The Passionists - Compassion

Mary in Christian Tradition

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The Scriptures: 1st Century

"God sent his only Son, born of a woman . . . " (Gal. 4:4) Except for this reference, no mention is made of Mary in the earliest Christian writings -- the letters of St. Paul. Only the four Gospels, written between 65 and 100 A.D. give any details of her life. They are the prime sources for later Christian devotion to Mary. (Right: Mater Dolorosa, Joos van Cleeve)

Mark's Gospel says simply that Jesus is "the Son of Mary," yet relates nothing about the events of his birth and family life. For Mark, being a disciple who believes in Jesus is more important than any ties of flesh and blood. He recalls Mary as a believer, a disciple of her Son, who does the will of God. (Mk. 3:31-35)

Luke's beautiful narration of the events surrounding the birth of Christ portrays Mary as "the handmaid of the Lord." Drawing, probably, on early Jewish-Christian devotion to the mother of Jesus, his Gospel presents her as one of the faithful remnant of Israel, "the Anawim," "the people of the land" who, despite the hardships they experienced from one conqueror to another, remained faithful to their God. Complete trust in God, no matter what comes, is their strength. Luke's Gospel pictures Mary as a believer who is a model for every ordinary Christian. Life can be transformed when someone says to God, as she did: "Be it done to me according to your word."

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant,
from now on will all ages call me blessed."
(Lk. 1:16-18)

Matthew's Gospel, intent on tracing Jesus' descent from David through Joseph, presents Mary less conspicuously than Luke. This Gospel, however, strongly insists on Mary's unique virginal conception: " . . . before they lived together she was found with child through the Holy Spirit." (Mt. 1:18) Later, this belief in her virginal conception would bring Mary an honored title: the Mother of God.

John's Gospel, the last of the four, speaks twice of Mary. At Cana in Galilee she intercedes with her son for a newly married couple and he changes the water into wine. (Jn 2:1-12) On Calvary she stands beneath the cross at Jesus' death. (Jn 19:25-27) At Cana and on Calvary Jesus calls his mother "Woman," which early Christian tradition saw as an allusion likening her to the first woman, Eve. In God's plan, Mary, by her faith, reversed the failure of Eve and so became the new "mother of all the living." Through the centuries the stories of Cana and Calvary have led Christians to seek Mary's intercession with her Son and to rely on her as a mother with compassion for those in need.

next: Stories of her early life