Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, at the Poor Clare Monastery of Mary, Mother of the Church in Alexandria.

On this first day of a new civil year and about one month into the new liturgical year of the church, we focus our attention on Mary, Mother of God. From the earliest times in the Church's history, Mary has been called "Mother of God." This ancient title was confirmed by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "… In fact, the One whom she (Mary) conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Hence, the Church confesses that Mary is truly 'Mother of God' (Theotokos)" (n. 495).

Yes, over the centuries, the liturgical celebration for January 1 has had many titles, including the Circumcision of Jesus, the Octave Day of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Name and World Day of Prayer for Peace. However, the oldest title is the one which is primary in our current liturgical calendar: the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. I quote from the Benedictine author, Augustine Nocent, in his book, The Liturgical Year, Volume One: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany: "…the Roman liturgy at a very early date chose rather to establish a special feast in honor of the Virgin Mother of God. Its date was January 1; it was soon turned into the feast of the circumcision, but its original object and purpose have now been restored. This was the oldest feast of Mary in the west …" (p. 229). Moreover, this year, we celebrate this Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, within a very unique context. As you are aware, we are observing the Jubilee Year of Mercy, so I invite all of us to reflect on Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy.

In his letter announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invited our focus on Our Blessed Mother, as the Mother of Mercy. "My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God's tenderness. No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh. The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because she participated intimately in the mystery of His love," (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, n. 24).

In this Christmas season, we relive the birth of Jesus Christ in the liturgy of Christmas, in the liturgies and prayers of this entire Christmas Season, and through the Nativity scenes in our churches, homes and neighborhoods. We see before us, not only an Infant lying in the manger, but the visible and tangible sign of God's Mercy. God the Father sent His Only-begotten Son into the world to take on our human nature, all of it except sin; to share this human nature; and to suffer, die on the cross and rise again on the third day precisely for our salvation. God's mercy is unmistakably revealed in this amazing action of redeeming love. As Pope Francis reminds us, "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy. … Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus at Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. … Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person, reveals the mercy of God" (cf. Op. Cit., n. 1).

It was Mary, in obedience to God's will, who became the Mother of His Only-begotten Son, so that He could indeed redeem and save us. So, if He is Mercy Incarnate, then Mary is the Mother of God, the Mother of Mercy Incarnate. How fitting it is that we call upon her as Our Mother of Mercy!

The title "Mother of Mercy" is thought to have been first given to the Blessed Virgin by Saint Odo (d. 942), Abbot of Cluny. It is a fitting title of Our Lady both because she brought forth for us Jesus Christ, the visible manifestation of the mercy of the invisible God, and because she is the spiritual mother of the faithful, full of grace and mercy; in the words of Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, "the Blessed Virgin is called 'mother of mercy,' that is, the most merciful, the most compassionate mother, the most tender mother, the most loving mother" (cf. Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Sacramentary, p. 271). As Saint John Paul II wrote in his Encyclical Letter, "Dives in Misericordia," n.9, "Mary is … the one who obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person has. …" So, we turn to Mary, the Mother of God, under her title of Mother of Mercy.

We seek her motherly intercession that we may grow in God's favor as we continue our pilgrimage through this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Each one of us has individual needs of mind, body and soul. Because she is our mother, she desires to help us in every need, but especially in our need to be saved. She desires, above all, to lead us to Jesus, so that His mercy may enfold and embrace us, forgiving our sins, healing us of the wounds which sin inflicts, and strengthening us to be faithful disciples of her Son.

We seek her motherly intercession that, by experiencing ourselves God's mercy, we may become convincing heralds of mercy to each person we encounter. There are so many ways by which to offer mercy; among them are the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, seven within each category.

We seek her motherly intercession on this World Day of Prayer for Peace. May her prayer obtain for us that peace which is truly enduring and stable, that peace whose origin is only in the Prince of Peace, that peace which will become truly present only when and if human beings turn their minds and hearts to God. God so desires to envelop our world - our brothers and sisters everywhere - with the peace that is the result of justice and right living. Within this peace, violence and war will cease and people everywhere can then echo the angels' song: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to those on whom his favor rests."

We seek her motherly intercession as we place our families under the protection of the Holy Family. When our individual families seek to practice those virtues which were so real in the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, then our families will be domestic churches shining with the Light of Christ, and providing fertile soil into which the seeds of God's choice of vocations will grow and mature.

Yes, each one of us, and all of us together, seek the unfailing intercession of Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy. As Pope Francis tells us, "Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception," (cf. Op. Cit. n. 24).

Mother Abbess and dear Sisters, together all of us gathered here have reflected on Mary, Mother of God, Mother of Mercy. Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of Mercy, is also the Mother of the Church. In fact, in our Prayer After Communion, we shall refer to her as Mother of the Church.

As I continue to ponder your unique calling as Poor Clares, I see more clearly that you embrace the call to be spiritual mothers to God's people here within this diocesan Church and beyond. Through your daily lives of prayer and penance, are you not like natural mothers, loving the children whom God has placed in your care, loving them sacrificially with the willingness to give of yourselves totally for their welfare, including the salvation of their souls?

True, those of us on this side of the grille do not know from experience the reality of your contemplative cloistered life. Surely, it is not always unending ecstasy or bliss; every day is not perfectly serene. Without a doubt, the "stuff" of penance and sacrifice engages you. But, it is from that "stuff" - from penance and sacrifice joined to contemplative prayer - that your spiritual motherhood comes into being and is effective within the Providence of God.

Yes, Mother Abbess and dear sisters, in this Jubilee of Mercy, enter more deeply into your spiritual motherhood, thereby imitating more fully the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy. Be torches that, in the silence of this monastery, will burn with prayer and with love for God. From this powerhouse of prayer and penance, countless graces will go forth so that all God's people who form our diocesan church, will truly be alive because in them Christ Jesus has been born and now lives! In them, God's Mercy will have embraced them so that in turn they may become convincing heralds of His mercy to every person whom they encounter.

Brothers and sisters all, I close with this appeal from Pope Francis. "Let us address (Mary) in the words of the Salve Regina, a prayer ever ancient and new, so that she may never tire of turning her merciful eyes towards us, and make us worthy to contemplate the face of mercy, her Son Jesus," (cf. Op. Cit., n. 24).

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016