OK – before you all read this passage from Ratzinger, I need to post a warning – “Academic Language Ahead – Proceed With Caution.” Don’t give up on this blog post – I promise to make it all crystal clear. Cuz hey – that’s my job! But here it is:
Mariology can never simply be dissolved into an impersonal ecclesiology. It is a thorough misunderstanding of patristic typology to reduce Mary to a mere, hence, interchangeable, exemplification of theological structures. Rather, the type remains true to its meaning only when the non-interchangeable personal figure of Mary becomes transparent to the personal form of the church herself. In theology, it is not the person that is reducible to the thing, but the thing to the person.
A purely structural ecclesiology is bound to degrade Church to the level of a program of action. Only the Marian dimension secures the place of affectivity in faith and thus ensures a fully human correspondence to the reality of the incarnate Logos. Here I see the truth of the saying that Mary is the ‘vanquisher of all heresies’. This affective rooting [of the mystery of the Church in the personal mystery of Mary] guarantees the bond ex toto corde – from the depth of the heart – to the personal God and his Christ and rules out any recasting of Christology into a Jesus program.
Mary, the Church at the Source, 27
Reflection – ‘Mary is a symbol of the Church’. ‘Mary is the pattern of discipleship.’ ‘Mary is the model for Christian life.’ We have probably all heard something like this at some point – at least those practicing Catholic readers of this blog.
This quote from Ratzinger is giving an important, crucial brake on that kind of language, correct as it certainly is.
Mary is a symbol of… fill in the blank here. But wait a minute—she’s not a symbol, she’s a person. That is the precise point he is making. Better yet, she is a symbol because she is a person. This is what Mary brings to our Catholic understanding and why she remains so important and central to us.
Our faith is not a set of diagrams and schematics. Our faith is not a dry assemblage of rules and programs. Our faith is not a bunch of learned ideas and propositions.
The Christian religion is personal, warm, or it is no longer Christian. It is a love affair, or it has become something false to its own nature. But it is Mary ‘the symbol of the Church’ who by her very personal presence makes this clear, and makes it so.
Mary is only all the things she is—symbol, pattern, model—because she had and has a direct personal relationship with Jesus Christ, with God the Father, and with the Holy Spirit. Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Spirit—at every turn, Mary is in relationship, in a personal encounter, in a personal gift and reception of gift, all of which is utterly bound up in the central fact that she said yes to God, and so conceived and bore His Son into the world for its salvation.
And this is the Church. Not a bureaucracy or an army or a social agency or a club or a vehicle for ideology or any other abstract bloodless reality we may make it into. 'A Jesus Program', as he so eloquently puts it. The Church is daughter of the Father receiving everything from God out of love, mother of the Son’s life in her children, and spouse of the Spirit bringing forth the life of Christ into the world continually in the sacraments and in the saints begotten from her womb.
Mary, by standing before us always as our mother, teacher, guide, and friend, makes all of this not just more words, more abstract notions, but a living reality. She is our symbol, our model, and our pattern, but only because she is first our Mother, and our very best friend after Jesus.
God is a pretty smart Guy, you know! Along with everything else He has done to save us and give us eternal life, He gave us the most beautiful thing in the world he ever created—a truly beautiful Woman—to take us in hand and lead us down all the pathways of grace and mercy to the innermost corridors of the heart of God.God is a Person, and you are a person, and Mary is a person, and the Church, in a sense, is a person—it is all intensely personal, warm, loving, and extraordinarily beautiful. Isn’t it great to be a Christian? Don’t we want to share all this beauty with the world?