Editor’s note: The following homily was preached for the feast of the Maternity of Mary (EF calendar), October 11, 2021, at the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City.
In the calendar of the Extraordinary Form, the maternity of Our Lady is commemorated today. In the reformed calendar, that observance is transferred to January 1, actually the oldest feast honoring Our Lady’s divine motherhood. Interestingly, Dom Prosper Guéranger devotes most of his meditation for January 1, to Mary as Mother of God, precisely because one of the two Mass formularies for that date, from the earliest days, was precisely that of Mary, Mother of God.
Any time I proclaim the Gospel of the loss of the Child Jesus, I notice mothers in the congregation develop a worried look on their faces, which changes to a smile as the story concludes with His finding! Yes, Our Lady was a mother who experienced all the anxieties and all the joys of every other mother. There’s a degree of pique in her voice as she upbraids the wayward Boy: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (Lk 2:48). The Protestant Reformer John Calvin, though, has an appealing defense of the Blessed Mother’s comment: “The weariness of three days was in that complaint,” he explained.
Noting Calvin’s defense of Our Lady gives us a good opportunity to mention that the original Protestant Reformers did not have knee-jerk, allergic reactions to the Blessed Virgin, as have some of their progeny in recent centuries. Indeed, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli all accepted the doctrines of Mary’s perpetual virginity, immaculate conception and bodily assumption—even though the last two were not formally defined dogmas of faith yet! Quite surprisingly, the usually very reliable Dom Guéranger asserts that the Reformers were anti-Marian; they most assuredly were not – although their spiritual descendants certainly moved decidedly in that direction.
Reflecting on this passage, I always wonder if Mary came to regard this episode of her twelve-year-old son teaching the teachers as a foreshadowing; undoubtedly, that scene returned in her mind’s eye on several occasions as she watched Him teaching the crowds during His public ministry. As the “Seat of Wisdom,” her lap had provided a resting place for Wisdom Incarnate to rest.
Considering how the twelve-year-old Son gently reminds His Mother that He had to be about His Father’s affairs, St. Bede the Venerable has this to say in his Exposition of the Gospel of Luke:
Consider the most prudent woman Mary, Mother of true Wisdom, as the pupil of her Son. For she learned from Him, not as from a child or man but as from God. Yes, she dwells in meditation on His words and actions. Nothing of what was said or done by Him fell idly on her mind. As before, when she conceived the Word Itself in her womb, so now does she hold within her His ways and words, cherishing them as it were in her heart. That which she now beholds in the present, she waits to have revealed with greater clarity in the future. This practice she followed as a rule and law through all her life.
Then, as little more than a codicil to the whole episode, St. Luke observes that the Child Jesus “went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (2:41). Humility and docility formed a two-way street in the Holy House of Nazareth.
For the rest, let’s listen to St. John Henry Newman reflect on the meaning of Mary’s motherhood, especially in terms of its doctrinal implications:
If you would bring out distinctly and beyond mistake and evasion, the simple idea of the Catholic Church that God is man, . . . could you express this more emphatically and unequivocally than by declaring that He was born a man, or that He had a Mother? The world allows that God is man; the admission costs it little, for God is everywhere, and (as it may say) is everything; but it shrinks from confessing that God is the Son of Mary. It shrinks, for it is at once confronted with a severe fact, which violates and shatters its own unbelieving view of things the revealed doctrine forthwith takes its true shape, and receives an historical reality; and the Almighty is introduced into His own world at a certain time and in a definite way. Dreams are broken and shadows depart; the divine truth is no longer a poetical expression, or a devotional exaggeration, or a mystical economy, or a mythical representation. “Sacrifice and offering,” the shadows of the Law, “Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou fitted to me. . . . the confession that Mary is Deipara, or the Mother of God, is that safeguard wherewith we seal up and secure the doctrine of the Apostle from all evasion, and that test whereby we detect all the pretences of those bad spirits of “Antichrist which have gone out into the world.” It declares that He is God; it implies that He is man; it suggests to us that He is God still, though He has become man, and that He is true man though He is God. If Mary is the Mother of God, Christ must be literally Emmanuel, God with us. And hence it was, that, when time went on, and the bad spirits and false prophets grew stronger and bolder, and found a way into the Catholic body itself, then the Church, guided by God, could find no more effectual and sure way of expelling them than that of using this word, Deipara, against them; and on the other hand, when they came up again from the realms of darkness and plotted the utter overthrow of Christian faith in the sixteenth century, then they could find no more certain expedient for their hateful purpose than that of reviling and blaspheming the prerogatives of Mary, for they knew full well that, if they could once get the world to dishonour the Mother, the dishonour of the Son would follow close. The Church and Satan agreed together in this, that Son and Mother went together; and the experience of three centuries has confirmed their testimony, for Catholics who have honoured the Mother, still worship the Son, while Protestants, who now have ceased to confess the Son, began then by scoffing at the Mother.1
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
1“The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son” (Discourse XVII), Mix., 346-348.
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