Sixth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Octave of the Nativity – Solemnity of Mary the Holy Mother of God
Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Today, on the Octave of the Nativity, we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary – the Queen of Mercy – on her principal feastday for her principal role, that of the Mother of God (Greek, Theotokos; Latin, Dei Genetrix). What a marvelous title for a human woman to have! From the moment she freely said Yes to God’s plan for her, she has been the door through which we access the Savior of the world. Ad Jesum per Mariam, the saying goes – “to Jesus through Mary.” Our Gospel reading should be attended to with this path in mind; the tale of the visit of the shepherds to the newborn Babe and of His circumcision and naming eight days later reminds us on this day that all Mary’s glory is her Son, and that our all own glory derives from that of the glory of our Lord Brother.
So it may seem a little odd that our First Reading takes us all the way back to this seemingly innocuous passage from the Book of Numbers, which establishes the origin of the Jewish priestly blessing. In the days following the Exodus, God commanded Aaron and his sons, who hold the priestly office, that they would bless the Israelites using the following formula: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” How does Mary’s motherhood figure into this event?
Well: first, remember that whenever we see the word “LORD” written in all capital letters like this, it is the Old Testament’s pronounceable substitute for the unpronounced (and now unpronounceable) divine name signified by the letters YHWH. So the purpose of the blessing is to invoke this divine name over the Israelites so that they will know Who it is that blesses them. What a great grace the LORD showed to His chosen people that day: the people He led out into the desert to worship Him, the people He freed from Egyptian oppression and slavery with such wondrous deeds – the children of His servant Israel – He now blesses with His own Name. And how very fitting we recall that passage today, since we also celebrate the day when the Son of God was given His name – the name that Pope Benedict XVI once reflected “completes” the divine name (Aramaic Yahshua, meaning “YHWH is salvation”).
But again: what does this have to do with Mary? Why should we celebrate Mary’s Motherhood by recalling the name of the Father and of the Son?
As I’ve said before, Jesus gave us a Mother by becoming our Brother. The Word of God became human so that we could become divine; He took on our human condition in all things (except sin), and in doing so He gave us the same Mother and Father by enabling us to “receive adoption.” This is the point Saint Paul tries to drive home in our Second Reading, taken from the letter to his beloved yet “stupid” Galatians (I kid you not, Saint Paul does call a whole particular church “stupid” in the Bible, go read it). By being “born of a woman, born under the law,” He was able to draw us to Himself in a much more intimate way by fulfilling the Law as one of us. He becomes our Brother, and so we all become children of God, “no longer a slave but a son – and if a son, then also an heir.” Everything that the Father has promised the Son, everything that the Son has promised to send from the Father – these are our inheritance, because we who accept Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law are now God’s adopted children.
And here’s the kicker: none of this happens without Mary.
What was begun in the Immaculate Conception is brought to fulfillment in Mary’s holy Motherhood. For the first time since the first time, a human being had been made who was completely free, and she spent her whole life freely ordering that life towards service of God. What was wholly natural for her divine Son she made wholly possible for her human brethren. She is indeed the new Eve from whom the new Adam is drawn. She is the Ark of the new Covenant, overshadowed by the power of the Most High as the Presence comes to rest within her. She is the ultimate child of Israel: the one whom the LORD blesses and keeps; the one upon whom the LORD shines His face and towards whom He is gracious; the one whom the LORD sees in His mercy and to whom He gives peace. She is that woman through whom the Son of God would be “born under the law…so that we might receive adoption as sons.” A little girl from Nazareth, in one free and trusting Yes, became the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church – Mother of the whole mystical Body of God’s Anointed (Greek, Khristos). No wonder that in her great song of praise she cries out: “The mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His Name!”
“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart,” Luke tells us. I am sure she did so all her life on earth as she watched over Jesus and His Apostles and disciples as the Church began, and that she continues to do so in heaven as she watches over the Church both on earth and in purgatory as Queen Mother of the eternal King. Her wonder must never cease as she who received the unparalleled blessing and mercy of the LORD now communicates that blessing and mercy to her myriads of myriads of children.
Ad Jesum per Mariam – so it was from the very beginning, when the shepherds found them together in Bethlehem. And may it ever be done according to His word.