The celebration of birthdays and similar anniversaries are not just mere events in themselves; they are moments of acknowledging individuals who have left indelible imprints in the lives of others and great lessons for posterity. In a rather spectacular way, Mary, the mother of Christ, has touched and transformed lives through the centuries. Her life is a transcript of God’s grace, and indeed, the mysteries and virtues of her entire life bespeak fullness of grace. By implication, commemorating her birthday is not a mere recount of a historical event but an affirmation and a celebration of divine grace. As a result, grace underscores her dignity and informs devotion to her.
In a word, grace is the interpretative key to understanding the mystery of Mary. The centrality of grace relative to Mary testifies to God’s great privilege to her, for which all generations call her blessed (cf. Lk 1:48). In a radical way, grace funds Mary’s life in a very efficient and effective manner, and her life becomes a biography of grace. Her profile narrates an unreserved reception of grace, making her the unique, comprehensive and highest expression of its possibilities in all human persons. It stands in no need of further clarification that through the gratuitous grace of God, she represents humanity’s destiny. While the grace narrative underscores our salvation, justification and divinisation, the distinction between Mary and Christians is rooted in the availability and reception of grace.
Grace is wholly efficacious and optimally operative in her response to God’s overture to sanctity; she was prompt and ever-poised in her cooperation with the grace of God. It is grace that warrants, registers and funds Mary’s pre-eminence in the communion of saints. She is the greatest tribute to the highest pinnacle of possibilities of human reception and cooperation with grace: “May it be done to me according to your words” (Lk 1:38). On account of the capital grace of her Son, Jesus Christ, who possesses the Spirit without measure (cf. Jn 3:34) as the source of grace, Virgin Mary is an exemplar of the fate of the Church. She is an icon of the eschatological glory, a bride without wrinkles and spots (cf. Eph 5:27), the Virgin Mother, daughter of Zion and the woman of salvation history.
Her universal role was confirmed on the Cross when, as his ultimate will, Christ handed her over to John to be the mother of the new people of God, the Church, which includes those whose faith is known to God alone and not limited by tribe, creed or colour. She is, therefore, a woman of the promise and a woman of the fulfilment (cf. Gen 3:15, Is 7:10-15, cf. Matt. 1:20-23, John 2:3-4). She is “the woman” of Genesis (cf. Gen 3:15), the “woman” of John 19:26, “a woman clothed with sun” of Rev 12:1, “O woman” of John 2:3, and the “Woman” human origin of the Word made flesh in Gal 4:4. Since Jesus is identified as the child signified in the biblical texts, then Mary is the woman-mother of the child, which is the single interpretation consistent with the hermeneutics of faith. She is the woman-mother in the Scriptural books of Genesis and Revelation.
As such, devotion to her narrates a profile of holiness and, indeed, a biography of grace. Devotion to Mary is, therefore, true when it connects one to and deepens one’s relationship with God. It is true when it is rooted in Christ and points to the grace of the Holy Spirit, who empowered her. It is true when it gives glory and praise to God, honours Mary with the Church as her mother and member, and looks to the future with hope, love, and faithfulness (cf. Lk 1: 46 – 55). True devotion to Mary honours and draws Christ’s mediatorship between God and man. Her exemplary value in the mediatorship of Christ does not remove anything from her Son. Instead, it accentuates and glorifies it. By extension, the mother of the glorified Christ is also the mother of humanity on the way to glorification.
In her song of gratitude, Magnificat (cf. Lk 1: 46 – 55), Mother Mary demonstrates that she understands and appreciates her role in the web of relationships that is the human family. Worthy of note, in the spiritual realm, a genuine relationship never ends; it intensifies. Since relationships have an everlasting span and infinite consequences, such a relationship contains enormous spiritual goods and benefits. Mary’s motherhood is everlasting, and her maternal relationship with us is a never-ending enterprise. In that sense, it continues in the communion of saints, in that open heaven, where the Church dwells and thrives, savouring the spiritual goods of the Lamb upon whom the angels ascend and descend (cf. Jn 1:51).
In that open heaven, which locates the communion of the Church where saints in heaven and on earth inter-course in the Spirit, Mary enjoys pre-eminence as the mother of the friends of her Son and queen of the angels. Relationship in open heaven never ends. Devotion to Mother Mary is, thus, our participation in the spiritual interaction in the open heaven. It affirms the triumph of grace of an eschatological magnitude in anticipation of the ultimate Parousia. It is a victory celebration of the ongoing triumph of grace in the whole Christ. Virgin Mary is the Lord’s irreversible gaze of love and mercy turned to the Church, which honours her memory and looks up to her as an example of the love of God and holiness of life. Mary’s blessedness is intimately connected with her relationship with Jesus Christ, which is both biological and spiritual.
It is rooted in her total submission to the Word of God (cf. Lk 11:28), her mysterious, intimate bond and spiritual kinship with Christ. Indeed, grace explains the mystery of Mary. It requires faith. Devotion to Mary is only a response to God’s example. Loving Mary takes nothing away from her Son, and honouring her is only a tribute to Christ, who saved her in anticipation. It is a tribute to God, who chose her as a human instrument to bring about the work of salvation. It is a privilege to be counted among those who call her blessed. With all her children living on both sides of eternity, I say Happy Birthday, Mother Mary!
• Fr. George Adimike is a priest of the Archdiocese of Onitsha. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.