Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. All proper devotion to Mary leads to a greater understanding of Jesus, her Son. This feast, one of the oldest in the Church, goes back to the first centuries, when the Church was trying to express in words the reality of who Jesus is. Through debates with all sorts of heretics who denied either the divinity or humanity of Jesus, theological questions were formed: Is Jesus God, is he man, is he partly both or is he totally both? It appeared clear in the New Testament that he was totally both, but how can this be expressed in a manner that end all heresy within the Church?

The solution came by distinguishing who Jesus is and what he is. The who refers to his person. Who is Jesus? He is the eternal son of the Father, existing for all ages, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Then what is Jesus? Is he by nature God, man or both? The Council of Chalcedon clarified that once he became man, the second Person of the Trinity was both human and divine[1]. Totally both. Jesus is one person, divine, with two natures, human and divine. Mary is the mother of the human nature, she did not create the divine nature. However, in reality, the total person of who Jesus is can not be separated from what he is. Therefore Mary is Mother of God. That is our feast for today.

Now all this is the theological view of today's feast. It is important for us to be aware of the dogma of our faith. We have been entrusted with a rich tradition. We should understand the basic elements of that tradition. However, what does this feast say to us, right here and now, as individuals struggling to serve God throughout our lives, not as theologians speculating on ways to formulate dogma. To answer this we should look at today's second reading from Paul's letter to the Galatians. God's plan was that his Son should be born of a woman so that we might become his adopted sons and daughters. The Eternal Word became man so he could become our brother. Jesus instilled his Holy Spirit in us so we could have the status, the ability to address God as Abba, Father.

Jesus came as one of us. We are now sons and daughters of God. Our prayers have weight. When we are troubled with the struggles of life, when our faith feels weak, when we wonder if God really hears our prayers, we have to remember the status we have received through Mary's participation in God's plan. She is the Mother of God. He has made us his adopted children. At Christmastime we celebrate God's presence among his people. He is Emmanuel, God With Us, not as an unapproachable ruler, but as our Father who cares about us. Today we pray for the faith to call upon him.

[1] The Council of Chalcedon was an ecumenical council that took place from October 8 to November 1, 451, at Chalcedon (a city of Bithynia in Asia Minor), today part of the city of Istanbul on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and known as the district of Kadıköy. It is the fourth of the first seven Ecumenical Councils in Christianity, and is therefore recognized as infallible in its dogmatic definitions by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. It repudiated the Eutychian doctrine of monophysitism, and set forth the Chalcedonian Creed, which describes the "full humanity and full divinity" of Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity. This action thus set aside the findings of the Second Council of Ephesus in 449.

Ilustration: Several versions of this picture are known, all attributed to Gerard David, whose style and painting technique they display. The presentation of the Virgin in the foreground, half turned toward the viewer, allows us to enter the intimacy of this domestic interior, with its window opened onto a contemporary townscape. A basket and a prayer-book taken out of its cover are lying on a console against the wall. To the left, a cupboard carries an earthenware jug and a small bunch of flowers. As an attentive mother, the Virgin delicately takes the soup for her Son whom she is holding seated on her knees. He is dressed in a light linen shirt and is also playing at holding a wooden spoon. This highly realistic representation of a spoon-fed meal is a variation of the theme, more common at the time, of the Virgin nursing the Child. The Child fed by the Virgin is a metaphor of the believer nourished by his mother the Church and by Christ himself. The bread at the front of the scene and the jug on the cupboard are the eucharistic symbols of his body and his blood. The very idea of Christ's incarnation through which humanity has been saved is evoked here. The picture, intended for private devotion, is conceived in a manner typical of the late Middle Ages. By handling the subject as a contemporary scene, the painter abolishes the frontier between the spiritual and the material worlds, calling on the believer to live his faith directly and individually. Conceived for private use, the Virgin and Child with the Milk Soup was probably painted many times over, as testified by other extant versions. The Brussels painting has been produced using a pattern containing the entire composition, which was also applied for another version conserved at Genoa. A variation of this pattern was used for two other versions conserved in New York and San Diego. It would appear that the painter had a basic layout which could be adapted according to his clients' wishes. This phenomenon illustrates the development of the art of the Flemish Primitives, who at the end of the 15th century were faced with growing demand from their bourgeois clients. The various versions coming from Gerard David's workshop suggests that a part of work must have been undertaken by his assistants.

Gerard Davis, Madonna and Child with the Milk Soup (c. 1520), Oil on oak (35 x 29 cm) Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts (Brussels).

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris