No Mary, No Jesus: A Meditation on the Feast of the Nativity of the TheotokosSep 8th, 2012 | By Matt Yonke | Category: Blog Posts
On September 8, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. Here’s a snippet of the stichera of the feast, which are verses chanted during the Vespers service in the Eastern rites:
Today the barren gates are opened
And the Virgin, Gate of God, comes forth
Today grace begins to bear fruit showing forth to the world the Mother of God
Through whom earth is united to Heaven for the salvation of our souls
One unique aspect of the Catholic mind, particularly in the Eastern rites, is the recognition of the precursors of the salvation that came to us through Christ.
Icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos
Today we celebrate the greatest of these precursors, the birth of Jesus’ mother Mary, and we recognize that God’s work of salvation in the incarnation began far before Christ’s own birth. Today we recognize the birth of Mary as a significant step in that preparation as it is the first appearance of the body that would hold and give flesh to Christ our God.
One point of contention between Protestants and Catholics is Mary’s participation in the economy of salvation, but this holiday makes clear her special role as the mediatrix of all graces. I know, as a Protestant, that phrase grated against me hard, but I’ve come to see that her role is exactly as central as the Catholic Church claims it is, precisely because Christ took His sacred flesh from Mary’s own body.
That is to say, without the body of Mary, there would be no body of Christ. Given what science has told us about gestation and birth, we know that Christ’s body and Mary’s are forever intertwined. Mary’s body contained, and contains to this day, cells from the body of Christ, and vice versa just as every human mother and child share cells. There is no child without the mother, no mother without the child. It was her flesh that God took to make His own.
Everything that comes to us through Christ comes through Mary physically if in no other way. And once we realize that the spiritual and the physical are inextricably connected, we can see that grace cannot come to us through Christ without Mary—and that is by God’s own design.
Many Protestants would object that praising Mary’s role as the one who “mediated” salvation to us somehow takes away from the glory due to God for our salvation, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Being used as a channel of God’s grace is one of the greatest gifts God gives to His people. He allows us to minister to one another in many different ways and He allowed Mary to minister to the whole world in a most unique way, by giving her body to create the precious and life giving flesh that was nailed to a tree for the life of the world.
Furthermore, Mary sustained Christ’s life both in the womb and through His childhood. She nursed Him at her own breast and fed Him at her table as He grew—there she is, mediating God’s grace to you by sustaining God’s life. She taught Him to sing the Psalms, the words He would chant as He suffered and died on the cross for you. She anguished over losing Him in the Temple, a grief the equal of which none of us will ever know! In all this, she was bringing into being the Jesus who has saved our souls and made the world new.
She is due praise higher than any creature because God has done through her His greatest and most important work.
It is right for us to rejoice and wonder that God could humble himself so far as to put a human being between Himself and his plan of salvation, and it is right to mark the day of her birth with great joy, as it is the first appearance of the flesh that would become God incarnate.
So rejoice and thank God for His mother, whose birth we celebrate today, because God received His body from her body, and so you receive your salvation through her body.
In the words of another section of the stichera:
This is the day of the Lord:
Rejoice, therefore, O nations!
Behold: The chamber of Light, the Scroll of the Living Word,
Has come forth from the womb.
The gate that opens to the Rising Sun
And is ready for the entrance of the High Priest is here today.
She is the only one who introduced Christ, and Christ alone
Into this world, for the salvation of our souls!