Happy New Year! Today we celebrate the start of a new year, but more importantly we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It is a Holy Day of Obligation, so if you haven’t been to Mass already be sure you go! You can even use the Relevant Radio App® to find Mass times in your area.
Now, you may be wondering why the celebration of Mary as the Mother of God would be such a big deal as to be a Holy Day of Obligation. Fr. Paul Gawlowski OFM Conv, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Hermosa Beach, CA, stopped by The Inner Life™ to explain why Mary’s title as Mother of God is so important to our faith, and how it affirms the truth about Christ.
“Mother God is one of the most original, most ancient titles for Mary,” Fr. Paul explained. “And in the Catholic Church we have a rich reservoir of beliefs about Mary, and all our beliefs and teachings about Mary really still relate to Christ. If Christ Jesus is truly God, then you have to say Mary is the mother of God, because Jesus is God. And Mary is Jesus’ mother.”
Fr. Paul pointed out that Christ being fully God and fully man was a teaching that was hotly debated for centuries, and Mary’s title as Mother of God is an affirmation of the union of Christ’s humanity and His divinity.
“Technically, though, the term was Theotokos, and it’s the Council of Ephesus that defined it in 431,” he explained. “It was a belief and a discussion in the second, third and fourth century about who Jesus was. And then, if Jesus is divine, so must Mary then be the mother of God. And Theotokos means God-bearer more literally. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the angel Gabriel announcing that you will conceive and bear a child and call him Jesus, Son of God. And so that’s where the title really comes from. It’s translated into Mother of God, but correctly so.”
“It’s really speaking about the divinity of Jesus,” Fr. Paul pointed out. “Does that mean Mary is superior to God? No, Mary is not mother of the Father, Mary is not mother to the Holy Spirit, Mary is mother of Jesus, the Incarnate Word. So it really speaks of the Incarnation, of Jesus being true God and true man.”
Mary’s title as Mother of God not only points to the divinity of Jesus, but it also emphasizes the intimate relationship that Mary has with Jesus as her son. It acknowledges her role in salvation history, and offers a model of holiness for all humanity.
“Our teaching about Mary is so rich and deep,” Fr. Paul said. “And again, it all goes back to Christ. In many non-Catholic Christians will say, you know, ‘I can go to Christ directly.’ And that’s totally true. But the reality is, even if you just draw closer to Christ, you’re going to realize how Mary is so intimately connected with Christ, His life and His mission. And so the two really cooperated and work together, right?”
A common misconception is that Catholics worship Mary, and beginning the year by going to Mass for her feast day may seem to reinforce that misconception. But Fr. Paul pointed out that there is Scriptural basis for honoring Mary, and that Mary always points us toward her son.
“We do not worship Mary,” Fr. Paul clarified. “We do honor Mary, and we honor her as unique of all the human race. Mary is fully human, but really fully human, first fully human. So we honor her as the angel honored her when the angel appeared. And as Elizabeth, her elder, honored her when she visited Elizabeth. So it’s Scriptural even to give Mary honor as the model of what humanity was meant to be.”