4th Sunday of Advent (C)
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the most beloved of all Catholic saints, regarded as higher than the angels, and Queen of heaven and earth. Why do we Catholics honor Mary so much? Are we guilty, as some Protestants claim, of giving her too much devotion and affection? Why do we consider her to be so blessed?
Catholics have good reason for calling Mary “blessed.” It’s right there in the scriptures! In Luke 1:48, Mary says, “all generations will call me blessed.” And in this Sunday’s gospel reading, her cousin Elizabeth says, “blessed are you among women” (Lk 1:42).
In calling Mary blessed, Catholics are only following the scriptures. But the question still remains — what about Mary makes her so blessed?
To answer that question, we first have to know what a blessing is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers this definition: “A blessing of benediction is a prayer invoking God’s power and care upon some person, place, thing or undertaking.”
To bless someone is to desire good for them (just as to curse someone means to desire their ill). To be blessed by God is to enjoy God’s favor. The Catechism goes on to explain that all Christian people are “called to be a blessing and to bless” (CCC 1669). We are called to bring light, love and goodness into the world. As Christians, we are meant to be that blessing.
And of all Christ’s followers, Mary was the most blessed. So what’s so special about Mary?
Shining With the Light of the Son
The key to understanding Catholic devotion to Mary is this: it is all about her son. At the heart of every Marian doctrine is a truth about Jesus. Mary shows us what a soul perfectly in love with God looks like.
I have heard it said that Mary is like the moon. She does not shine with her own light but appears bright because she reflects the light of the Son. This metaphor helps us to understand the source of Mary’s blessedness.
In this Sunday’s gospel reading, Elizabeth greets her cousin Mary with these words: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). Mary is blessed because the child in her womb is blessed, and is in fact the source of her blessing. Recognizing Mary’s blessedness draws us toward the source of that blessedness, Jesus.
Elizabeth also tells her, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45). Mary’s blessedness is a result of her great faith. It comes about because of her deep trust in God. She was approached by an angel and told that she would bear a son who would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. She was told that her virginal vocation would also involve being a mother, and that would come about in a most incredible way. Rather than saying “that’s impossible” or “that wasn’t what I had planned” or “I am unworthy of such a call,” our Lady simply said, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Her acceptance of God’s will for her life made her blessed. In this, she is the mother and model of all Christians. Blessed are you who believed…
Every Soul That Believes
Commenting on this passage from Luke’s gospel, the fourth century bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, says:
“Blessed are you,” said Elizabeth, “who believed”. You too, my people, are blessed, you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes — that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes his works.
Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us. For every soul can receive the Word of God if only it is pure and preserves itself in chastity and modesty.
The soul that has been able to reach this state proclaims the greatness of the Lord just as Mary did and rejoices in God its savior just like her.