Christian Saints Podcast

The Virgin Mary

October 30, 2020 Darren Ong Season 1 Episode 2
Christian Saints Podcast
The Virgin Mary
Show Notes Transcript

For our second episode, we venerate Mary, the greatest of all the saints. We consider some of the titles given to her from across the Christian tradition: Theotokos, Mother of God, Joy of All who Sorrow, Cause of our Salvation, Mother of the Church. We study how those titles reflect Mary's role in our Christian faith, and how she directs us toward Christ.

The readings covered in this episode include the account of the Annunciation in the gospel of Luke (Luke 1: 26-38),  the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the gospel of John's account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), the Angelus prayer. We also refer extensively to Sister Grace Remington's painting of Mary and Eve.

God is glorious in his saints!
 Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. This is our second episode. My name is Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today’s episode is about the Virgin Mary, known in Latin as Mater Dei, Mother of God, in Greek as the Theotokos, Bearer of God. Mary, full of Grace, blessed among women. Most holy, most pure, Queen of Heaven, Queen of All Saints, Mother of Mercy, Mother of Sorrows, Mother of the Church. Mary, Ark of the Convenant, Mary, Help of the Afflicted, Mary, joy of all who sorrow, Mary, Cause of our salvation.

 These are just some of the titles given to Mary from across the Christian tradition. She holds a unique position in the calendar of Saints, and is regarded as the greatest of the saints, due to her special position as the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine that this will be our only podcast episode that talks Mary, but I hope to explain at least a little bit of why she is so special. Mary is introduced very early on in the gospel of Luke: 
 In Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)
 God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 This event is known as the annunciation, celebrated on March 25 (which you may observe, is 9 months before Christmas). This is where we are first introduced to Mary in the gospels. I really like the Orthodox Tropar of the Annunciation, the hymn to commemorate Annunciation: (remember that Theotokos (bearer of God) is the most common name for Mary in Orthodoxy)
 Today is the beginning of our salvation, / the revelation of the eternal mystery! / The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin / as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. / Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: / Hail, O Full of Grace, / the Lord is with You!
 The first line of the hymn is that “today is the beginning of our Salvation”. Similarly, St Iranaeus of Lyon, a 2nd century bishop and theologian referred to Mary as the “cause of our Salvation”. 
 Some Christians might find calling Mary “the cause of our salvation” uncomfortable. Isn’t Jesus alone the one who saves? Yes, Jesus’ death and resurreciton is the center of our salvation, but God also called human beings to participate in his saving work. If you are a Christian, your salvation came also from the writings of people like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, from the efforts of all the early Christians who built the early church and made it flourish, it came from whatever missionaries brought Christianity to your country, and it came from whoever it was who taught you the Gospel, and it came from Mary’s dutiful obedience, in accepting God’s plan for her and raising the boy Jesus to do the work he was called to do.
 In this way, Mary draws a parallel with Eve from the book of genesis. Eve’s decision to say yes to the serpent’s offer of the forbidden fruit led to humanity falling into sin, Mary’s decision to say yes to God’s plan for her: “let it be done to me as you say” led to humanity’s salvation. This decision is known as the “fiat”- which is Latin for “let it be done”.
 Podcasts aren’t a great medium for discussing art, but I have to bring up the painting “Mary and Eve” by Sister Grace Remington, of the Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa.
 The painting has Eve and Mary surrounded by a grove of trees bearing the forbidden fruit. Eve looks down forlorn, defeated. She holds a fruit with a single bite on it on her right hand, and clasps it to her chest. The snake is entangled over both her feet.
 Mary looks to her, lovingly. Her right hand is caressing Eve’s cheek, and her left is holding Eve’s hand, holding it against Mary’s pregnant belly. Her heel crushes the head of the serpent that is holding Eve in bondage.
 The art style is rather simple, but in a way that I feel reinforces the beauty of this scene. I was able to find this painting just by Googling “Mary and Eve painting”, and I urge you to do so, it is absolutely captivating. 
 Mary serves as a model Christian, not just in her decision in saying yes to God, but what happens after. Consider this: the word of God is revealed to her, and she accepts it with her fiat (let is be done to me as you say), the Holy Spirit overshadows her, and Christ is conceived within her. She endures struggles and persecution, as Christ inside her grows. And finally, she bear fruit, a Son. She ends up not just saving herself, but blessing the whole world by her labour. This is a wonderful parallel to the life of a Christian, since we too receive the word of God, have the Holy Spirit overshadow us, and eventually if we persevere in the Christian faith, we will bring forth fruit that blesses and saves the world around us.
 Mary celebrates Christ’s saving mission in this hymn, known as Mary’s song, or the magnificat: 
 My soul doth magnify the Lord. 

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 

 For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden: For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.

 For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name. 

 And his mercy is on them that fear him: throughout all generations. 

 He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

 He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek. 

 He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away. 

 He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : 

 As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.

 Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; 

 As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.

 I love that this song combines both the contemplative, internal side of Christian spirituality with the outward active side. An enduring tension in the Christian faith is the tension between worship, pursuing a sense of closeness with God, and outward acts of love and justice in the world. The magnificat ties both together in a beautiful way. The thread that ties “my soul doth magnify the Lord” and “He hath filled the hungry with good things” ties together the fullness of Christian spirituality.
 Another big contrast that Mary ties together is in the incarnation, the doctrine that Jesus Christ is fully human, and fully divine. Indeed, one of the big theological controversies of the early church was centered around the question of Mary or the incarnation. Should she be called the Theotokos, the bearer of God, or merely the Christotokos, the bearer of only the human person Christ? The church ultimately decided that the baby Mary bore was fully human and fully divine, and that she was the Theotokos, the bearer of God.
 The Christmas miracle in her is the evidence that God came as a human child, who ate, who slept, who grew, who hurt, who felt pain, as we do, who loved his mother as we do. And the body of Christ, that died, and was raised to glory, that will be our destiny too.
 For the Christian, the goal of our faith is not merely in following rules or rituals, not merely in good deeds, but in growing closer to this divine person of Christ. Mary, being his mother, has had the grace and privilege to know him better than any human being could, from conception to birth, to raising Jesus as a child, to watching him die a gruesome death on the cross, and cradling his lifeless body, and ultimately in seeing her son rise from the dead. And she serves as a model to us Christians, who desire that same closeness to Christ. 
 This focus on the incarnation is featured in the famous short prayer, the Angelus,a prayer to Mary that forces us to confront the mystery of Christ’s incarnation.
 The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: 
 And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of
 our death. Amen.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary...

And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary...

 Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. 
 Let us pray:

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.

 Mary serves not just as a model, but also a helper as we turn our lives to Christ. We honour Mary, but all glory goes to Christ, and indeed Mary points to Christ, leads us to Christ. The story in John’s gospel, of Jesus turning water into wine illustrates Mary’s role as one who directs us to Christ. This is John 2:1-11
 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4 “Woman,[a] why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.[b]

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 Mary plays two parts in this story. First, as an intercessor. She is the one who speaks to Jesus on behalf of the host, and Jesus response by performing his miracle. It is in this spirit that Christians ask Mary to intercede for us, to pray for us. And the second is an encourager, telling us to do whatever Jesus tells us to do, continually pointing us toward greater obedience to Christ.

The last of Mary’s roles I will discuss in this episode is as a comforter for the grieving. She is known in the west as the Mother of Sorrows, and in the East as the Joy of all who sorrow. Shortly after giving birth to Christ, she encounters a prophet named Simeon, who tells her of all the wonderful things her baby boy is going to do but ends with this stinger: but a sword will pierce through your own soul also”.
 This prophecy comes true in a most wrenching way three decades later, as we find Mary at the foot of the cross, helpless as her son is dying, victim of cruelty and injustice just out of her reach. Another wonderful piece of art that emerges here is the Pieta, the image of Mary cradling the body of the dead Jesus. Having experienced this greatest grief, Mary now comforts us in our sorrows, so every victim of injustice, every mother who has had to grieve the death of a child can know, as she did, that everything will be made right in the resurrection. The resurrection that gave her back her dead son, that is our destiny too, and this hope lets us push through the temporary sorrows of this world.
 This episode of the Christian saints podcast is about the saving power of a loving mother. I dedicate this episode to my grandmothers and my mom and dad. Both my grandmothers were single moms. My maternal grandma, I called her Gua Ma with seven kids and my paternal grandma, Ah Ma with two. I don’t know how they managed to do what they did in 1950s Malaysia. But they survived, and sacrificed, and saved their children from a life of destitution. Two of those children were my mom and dad, who were able to give me the happy, safe childhood that they did not get to have.
 I realize that they might be some listeners who do not have this privilege, of growing up with a loving mother. And for those I have a last bit of encouragement. As Jesus was dying on the cross, John 19:26-27 says
 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son,' 27 and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'

“the disciple whom he loved” is what John calls himself, in the gospel he wrote. I used to think this was really arrogant of him, but later I learned that perhaps John wrote that way to invite us to see ourselves in his place, as he encountered Jesus (since we are Jesus’ beloved disciples too). So when John writes that Jesus gives his mother to his beloved disciple, literally that is what happened to him, but Jesus is also offering his mother to us, saying to us, here is your mother. Mary is the Mother of the church, and the same love and care she gave to Jesus, Mary now gives to us, as we follow her son. 
 So we say to her, Hail Mary, full of grace
 the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.