Down the centuries, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has sought to understand more clearly the revealed truth about the Mother of God
"The sparse information on Mary's earthly life is compensated by its quality and theological richness, which contemporary exegesis has carefully brought to light", the Holy Father said at the General Audience of Wednesday 8 November, as he continued his reflections on the Virgin Mary. The Pope's catechesis on Mary in Sacred Scripture and theological reflection was the fourth in the series on the Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.
1. In our preceding catecheses we saw how the doctrine of Mary's motherhood passed from its first formula "Mother of Jesus", to the more complete and explicit, "Mother of God", even to the affirmation of her maternal involvement in the redemption of humanity.
For other aspects of Marian doctrine as well, many centuries were necessary to arrive at the explicit definition of the revealed truths concerning Mary. Typical examples of this faith journey towards the ever deeper discovery of Mary's role in the history of salvation are the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, proclaimed, as we know by two of my venerable predecessors, respectively, the Servant of God Pius IX in 1854, and the Servant of God Pius XII during the Jubilee Year of 1950.
Mariology is a particular field of theological research: in it the Christian people's love for Mary intuited, frequently in anticipation, certain aspects of the mystery of the Blessed Virgin, calling the attention of theologians and pastors to them.
Mother of Jesus had role in salvation history
2. We must recognize that, at first sight, the Gospels offer scant information on the person and life of Mary. We would certainly like to have had fuller information about her, which would have enabled us to know the Mother of God better.
This expectation remains unsatisfied, even in the other New Testament writings where an explicit doctrinal development regarding Mary is lacking. Even St. Paul's letters, which offer us a rich reflection on Christ and his work, limit themselves to stating, in a very significant passage, that God sent his Son "born of woman" (Gal 4:4).
Very little is said about Mary's family. If we exclude the infancy narratives, in the Synoptic Gospels we find only two statements which shed some light on Mary: one concerning the attempt by his "brethren" or relatives to take Jesus back to Nazareth (cf. Mk 3:21, Mt 12:48); the other, in response to a woman's exclamation about the blessedness of Jesus' Mother (Lk 11:27)
Nevertheless, Luke, in the infancy Gospel, in the episodes of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the birth of Jesus, the presentation of the Child in the temple and his finding among the teachers at the age of 12, not only provides us with some important facts, but presents a sort of "proto-Mariology" of fundamental interest. His information is indirectly completed by Matthew in the account of the annunciation to Joseph (Mt 1:18-25), but only with regard to the virginal conception of Jesus.
Moreover, John's Gospel deepens our knowledge of the value for salvation history of the role played by the Mother of Jesus, when it records her presence at the beginning and end of his public life. Particularly significant is Mary's presence at the Cross, when she received from her dying Son the charge to be mother to the beloved disciple and, in him, to all Christians (cf. Jn 2:1-12, Jn 19:25-27).
Lastly, the Acts of the Apostles expressly numbers the Mother of Jesus among the women of the first community awaiting Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14).
However, in the absence of further New Testament evidence and reliable historical sources, we know nothing of Mary's life after the Pentecost event, nor of the date and circumstances of her death. We can only suppose that she continued to live with the Apostle John and that she was very closely involved in the development of the first Christian community.
3. The sparse information on Mary's earthly life is compensated by its quality and theological richness, which contemporary exegesis has carefully brought to light. Moreover, we must remember that the Evangelists' viewpoint is totally Christological and is concerned with the Mother only in relation to the joyful proclamation of the Son. As St. Ambrose observed, the Evangelist, in expounding the mystery of the Incarnation, "believed it was better not to seek further testimonies about Mary's virginity, in order not to seem the defender of the Virgin rather than the preacher of the mystery (Exp. in Lucam, 2, 6: PL 15, 1555)
We can recognize in this fact a special intention of the Holy Spirit, who desired to awaken in the Church an effort of research which, preserving the centrality of the mystery of Christ, might not be caught up in details about Mary's life, but aim above all at discovering her role in the work of salvation, her personal holiness and her maternal mission in Christian life.
Faith of the simple recognized Mary's holiness
4. The Holy Spirit guides the Church's effort, committing her to take on Mary's own attitudes. In the account of Jesus' birth, Luke noted how his mother kept all these things, "pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19), striving that is, to "put together" (symballousa), in a deeper vision, all the events of which she was the privileged witness.
Similarly, the people of God are also urged by the same Spirit to understand deeply all that has been said about Mary, in order to progress in the knowledge of her mission, intimately linked to the mystery of Christ.
As Mariology develops, the particular role of the Christian people emerges. They co-operate, by the affirmation and witness of their faith, in the progress of Marian doctrine, which normally is not only the work of theologians, even if their task is indispensable to deepening and clearly explaining the datum of faith and the Christian experience itself.
The faith of the simple is admired and praised by Jesus, who recognized in it a marvellous expression of the Father's benevolence (cf. Mt 11:25; Lk 10:21). Down the centuries it continues to proclaim the marvels of the history of salvation hidden from the wise. This faith, in harmony with the Virgin's simplicity, has led to progress in the recognition of her personal holiness and the transcendent value of her motherhood.
The mystery of Mary commits every Christian, in communion with the Church, "to pondering in his heart" what the Gospel revelation affirms about the Mother of Christ. In the logic of the Magnificat, after the example of Mary, each one will personally experience God's love and will discover a sign of God's tenderness for man in the marvels wrought by the Blessed Trinity in the woman "full of grace".
L'Osservatore Romano November 15, 1995