn redemption for us - any act of the God-man was infinite in worth. So the Greek Fathers of the Church liked to speak of what is called physical-mystical solidarity. It means this: All humanity forms a unit, a solidarity. But, the Sacred Humanity of Christ was part of that solidarity. Further, His humanity was joined in the unity of one Person to the divinity. Hence, as it were, power spread out across His humanity to the rest of humanity and healed it. This picturesque way of expressing the profound reality brings out the fact that the very fact of the Incarnation alone, without anything following, would have redeemed us. For that was an infinite merit, an infinite satisfaction for the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to lower Himself so as to become man. In itself that alone could have redeemed countless worlds. Yet by the will of the Father, there was to be more, much more, than the mere Incarnation. He was to do enough to redeem us, as we said, many times over. Hence the Council adds: "In conceiving Christ, in bringing Him forth, in nourishing Him, in presenting Him to the Father in the Temple, in suffering with Him as He died on the Cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior," in redemption.
"As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace." An ordinary Mother does two things to gain that glorious title: she shares in bringing a new life into being, she takes care of that life so long as she is needed, as long as she is willing and able.
Our Lady did share in bringing forth a new life. She did not suffer the physical pain of bringing Him forth, as ordinary Mothers do - a great work, yet part of Our Father's plan, a work sometimes fraught with danger of death, before the advances of modern medicine came, for they literally went down into the valley of death to bring us to light. No, Vatican II taught earlier (57) that "He did not diminish but consecrated her virginal integrity" that is, the state of being physically untouched, without lesion. Our Lady, most fittingly, did not experience those things in the birth of Jesus. Yet she more than made up for that in the pain of bringing us forth to new life on Calvary. For John Paul II ,in his Mother of the Redeemer said that there she underwent the "greatest self-emptying in history." Yes. Any soul that is holy must align its will with the will of God, must positively will, not just tolerate, whatever He positively wills. Now it was and is evident, at that dark hour, it was the will of the Father, that her Son should die, die then, die so horribly. Hence, in spite of her love for Him, she was called on to positively will that He die, die then, die so horribly. We said in spite of her love - in practice, love and holiness are interchangeable terms. So when Pius IX told us in Ineffabilis Deus, that already at the start, her holiness was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it" - he told us something staggering. God could of course create a creature capable of understanding her love - yet He has not actually done that - so, only God Himself can comprehend her love. Yet she was called on to go directly counter to a literally incomprehensible love by willing what that Father willed, what Her Son willed, that He die, die then, die so horribly.
Really, her suffering with Him had begun years before, at the very day of the Annunciation. For as soon as the Archangel told her that her Son would reign over the house of Jacob forever, even an ordinary Jew - how much more the one full of grace - would see that He was to be the Messiah. Then, if not at that hour, at least very soon, in pondering in her heart, she would understand the terrible words of Isaiah the prophet in chapter 53 about the lamb, bruised for our offenses, led to the slaughter. The hardened Jews distorted that chapter, not being able to grasp it. But she would, she did understand it. In saying fiat, yes, to the Archangel, she was actually saying yes to being the associate in such suffering. The Epistle to the Hebrews (10:5-7) tell us that "on entering into this world" He said 'Behold, I come to do your will, O God." Her fiat was the echo, the counterpart of that acceptance He made from the first instant of His conception. For already then, as several documents of the Popes assure us, His human soul saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is present. In that, He saw all His future sufferings.
So in presenting Him in the Temple, she knew that she was not really buying Him back from the service of God, as other Mothers were doing - no, she was turning Him over to it, in the offertory of the great sacrifice. At that moment His human soul of course echoed, or rather, continued, the obedience He presented on entering into this world: "Behold, I come to do your will O God." That dread pledge of consent was to continue, to exact its tremendous toll at the foot of the cross.
So it was in this way that Our Lady fulfilled the first of the requirements for being our Mother, namely, that of sharing in bringing a new life into being. The cost, as we saw, was literally beyond the comprehension of any actually existing creature. For her love was greater than, and beyond the understanding of even the highest Seraphim and Cherubim. Yet she had to sacrifice that love, to will the Great Sacrifice that was to bring us to life.
And what a life that is! Compared to it mere mortal life is as nothing. The Second Epistle of St. Peter (1:4) says that in it we are made "sharers in the divine nature."
Let us try to explore this mystery a bit. St. Paul says that in heaven we will see God "face to face". Now of course, God does not have a face. Nor do souls have mortal eyes. But the solid reality is far beyond what the words can readily convey. When I look at another person in this life, I do not take that one into my mind - no, I take in an image. The person is finite, limited, and so a finite image can let me know about that one. But God is infinite. No image could begin to convey what He is like. So the next, the inevitable step is staggering: it must be that the divinity will join itself to the created human soul immediately, without even an image in between, so that the soul can know Him even as His Son knows Him, as He knows His Son. Within that divinity there as it were flow infinite streams of knowledge and of love. For the first chapter of John's Gospel tells us that in the beginning the Father spoke the Word. That Word is not a ripple in the air as our words are. Now, it is substantial, it is the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Between Father and Son there arises love - again, not the feeble reality we know, but it too is substantial, it is another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, proceeding by way of infinite love. Only a being at least partly divine could as it were plug into these infinite streams, of knowledge, of love. Yet that is what it means to be "sharers in the divine nature", which we are by the life of grace, which she shared in gaining for us, at a cost so great that, as we said, only God can comprehend it. So she really is our Mother in the order of grace.
But a Mother has a second role to fulfill: to take care of the new life, so long as she is willing, able, and needed. In ordinary human affairs, there comes a time when the Mother is not really much needed, for the child grows to adult stature. But in the spiritual life ,we remain children - for unless we become as little children we shall not inherit the kingdom. Or, to put it more clearly, we always stand in the need of grace as long as we have not yet entered the mansions of our Father. That grace, every grace, comes to us through her, for, as Vatican II taught (62), she is the Mediatrix - and in a note it referred us to the teachings of many Popes who specify "of all graces." That was really obvious - for since she shared in earning all graces, of course she would share similarly in giving out all graces. So our need of her never ends in this life.
We said an ordinary Mother should give care as long as she is willing and able. Sadly, some human Mothers stop being willing. Not so our Heavenly Mother. The children she brought into life by such tremendous pain she will never forget. She is always willing.
An ordinary Mother may come to points at which she is unable to help, howsoever pathetically she way wish to do so. Not so our Mother in Heaven: Pope Benedict XV called her "suppliant omnipotence". That is, all that God can do by His very inherent power, she can obtain by asking Him for it. And that she does.
From what we have said, we see that she brought us forth on Calvary. Yet there is an a sense in which we can correctly say that she became our Mother even before that day. On June 19, 1947, Pope Pius XII sent a message to the Marian Congress of Ottawa, Canada. He said: "When the little maid of Nazareth uttered her fiat to the message of the angel... she became not only the Mother of God in the physical order of nature, but also in the supernatural order of grace she became the Mother of all who...would be made one under the Headship of her divine Son. The Mother of the Head would be the Mother of the members. The Mother of the vine would be the Mother of the branches."
The thought is obvious. Her Son is the Head of the Mystical Body, of which we are members. She really could not become the Mother of the Head without automatically, as it were, becoming the Mother of the Members of Her Son. Of course, that was only begun at the Annunciation. It was to be brought to light, with immense pain, only on the hill of Calvary.
There was a mysterious day on which she and some of His relatives came to a crowd where Her Son was teaching. Her presence was announced to Him. His reply was puzzling (Mk 3:33-35): "Who is my Mother? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is brother and sister and mother to me."
At first sight this might seem like a rejection. But no, He would never do that. He whose Father gave the commandment to honor Father and Mother would never break that commandment. Really, as Vatican II makes clear (56), He was teaching dramatically, as He often did. It said: "She received His words in which her Son, extolling the kingdom beyond the reasons and bonds of flesh and blood, proclaimed blessed those who hear the word of God and keep it - as she was faithfully doing."
So really, there are two forms of greatness - the one, being physically the Mother of God - the other, hearing the word of God and keeping it. She was at the peak in both categories. For at the Annunciation she did hear the word of God, and kept it, thereby receiving within her womb that very Word Himself. And throughout all the days thereafter, she faithfully continued her fiat, at immense cost, hearing and doing the word of God. So her holiness was so great that, as Pius IX told us, "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it". We saw that under the cross, where her fidelity to the word of God, to His will, caused her to even will the dreadful death of a Son so beloved that only God can comprehend her love. So she was at the peak in both categories.
We might wonder why the Father put her into such difficult straits? The answer is that any soul grows greatly not by doing easy things, but by holding on with determination in its will to His will even when that is difficult, even when it seems impossible. So His reply to her was seemingly a rejection - actually, it was an act of immense love. She was, indeed, full of grace from the start. Yet her capacity for grace could grow, and it did that all the days of her life.
Ordinary Mothers cannot of course be both virgin and Mother. But they can imitate, at a distance, her devotion to the Word of God, her fidelity to His will, her carrying out of the role designed for her by our Father's plan. Even when the need for physical care of their sons dims, the sons still need spiritual care - and that the Mothers should provide, even as she did.
St. Luke tells us that when young, He went down to Nazareth and was subject to them. He, in His strictly divine humility, allowed Himself to be formed, humanly, by His Mother and St. Joseph. Ordinary Mothers can imitate this and should realize that to form a new life in the likeness of Jesus or His Mother is far higher than to be a business executive, a policewoman, a tram operator, or whatever - it is far higher and nobler than the masterpieces of Michelangelo, who carved in marble - Mothers carve in human souls!