by Charles Dickson
As we approach the Advent and Christmas seasons, we begin to ask ourselves the question as to what role the mother of our Lord should play in our worship and festival observances. How important a place? The answer in a nutshell is: a very important place.
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Protestant observances of the events surrounding the Incarnation all but deny the importance of Mary. A few references to her in sermons, a character in the Christmas play, and a statue in the Nativity scene are about as far as it goes in terms of recognizing the role of Our Lady in the divine transcendent event. However, Catholic observers are quick to point out that their own Church hasn't always properly emphasized her importance.
The life and ministry of Jesus on earth begins with the Annunciation and the Incarnation. The vehicle or means by which the Incarnation took place is the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Incarnation of the Son of God requires that we discover God's purposes in the Word made flesh. Through the Annunciation, Mary learned that her motherhood would extend to all who stand in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. As Father Romanus Cessario writes: ''If we reflect on the truth that God chose to come among us as a little Child, we will begin to comprehend what Mary's spiritual motherhood means for the Church.''
Not to emphasize the central role of Mary in history is to dilute the importance of the Incarnation. And when the Incarnation is no longer crucial, the basic tenets of the Christian faith begin to crumble.
In one of his talks on Our Lady, Pope John Paul II clarifies the basis for emphasizing the role of Mary in the Christmas message: ''The fiat of the Annunciation inaugurates the New Covenant between God and the creature. While it incorporates Jesus into our race according to nature, it incorporates Mary with Him according to grace. The bond between God and humankind that was broken by sin is now happily restored.'' As Christians we realize that this change occurs only because of what God has accomplished in Jesus through Mary.
The Annunciation celebrates the beginnings of our Christian faith. At the inauguration of human salvation, the divine plan involves the Virgin Mary. The divine strategy always includes Mary. As the mother of the Messiah, Mary retains a specific responsibility in our spiritual development.
Again as Pope John Paul II exclaims, ''In Mary every perfection of the creature preexists, and in a manner unspeakably more perfect than in everything else, short of God himself and Jesus the Word made flesh.''
Of course, the Holy Father is not meaning to suggest that Mary supplants our Savior in the scheme of human salvation, as Protestants often accuse Catholics of teaching and believing. Rather we set the record straight. Since Mary's dignity remains founded on being the Mother of God, everything she accomplishes for us comes from Christ himself.
This means that the Blessed Mother can never be regarded as being merely incidental to the main event with no one daring to raise her to a level beyond that. The Mother of our Lord was never merely a passive sidelight to the Annunciation and the Incarnation, but rather she was God's chosen instrument by which the coming of the Savior became a possibility. Hence, by devotion to Mary, the importance of her Son is not minimized, but is ultimately underlined.
When the Church ceases to focus on Mary, it loses perspective on Christ. Recognition of Mary is a crucial ingredient in observing Christmas. Mary glorifies God, never herself. The Marian doctrines do not constitute Mariolatry. They are Christocentric. They are part of the Church's teachings and designed so that Christ -- not His mother -- is glorified. Mary leads us to her Son. That is why she is crucial to Christmas. TP
DR. DICKSON is a college chemistry instructor, Lutheran parish pastor, and author of the book A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary.