Today is the feast of the Presentation of Mary. According to Jewish tradition, certain babies born near Jerusalem could be taken to the Temple and presented to the Lord. It is a popular tradition (though not official Church teaching) that Mary’s parents Sts. Anne and Joachim took her to the Temple at a very young age and dedicated her to the Lord to live as a consecrated Virgin. This particular event is not described in the Bible, but it is similar to the passage where Hannah dedicates her son Samuel to the Temple in 1 Samuel 1: 21-28.
Whether or not it is a historic event, the feast is theologically important to the Church, because it demonstrates that Mary was dedicated to God her entire life, which affirms her role as the “handmaiden of the Lord” when the angel announced that she would be the Mother of God.
What does it mean to say that Mary was the Mother of God? Obviously, we know that she was an ordinary human. She is not a goddess or any divine figure. So how could a mortal woman become the mother of God?
In Luke 1:43, her cousin Elizabeth calls Mary, “the mother of my Lord” when both women are pregnant. The Church affirmed this title at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. This title only makes sense when we understand the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth.
The Incarnation is the action of God taking on human form and becoming a fetus who would be born of a woman. The second person of the Trinity (Jesus) was conceived in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is how the angel explained it to Joseph, when he had trouble understanding the situation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that Christ drew His humanity (cells, flesh, etc.) from his mother, Mary. She consented to this at the Annunciation when she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:28). By this consent, she became the Mother of God.
The Virgin Birth refers to the miracle that Mary, a virgin, conceived a baby without the assistance of any man. This fulfills Isaiah’s Old Testament prophesy that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:14, quoted in Matthew 1:23). Mary affirmed at the moment of the Annunciation that she did not know man (Luke 1:34). Her status as virgin and mother makes her the “New Eve” who replaced Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden. It also makes her a symbol of the Church.
Accepting Mary as a virgin mother was a concept that made no sense to pagans and others outside the early Church. Yet it is a belief that has been affirmed again and again at Church councils. The significance of Mary as the virgin Mother of God is so theologically important to Christians that it is a Church doctrine accepted on faith.
Today, we celebrate Mary as Mother of God and as a symbolic mother to all of us.
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Lizann is a Catholic military wife and mother who loves to share about her faith. Read more from Lizann and our other contributors on the Christian Catholic Shop blog.