The letter to the Hebrews chapter 2:17 and 4:14 defines Christ as the High Priest because He is God Himself, from whom every other priest shares their priesthood. He fulfills the role of the Priest by mediating between God and man and provided Himself as the sacrificial lamb for the atonement of our sins. If Christ, is the high priest, who then was Mary? Was she also a priest? Did she offer sacrifices as in the case of her Son and other priests? What does the Scripture and the Church’s tradition have to say about Mary and the priesthood? The Blessed Virgin Mary is not often spoken of in the New Testament. However, we notice that she is not absent in any of the three constitutive moments of the Christian mystery, which are: the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery and Pentecost. She was present in the incarnation, which took place in her womb.
She was present in the paschal mystery of Christ as the evangelist John affirms it, “Near the cross of Jesus stood Mary his Mother” (Jn 19:25). Lastly, she was present on the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, which Luke tells us in Acts 1:14 “They persevered in common prayer, together with some women, among them was Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” Importantly, each of her presence in these events reveals something mysterious between her (priesthood) and the (ministerial) priests, but I shall limit this reflection to the first, which is the priesthood in the mystery of the incarnation. When we talk of the ‘priesthood of the Blessed Virgin Mary,’ there are tendencies of expressing some reactions with question such as, if Mary was ever a priest? The idea of Mary as Priest seems to have been around since the 4th century and is wonderfully illustrated in striking images of Mary dressed in priest’s vestments (wearing what looks like chasuble and pallium), this vestment denote the highest priestly honour, worn by the Pope or Bishop as a privilege (online research on iconographies of Mary).
In the 12th century, there exists the belief that the Annunciation acted as Mary’s ordination. There is also a belief that through her ‘yes’, Mary made Christ present in the world, in her womb, as the priest makes Christ present in the words of consecration. In an article of St. Chrysostom, “Mary was the first to say mass, by agreeing to the incarnation and so preparing the victim (Christ).” She is portrayed as one who began the mass from the incarnation, and fulfills the role of the sacrificial priest, who offers the sacrifice of her Son, her own flesh and blood to be the bread of life and she present this to the world as at Jesus’ birth and his death. She can say better than any priest, “This is my body, this is my blood.” From the incarnation to the death of Christ, Mary’s role as minister was obvious. She began and ended the mass. She could have left the altar of sacrifice as some priest do while the mass is still on. She had to preside over the completion of the mass as she had presided over the beginning, down to the presentation of her Son in the Temple, which is her offering, and the sacrificing her Son on the cross of Calvary, as Christ did himself.
A pertinent question that arises from this is if Mary share in the priesthood of her Son. De Salazar, a great Marian theologian of the 17th century says of Mary, “Not only did Christ pour the fullness of his priestly anointing on Mary but He emptied it on her.” Therefore, of her role at Calvary, “The Blessed Virgin fulfilled the office of the Priest by offering and sacrificing her Son.” However, a Holy Office decree of 1916 forbade the use of any image that had Mary wearing vestments, some say for fear of the possibility of an argument for women’s ordination, others that Mary as a priest was a metaphorical image taken too far. The image of Mary as a priest lies on her submission to the will of God, her fiat, which is the image of the annunciation in the New Testament. In 1979, Pope Saint John Paul II, in his letter to all priests on Holy Thursday, made some nexus of the closeness between Mary and the ministerial priesthood.
Article 18 of the Vatican II document Mary and the priesthood: Her fiat Lumen Gentium said of the ministerial priesthood, “For the nurturing and constant growth of the people of God, Christ the Lord instituted in his Church a variety of ministries which work for the good of the whole body. For those ministers who are endowed with sacred power serve their brethren so that all who are of the people of God and therefore enjoy a true Christian dignity working towards a common goal, freely and in an orderly way, may arrive at salvation.” The ministerial priesthood then involves a special ministry of service for the body of Christ and is constituted by a divine commission by which a sacred power is conferred on a certain chosen individual or individuals.
Taking a look at the account of Annunciation, a certain individual was chosen, she is a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary, residing at a town in Galilee called Nazareth (Lk 1:26-27). A special ministry was given her. “…You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31). God gave the ministry to her, “The angel Gabriel was sent by God…” (Luke 1:26). A sacred power is conferred on Mary. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” the angel answered, “and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow, and so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God… “(Luke 1:35). The analogy between Mary and the priest can be expressed thus: Mary, through the work of the Holy Spirit, conceived Christ and, after having nourished and nourished him in her bosom, gave birth to him in Bethlehem.
The priest, anointed and consecrated by the Holy Spirit in ordination, is also called to fill himself with Christ in order to be able to give birth to him and make him be born in souls through the proclamation of the Word, the administration of the sacraments. Hence, we can affirm that the Blessed Virgin Mary bears this character, not as the ministerial priesthood but the universal priesthood we all shared in Christ. Mary’s priesthood was not so much in relationship with the ministerial priesthood as with that of Christ. However, on the note of service that we see the priesthood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The personal contribution, common to Mary and the priest, is summed up in faith. Mary, writes Augustine, “by faith she conceived and by faith gave birth” (fide concepit, fide peperit); the priest also, by faith, takes Christ into his heart and through faith communicates him to others. Invariably, both clerics and laity can learn from Mary’s faith.
If we recall as priests and as lay faithful who have witnessed ordination, there are two very brief words that Mary spoke at the time of the Annunciation and that the priest pronounces at the time of his ordination: “Here I am!” and “Yes.” We remember the moment we were before the altar for ordination, our names were called individually and we responded with all emotion “Present,” synonymous to the “Fiat” of Mary. Throughout the rite, we were asked some questions: “Do you want to exercise the priestly ministry for a lifetime?”, “Do you want to carry out the ministry of the word with dignity and faith in preaching?”, “Do you want to celebrate the mysteries of Christ with devotion and fidelity?” To each question, we answer: “Yes, I do!” similarly, on the day of our baptism, we responded “Yes, I do.” Dear brother priests and lay faithful, this reflection is to aid us renew our commitments to our vocation by affirming again, “Here I am” and to resound again “Yes I do” to the interrogation of our priestly ordination and baptismal promise. We implore the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who remained faithful to Her fiat to constantly intercede for us through Christ our Lord. Amen! Peace be with you!