Mary's Place Is Highest After Christ

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Our Lady’s unique calling and privileges must always be seen as pointing to Christ her Son, while she is also a model of faith and holiness for us

The proper way to explain Marian doctrine was the topic of the Holy Father's weekly catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 3 January. Here is a translation of his address, which was the 10th in the series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.

1. Following the, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium,which in chapter eight "set forth painstakingly both the role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body, and the duties of the redeemed towards the Mother of God", in this catechesis I would like to offer a basic summary of the Church's faith in Mary, while reaffirming with the Council that I do not intend "to give a complete doctrine on Mary", nor "to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified" (Lumen gentium, n. 54).

It is my intention first of all to describe "the role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body" (ibid.), by referring to data from Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, and taking into account the doctrinal development that has taken place in the Church up to our day.

Moreover, since Mary's role in the history of salvation is closely linked to the mystery of Christ and the Church, I will not lose sight of these essential reference points which, by offering Marian doctrine the proper context, enable us to discover its vast and inexhaustible riches.

Exploring the mystery of the Lord's Mother is truly vast and has occupied many Pastors and theologians down the centuries. Some, in their endeavour to point out the central aspects of Mariology, have sometimes treated it together with Christology or ecclesiology. However, taking into account her relationship with all the mysteries of faith, Mary deserves a specific treatment which highlights her person and role in the history of salvation, in the light of the Bible and of ecclesiastical tradition.

2. It also seems useful, following the Council's directives, to explain accurately "the duties of the redeemed towards the Mother of God, who is Mother of Christ and Mother of men, and most of all of those who believe" (ibid.).

Indeed, the part assigned to Mary by the divine plan of salvation requires of Christians not only acceptance and attention, but also concrete choices which express in life the Gospel attitudes of her who goes before the Church in faith and holiness. The Mother of the Lord is thus destined to exercise a special influence on believers' way of praying. The Church's liturgy itself recognizes her singular place in the devotion and life of every believer.

It is necessary to emphasize that Marian teaching and devotion are not the fruit of sentimentality. The mystery of Mary is a revealed truth which imposes itself on the intellect of believers and requires of those in the Church who have the task of studying and teaching a method of doctrinal reflection no less rigorous than that used in all theology.

Moreover, Jesus himself had invited his contemporaries not to be led by enthusiasm in considering his Mother, recognizing in Mary especially the one who is blessed because she listens to the word of God and keeps it (cf. Lk 11:28).

Not only affection but particularly the light of the Spirit must guide us in understanding the Mother of Jesus and her contribution to the work of salvation.

3. With regard to the measure and balance to be maintained in both Marian doctrine and devotion, the Council strongly urges theologians and preachers of the divine word "to be careful to refrain ... from all false exaggeration" (Lumen gentium,n. 67).

This exaggeration comes from those who adopt a maximalist attitude, which seeks to extend systematically to Mary the prerogatives of Christ and all thecharisms of the Church.

Instead, it is always necessary in Marian doctrine to safeguard the infinite difference existing between the human person of Mary and the divine person of Jesus. To attribute the "maximum" to Mary cannot become a norm of Mariology, which must make constant reference to the testimony of Revelation regarding God's gifts to the Virgin on account of her sublime mission.

Likewise, the Council exhorts theologians and preachers to "refrain ... from too summary an attitude" (ibid.), that is, from the dangerof a minimalism that can be manifest in doctrinal positions, in exegetical interpretations and in acts of devotion which tend to reduce and almost deny Mary's importance in the history of salvation, her perpetual virginity and her holiness.

Such extreme positions should always be avoided through a consistent and sincere fidelity to revealed truth as expressed in Scripture and in the Apostolic Tradition.

4. The Council itself offers us a criterion for discerning authentic Marian doctrine: Mary "occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to us" (Lumen gentium,n. 54).

The highest place: we must discover this lofty position granted to Mary in the mystery of salvation. However, it is a question of a vocation totally in relationship to Christ.

The place closest to us:our life is profoundly influenced by Mary's example and intercession. Nonetheless we must ask ourselves about our effort to be close to her. The entire teaching of salvation history invites us to look to the Virgin. Christian asceticism in every age invites us to think of her as a model of perfect adherence to the Lord's will. The chosen model of holiness, Mary guides the steps of believers on their journey to heaven.

Through her closeness to the events of our daily history, Mary sustains us in trials; she encourages us in difficulty, always pointing out to us the goal of eternal salvation. Thus her role as Mother is seen ever more clearly: Mother of her Son Jesus, tender and vigilant Mother to each one of us, to whom, from the Cross, the Redeemer entrusted her, that we might welcome her as children in faith.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
10 January 1996, page 11

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