The whole of Mariology had first been thought out and given shape by the Fathers as ecclesiology: The Church is virgin and mother; she has been immaculately conceived and carries the burden of history; she suffers and yet has already been received into heaven.
It gradually becomes clear in the course of development that the Church was anticipated by Mary, that she was personified in Mary, and vice-versa, that Mary does not stand there as an isolated individual, closed up in herself, but carries within her the whole mystery of the Church. The person is not being understood as closed up and individualistic, nor the community as collective and non-personal; the two merge inseparably…
If we want to understand Mary and the Church properly, then we have to learn to get behind these distinctions, in order to understand the supra-individual nature of the person and the supra-institutional nature of the community, at the very point at which both person and community are taken back to their origins through the power of the Lord, of the new Adam.
The Marian view of the Church and the ecclesial and salvation-historical view of Mary lead us back in the end to Christ and to God the Trinity; because here it becomes clear what holiness means, what the dwelling of God in man, and in the world, actually is, and what we are to understand by the “eschatological” tension in the Church.
Joseph Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith
Reflection – Somehow with the new year and everything I managed to let a major Marian feast day get by me without doing a major Marian blog post. Meanwhile I stumbled across this passage from Ratzinger last night, and I haven’t had anything quite so intellectual and high-toned on the blog for quite awhile, so thought I would throw it out there for you all.
While the language might be a bit elevated here in this passage, what he is saying is really something quite important and relevant to all our lives. The trouble with Marian piety that is not connected to our understanding of the Church is that Mary gets set off in a little area of her own, somehow. She’s off on a side altar, with flowers and candles before her, but disconnected from the whole mystery of faith and of real life in the world. In the most debased and extreme forms of this disjointed Marian piety, she really can be practically worshipped as a goddess of sorts, if not deliberately and with full intent, at least implicitly.
The trouble with the Church deprived of its Marian character is that it is seen as, and becomes, nothing but a giant institution, a conglomerate, with structures of power and authority, vast holdings of property, collective identity and purpose, and little else. Just one more faction in the factions of the world, one more group with its own slogans and agendae and politics.
Putting Mary and the Church together, understanding Mary as personification of the Church and the Church as only fully revealed and understood in the contemplation of Mary, rescues both of them from these extremely impoverished theologies. And don’t forget: the Church is not ‘that institution’ or ‘those bishops and priests.’ The Church is you and me and our lives together following Jesus.
Of course if the Church is understood apart from Mary, it does just become some external reality that we may either love or hate or be somewhere in between on. It is only when we see that what we say of Mary, we say of the Church that we can understand our own vocation to be an expression of our membership in the Church, our part in the Mystical Body of Christ, our own living out of the Marian mystery.
As Mary was called to bring forth Christ into the world and so share his redemptive work and now share his heavenly glory, the Church brings forth Christ into the world, sharing his redemptive work and already his glory (in the Church triumphant in heaven), and so we individually are called to bring Christ into the world through lives of holiness, to share his redemptive work and look forward in hope to sharing his glory.
It is only by the fusing of Mary and the Church together that we can properly understand and fully embrace our own vocation as Christians in the world. This is what Ratzinger is talking about here. It is anything but abstract and remote theologizing; it is the very essence and substance of what we are called to live today in our lives. To entrust our flesh, our concrete here and now existence, to God, so that the Holy Spirit can transform our flesh into the Word-made-(our)flesh, so that our lives today can be part of God’s saving plan.
This is what the whole life of the Church is about, seen in its sacramental life and its proclamation of Christ, and this is what Mary’s entire personal being was and is. So, let’s do today what we were made for, seen clearly in this dual mystery of Mary-Church.