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  • Mary, Mother of the Church: Reflections On John’s Gospel

Mary, Mother of the Church: Reflections On John’s Gospel

Father David A. Fisher

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,…John 1:1,14

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, …When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to his disciple, “Behold your mother!”…John 19:25-27

Introduction

The Gospel of John gives expression to the Incarnation of Christ in an approach that is different from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  John does not mention the Annunciation, the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, the Nativity, the Flight into Egypt of the Holy Family, or the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  As we see from the quote above, from the beginning of his Gospel John declares the divinity of the Word, and that the Word became flesh.  It is also significant that he chooses here to use Word (Logos), rather than Son or Christ.  The term Logosin Greek, had by this time almost three centuries of meaningful linguistic and philosophical usage. The term had been coined by the philosopher Heraclitus, to mean total, perfect, communication that is knowable and understandable not only to human reason by in a totally all consuming manner.

 In recalling the famous maxim of St. Irenaeus (140-202AD), the Father is never present without his two hands, the Son and the Spirit.  The Son is the Word of the Father revealing to us the God of Love, and the Spirit is the dynamic, charismatic energy of the Father, who confirms us in the truth revealed by the Word and brings us into the life of Holy Trinity (Theosis) – making us god-like by becoming Christ-like. 

From this perspective of John’s Gospel, we can gain access to unique aspects of our understanding of the Holy Virginand her role in salvation history, that may not be immediately accessible from the Synoptic Gospels. 

Mary, Mother of God      

The Third Ecumenical Council was held in the year 431AD in Ephesus, having been called by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, and presided over by St. Cyril of Alexandria.  This Council affirmed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith (The Creed), that had been defined by the first two Ecumenical Councils, condemned Pelagianism, and Nestorianism.  In condemning Nestorianism, the Council proclaimed Mary, Theotokos (God-Bearer or Mother of God).  

From the beginnings of the Christianity, there had been movements that tried to diminish the teaching of John’s Gospel that, “the Word became flesh.” From the early gnostic heresy of Docetism, that denied the reality of Christ’s flesh or humanity, to Arianism which taught that the Son was created by the Father before time, to Nestorianism which separated the humanity of Christ from the divinity of the Son; which taught that Mary was Christotokos, the Mother of Christ, but not of the Eternal Son of the Father who united humanity to his divinity without confusion.  In proclaiming Mary (Theotokos), the Fathers of the Third Ecumenical Council affirm the primary role of the Holy Mother of God, to protect the true and full humanity of the Word of God.  She is truly the Mother of the Savior; our flesh, our humanity is united to the divinity of the Eternal Word, through Mary.

Mary, Mother of the Church

Our Christian faith begins with the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord, the Apostolic Proclamation, “Christ is Risen.”  In the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, and giving of the Holy Spirit, the Father reveals to us the God of Love, the Holy Trinity.  It is given to the Apostles of the Lord to be the first to experience these truths, united in prayer with Mary.  As they come to understand that the Jewish Scriptures were about him, Jesus; and that he would always be present to his Church in the Eucharist, they go forth to proclaim the Good News (Gospel) of the Lord Jesus.  

From this perspective we can see that Mary, is the Mother of the Church because she shares in the Cross of her Son and Lord,  which is present in every step of his earthly life and ministry. For example, John tells us of the first miracle of Jesus at the Wedding of Cana: 

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1-6)  

The Wedding at Cana points toward the Passion and Cross, along with the Eucharist by which the Church will share in his Passion, Cross, and Resurrection.  The presence of Mary at this miracle reveals how she who guards the true and full humanity of Christ, also shares in the suffering and Cross of Christ.  

On the Cross Our Lord gives Mary to the Church, as its Mother through the Apostle John:  “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to his disciple, “Behold your mother!”  St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed this poetically in his Hymn on Virginity, XXV, 8-9: 

The young disciple John saw in the woman how much the Almighty had humbled himself,…For her part the woman marveled that the disciple had been exalted, even to resting on the bosom of God.  

Each admired the other for having been found worthy of so great a grace.  As they fixed their gaze on each other, they saw You, O Lord, in themselves.  Your Mother saw You in the disciple, and he saw You in Your Mother. Happy were they who saw You, O Lord, as they continually contemplated each other!

May we never cease to contemplate the beauty of Our Mother, the Mother of the Church, the Holy Mother of God.  May we never cease to exalt in the Eternal Word who took our flesh, and destroyed our death on the Cross.

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