Hail, Mary

Friday, May. 10, 2024
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

So here we are in May, a month during which we honor not only our earthly mothers but also our heavenly one. Saints throughout the ages have been devoted to the Theotokos, the God-bearer, a title that the Council of Ephesus in 431 decreed as fitting, causing the Nestorian Schism. Nestorianism denies the unity of Jesus’ divine and human natures, and therefore argued that Mary should be called Christotokos (Christ-bearer), because according to this heresy she was the mother of the human person of Jesus, but not the mother of the God.    

Cyril of Alexandria, a Church Father who bears the title Pillar of Faith, was a leader of the Council of Ephesus. He wrote that he was amazed that there were some who doubted the Virgin Mother should be called Theotokos, because “if our Lord Jesus Christ is God,” how could the one who gave birth to him not be called God-bearer?

That even one of the Virgin Mary’s earliest titles should be inextricably linked to the nature of her son is appropriate, I think, because we Catholics believe that “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it,” the Catechism states. Mary, whose “yes” brought the Savior into the world, continues to intercede for us, so that we call her Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Mother of Mercy, Comforter of the Afflicted.

Other titles are reflected in the names of her feast days this month: May 13 is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which commemorates the first of her apparitions in Portugal in 1917. Among the messages she gave was, “Pray the rosary every day to obtain peace for the world.”

We also have the feast of Mary, the Help of Christians, which is celebrated on May 24. This title was first given to the Virgin Mother by Saint John Chrysostom in 345, and in 1571 Pope Pius V invoked her by this title before the Battle of Loreto, when Christian forces turned back the invading Ottoman Empire. The feast itself was instituted by Pope Pius VII. He was captured by Napoleon’s army in 1809 and promised God that he would institute a feast in honor of Mary if he was set free. That happened in 1814, and a year later he decreed the Marian celebration.

On the last day of this month is the Feast of the Visitation, which commemorates Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Pope Urban VI established this feast in 1389, asking for Mary’s intercession to bring an end to the Great Schism, which divided the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Later, the feast was adopted by the Franciscans.

The Marian feasts we celebrate this month are just a sampling of those throughout the year in which we Catholics show our devotion to the Blessed Mother. Pope Paul VI called this devotion “an integral of Christian worship.” The Blessed Virgin is “a model of the spiritual attitude with which the Church celebrates and lives the divine mysteries,” he wrote in his 1974 apostolic exhortation Marialis cultus, one of many Mariological papal documents, from the dogma on the Mother of God promulgated by Pope Celestine in 431 after the Council of Ephesus to Pope Francis’ numerous messages, not least of which was his prayer to her during the coronavirus pandemic.  He ended this prayer with an ancient supplication that is one I plan to pray throughout this month: “Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.”

Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at marie@icatholic.org.

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