Mariology underscores the nexus mysteriorum—the intrinsic interwovenness of the mysteries in their irreducible mutual otherness and their unity. While the conceptual pairs bride-bridegroom and head-body allow us to perceive the connection between Christ and the Church, Mary represents a further step, inasmuch as she is first related to Christ, not as bride, but as mother. Here we can see the function of the title ‘Mother of the Church’; it expresses the fact that Mariology goes beyond the framework of ecclesiology and at the same time is correlative of it.
Mary, the Church at the Source, 29
Reflection – OK, nobody panic. This quote is a bit dense, I grant you. Even I, who wrote an entire thesis on the Mariology of Joseph Ratzinger, was a little flummoxed by it at first. It’s a good reminder that, as lucidly and beautifully as he writes most of the time, he is indeed a German theologian, and can convolute it up with the best of them if need be.
Let’s see if we can untangle the syntax and elevated vocabulary and find out what he’s really saying here. First, some context. There is a move in contemporary (i.e. 20th century) Mariology to reduce Mary to simply an icon or archetype of the Church. Mary is the Church; the Church is Mary. Mary is the pattern of a Christian disciple, and of course the community of disciples taken together is the Church.
Ratzinger certainly does not reject that—I’ve written a whole thesis on the matter, and there’s lots in there about Mary and the Church. So here he is simply pointing out that we cannot simply reduce Mary to that level. The danger of doing so is that Mary then becomes merely a symbol or a type or an example to follow. Sort of a schematic drawing of discipleship or ecclesiology. All very abstract and clinical and dry.
Well, Mary is not like that. She is indeed the one who shows us what the Church is and what discipleship is, what it means for a human creature to truly open up to Christ and give herself to Him and His kingdom in our midst. But she’s more than just that.
She’s also our mama. She was Christ’s mama; she is ours. She is a member of the Church, but she also stands in a unique and vitally important relationship to the Church and to each member of the Church. And this is relationship is very simple. She is our mama, our mother. Mother Mary, my mother and yours and the Pope’s mother. Mother of the most separated, straying, confused and broken down member of the Church, and Mother of the saintliest saint who ever sainted their way across history.
This means that we are called not merely not contemplate Mary as example and icon, but to truly love her, talk to her, go to her for help, live in a true intimate nearness to her, as children do with their mother. Again, I’ve written a whole book about this, which (in a spirit of totally disinterested concern, I assure you!) I highly recommend.
What does it mean to say that Mary is our mother? Mothers, by definition, nurture out of their own substance the life of their children. A mother, by definition and irrespective of her own virtues and gifts, gives her flesh to her children for their life. First in the womb, and then at the breast, a mother gives her own being to her children so that their being can flourish and grow strong.
This is not sentimentality about motherhood (like that awful old song, ‘M is for the million things she gave me, O means only that she’s growing old…’). This is simple biological fact. And this is what Mary does for every believer. Out of her own essential being—that is, her fiat, her total openness of her whole being to God—she nourishes the feeble life of her children. Our fiat is compromised, partial, weak. Hers is perfect and total. But as we draw near to her, she nourishes us with it, and so we grow a little bit stronger, a little more total. As mother, she does indeed model for us the way we are to walk, as any good mother teaches her children right from wrong. But it’s deeper than that – we draw strength and life from this woman. Her life is communicated to us to become our life.
Why? Well, because God wants it so. And in this ‘wanting it so’ of God, we learn something deep about not just Mary, but ourselves and all creation. As we grow stronger and more total in our fiat, we too become ‘mothers’, in a sense. We too can communicate our life to others so that our lives become food and drink for others.