Dear Brothers and Sisters,

January 1, Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

The mystery of Mary being the Mother of God is reflected in the mystery of every human birth.  As we contemplate the mystery of conception, gestation and birth we are taken into the mystery of the incarnation in a fresh and profound way. We are not separate from our mothers. Instead, our lives are intertwined with theirs. Our mothers make us who we are.

In Jesus’ case Mary contributed to his genetic make-up. She conceived, carried and bore him. She nursed, nurtured and loved him. If we really believe that Jesus was the God-Man we believe that he was half-Mary. As the early Christians meditated on this truth, they came to understand the true importance of Mary. She was an integral part of God’s plan of salvation. So, Hippolytus, around the year 217, writes, “To all generations they [the prophets] have pictured forth the grandest subjects for contemplation and for action. Thus, too, they preached of the advent of God in the flesh to the world, his advent by the spotless and God-bearing [theotokos] Mary in the way of birth and growth, and the manner of his life and conversation with men.” Early Christians like Hippolytus came to see that Mary was an integral part of who Jesus is. It is true to say that we would not have Jesus without Mary. Because of this we want to challenge non-Catholics about their historic neglect of Mary. She is honored by the vast majority of Christians in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and has been from the beginning of the Christian Church. Why do non-Catholics neglect Mary so much?

There are some non-Catholics who would therefore grant Mary the title of theotokos for theological reasons, but they still do not practice any form of Marian devotion. This is illogical and truncated because in every other aspect of our faith our worship, devotion and adoration are inspired and united to the doctrines we profess. How can one grant Mary the title ‘Mother of God’ and yet refrain from using the ancient prayer in which we say, ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and in the hour of our death’?

Worship of Jesus Christ as ‘God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father’ is therefore a unity with prayerful devotion to his mother. With her and through her we affirm and bow before the one who is God made man. Those who deny Marian devotion sometimes sincerely object because they believe devotion to Mary detracts from proper worship of her Son. But this is to misunderstand the Church’s teaching and practice. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is constantly united with the worship of her Son. ‘Woman is not independent of man nor man of woman.’ (I Cor. 11:11) This unity of belief and practice cannot be separated, and just as the early church taught, those who deny that Mary is theotokos also impugn the true divinity of her Son—even if they are sincerely unaware that they are doing so.

Catholics should not apologize or back away from the issue of Marian devotion. Instead, it should be shown that devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has been an integral part of faithful Christianity from the very earliest days of the Church. It should be pointed out that the early Church fathers actually considered a proper view of Christ to be dependent on the proper understanding of Mary’s identity. Furthermore, those who object to Catholic practice should be reminded that the vast majority of Christians down through the ages and around the world today incorporate the Marian dimension into their Christian lives in a daily loving devotion. Most importantly, it should be stressed that devotion to Mary is not something different than their already keen love for Christ; instead, devotion to the Mother of God is a fuller experience of His everlasting love.

Your Pastor,

Fr. Longenecker