There is no Christmas without Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is essential to the Christian faith. Yet the significance of Mary is disputed among the various traditions. Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox see the Protestant view as undervaluing Mary’s role in our salvation. Protestants find the Catholic position excessive and unbiblical. However, a significant agreement might be found, surprisingly, in the writings on Mary by Roman Catholic pontiffs. Their thoughts might resonate well with all Christians.
In 1974, Pope Paul VI wrote a treatise on Mary, the Mother of Christ. Amid all his technical theology, there is one simple sentence that captures his message. Pope Paul VI said of Mary, the mother of Jesus, “She is truly our sister.”
Truly our sister. That concept might express concisely the significance of Mary for all Christians. Any honor given to Mary is empty without her faith in her son as the Messiah, the Son of God. Mary was the first disciple of Christ. She was the first to hear the word of God: “You will conceive and bear a son and call him Jesus.” She was the first to act on the word of God: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
It was her faith rather than her honors that made Mary the first and the perfect disciple of Christ. Christians of all denominations are disciples of Christ. She is our model of that discipleship. She is truly our sister.
Pope Pius XII wrote that Mary is an example of “providing bread for the hungry, justice for the oppressed, return of the exiled, liberty for the unjustly imprisoned and peace among those divided by hatred, envy and discord.” In all of this, he observed, she can be our intercessor, but more so she is our model as a disciple of Christ. She is truly our sister.
Pope John Paul II said, “Mary was not a timid submissive woman with a piety disinterested in those unjustly afflicted. She was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the haughty from their dominance.” Mary, he insisted, is more than an object of piety. She is a model for our responsibility to build the kingdom of God on Earth. She is truly our sister.
Pope Paul VI’s treatise on Mary concludes with these words: “The Virgin Mary has always been proposed as an example to be imitated, but not in the social and cultural background in which she lived which rarely exists today. Rather she is upheld as an example to the faithful because she fully and responsibly accepted the will of God in her life. She is our model because she heard the word of God and did it; because charity and the spirit of service were the driving forces of her actions. She is worthy of imitation because she was the first and the perfect disciple of Christ.” She is truly our sister.
The various Christian traditions might regard Mary in different ways but any significance they accorded to her has meaning only because she was the first and the perfect disciple of Christ. Mary, the Mother of Christ, is truly our sister.
Father Earl Meyer is at St. Fidelis Friary, Victoria.