Mary and Vatican II

 

 

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, or Vatican II, reaffirmed the Church's special love for Mary due to her role in salvation history and her important link to Christ's work. The following is chapter 8 of Lumen gentium, which focuses on Our Lady:

 

I. Introduction
52. Wishing in his supreme goodness and wisdom to effect the redemption of the world, "when the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal 4:4). "He for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnated by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary."[1] This divine mystery of salvation is revealed to us and continued in the Church, which the Lord established as his body. Joined to Christ the head and in communion with all his saints, the faithful must in the first place reverence the memory "of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ."[2]

53. The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. Redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son and united to him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of the Mother of the Son of God, and therefore she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. But, being of the race of Adam, she is at the same time also united to all those who are to be saved; indeed, "she is clearly the mother of the members of Christ ... since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head."[3] Wherefore she is hailed as pre-eminent and as a wholly unique member of the Church, and as its type and outstanding model in faith and charity. The Catholic Church taught by the Holy Spirit, honors charity. The Catholic Church taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and devotion as a most beloved mother.

54. Wherefore this sacred synod, while expounding the doctrine on the Church, in which the divine Redeemer brings about our salvation, intends to set forth painstakingly both the role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body, and the duties of the redeemed towards the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men, and most of all those who believe. It does not, however, intend to give a complete doctrine on Mary, nor does it wish to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified. Those opinions therefore may be lawfully retained which are propounded in Catholic schools concerning her, who occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to us.[4]

II. The Function of the Blessed Virgin in the Plan of Salvation
55. The sacred writings of the Old and New Testaments, as well as venerable tradition, show the role of the Mother of the Savior in the plan of salvation in an ever clearer light and call our attention to it The books of the Old Testament describe the history of salvation, by which the coming of Christ into the world was slowly prepared. The earliest documents, as they are read in the Church and are understood in the light of a further and full revelation, bring the figure of a woman, Mother of the Redeemer, into a gradually clearer light. Considered in this light, she is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise of victory over the serpent which was given to our first parents after their fall into sin (cf. Gen 3:15). Likewise she is the virgin who shall conceive and bear a son, whose name shall be called Emmanuel (cf. Is 8:14; Mic 5:2-3; Mt 1:22-23). She stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion and the new plan of salvation is established, when the Son of God has taken human nature from her, that he might in the mysteries of his flesh free man from sin.

56. The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in bringing about death, so also a woman should contribute to life. This is preeminently true of the Mother of Jesus, who gave to the world the Life that renews all things, and who was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role. It is no wonder then that it was customary for the Fathers to refer to the Mother of God as all holy and free from every stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.[5] Enriched from the first instant of her conception with the splendour of an entirely unique holiness, the virgin of Nazareth is hailed by the heralding angel, by divine command, as "full of grace" (cf. Lk 1:38), and to the heavenly messenger she replies: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word" (Lk 1:38). Thus the daughter of Adam, Mary, consenting to the word of God, became the Mother of Jesus. Committing herself wholeheartedly and impeded by no sin to God's saving will, she devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of Almighty God. Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man's salvation through faith and obedience. For, as St Irenaeus says, she "being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race."[6] Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert with him in their preaching: "the knot of Eve's disobedience was united by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith."[7] Comparing Mary with Eve, they call her "Mother of the living,"[8] and frequently claim: "death through Eve, life through Mary."[9]

57. This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ's virginal conception up to his death; first when Mary, arising in haste to go to visit Elizabeth, is greeted by her as blessed because of her belief in the promise of salvation and the precursor leaped with joy in the womb of his mother (cf. Lk 1:41-45); then also at the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it,[10] the Mother of God joyfully showed her firstborn son to the shepherds and the Magi: when she presented him to the Lord in the temple, making the offering of the poor, she heard Simeon foretelling at the same time that her Son would be a sign of contradiction and that a sword would pierce the mother's soul, that out of many hearts thoughts might be revealed (cf. Lk 2:34-35); when the child Jesus was lost and they had sought him sorrowing, his parents found him in the temple, engaged in the things that were his Father's, and they did not understand the words of their Son. His mother, however, kept all these things to be pondered in her heart (cf. Lk 2:41-5l).

58. In the public life of Jesus Mary appears prominently; at the very beginning when at the marriage feast of Cana, moved with pity, she brought about by her intercession the beginning of miracles of Jesus the Messiah (cf. Jn 2:1-11). In the course of her Son's preaching she received the words whereby, in extolling a kingdom beyond the concerns and ties of flesh and blood, he declared blessed those who heard and kept the word of God (cf. Mk 3:35; par. Lk 11:27-27) as she was faithfully doing (cf. Lk 2:19; 51). Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother's heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to his disciple, with these words: "Woman, behold thy son" (Jn 19:26-27).[11]

59. But since it had pleased God not to manifest solemnly the mystery of the salvation of the human race before he would pour forth the Spirit promised by Christ, we see the apostles before the day of Pentecost "persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts 1:14), and we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation. Finally the Immaculate Virgin preserved free from all stain of original sin,[12] was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory,[13] when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords, (cf. Apoc 19:16) and conqueror of sin and death.[14]

III. The Blessed Virgin and the Church
60. In the words of the apostle there is but one mediator: "for there is but one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all" (1 Tim 2:5-6). But Mary's function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin's salutary influence on men originates not in any inner necessity but in the disposition of God. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ but on the contrary fosters it.

61. The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son's sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.

62. This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.[15] By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.[16] This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.[17]

No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.

The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary, which it constantly experiences and recommends to the heartfelt attention of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more closely adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.

63. By reason of the gift and role of her divine motherhood, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with her unique graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united to the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ.[18] For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother.[19] Through her faith and obedience she gave birth on earth to the very Son of the Father, not through the knowledge of man but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, in the manner of a new Eve who placed her faith, not in the serpent of old but in God's messenger without wavering in doubt. The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29), that is, the faithful, in whose generation and formation she cooperates with a mother's love.

64. The Church indeed contemplating her hidden sanctity, imitating her charity and faithfully fulfilling the Father's will, by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By preaching and baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life. She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse. Imitating the mother of her Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, she keeps intact faith, firm hope and sincere charity.[20]

65. But while in the most Blessed Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph 5:27), the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness. And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues. Devoutly meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church reverently penetrates more deeply into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her spouse. Having entered deeply into the history of salvation, Mary, in a way, unites in her person and re-echoes the most important doctrines of the faith: and when she is the subject of preaching and worship she prompts the faithful to come to her Son, to his sacrifice and to the love of the Father. Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her lofty type, and continually progresses in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things. The Church, therefore, in her apostolic work too, rightly looks to her who gave birth to Christ, who was thus conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, in order that through the Church he could be born and increase in the hearts of the faithful. In her life the Virgin has been a model of that motherly love with which all who join in the Church's apostolic mission for the regeneration of mankind should be animated.

IV. The Cult of the Blessed Virgin in the Church
66. Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most holy mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ: she is rightly honored by a special cult in the Church. From the earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honored under the title of Mother of God, whose protection the faithful take refuge together in prayer in all their perils and needs.[21] Accordingly, following the Council of Ephesus, there was a remarkable growth in the cult of the People of God towards Mary, in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: "all generations shall call me blessed, because he that is mighty has done great things to me" (Lk 1:48). This cult, as it has always existed in the Church, for all its uniqueness, differs essentially from the cult of adoration, which is offered equally to the Incarnate Word and to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is most favorable to it. The various forms of piety towards the Mother of God, which the Church has approved within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine, according to the dispositions and understanding of the faithful, ensure that while the mother is honoured, the Son through whom all things have their being (cf. Col 1:15-16) and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell (cf. Col 1:19) is rightly known, loved and glorified and his commandments are observed.

67. The sacred synod teaches this Catholic doctrine advisedly and at the same time admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and that the practices and exercises of devotion towards her, recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course of centuries be highly esteemed, and that those decrees, which were given in the early days regarding the cult images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, be religiously observed.[22] But it strongly urges theologians and preachers of the word of God to be careful to refrain as much from all false exaggeration as from too summary an attitude in considering the special dignity of the Mother of God.[23] Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church's magisterium, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always refer to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity, and devotion. Let them carefully refrain from whatever might by word or deed lead the separated brethren or any others whatsoever into error about the true doctrine of the Church. Let the faithful remember moreover that true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love towards our mother and to the imitation of her virtues.

V. Mary, Sign of True Hope and Comfort for the Pilgrim People of God
68. In the meantime the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. 2 Pet 3:10), a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.

69. It gives great joy and comfort to this sacred synod that among the separated brethren too there are those who give due honor to the Mother of Our Lord and Savior, especially among the Easterns, who with devout mind and fervent impulse give honor to the Mother of God, ever virgin. [24] The entire body of the faithful pours forth urgent supplications to the Mother of God and of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity.


[1.] Credo in Missa Romana: Symbolum Constantinopolitanum: Mansi 3, 566. Cfr. Conc. Ephesinum, ib. 4, 1130 (necnon ib. 2, 665 et 4, 1071); Conc. Chalcedonense, ib. 7, 111-116; Conc. Constantinopolitanum II, ib. 9, 375-396.
[2.] Canon Missae Romanae. N. 53
[3.] S. Augustinus, De S. Virginitate, 6: PL 40, 399.
[4.] Cfr. Paulus Pp. VI, Allocutio in Concilio, die 4 dec. 1963: AAS 56 (1964)P.37.
[5.] Cfr. S. Germanus Const., Hom. in Annunt. Deiparae: PG 98, 328 A; In Dorm. 2: col. 357. Anastasius Antioch., Serm. 2 de Annunt., 2: PG 89, 1377 AB; Serm. 3, 2: col. 1388 C. - S. Andreas Cret., Can. in B. V. Nat. 4: PG 97, 1321 B. In B. V. Nat., 1: col. 812 A. Hom. in dorm. 1: col. 1068 C. - S. Sophronius, Or. 2 in Annunt., 18: PG 87 (3), 3237 BD.
[6.] S. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, 12, 4: PG 7, 959 A; Harvey, 2, 23.
[7.] S. Irenaeus, ib.; Harvey, 2, 24.
[8.] S. Epiphanius, Haer. 78, 18: PG 42, 728 CD - 729 AB.
[9.] S. Hieronymus, Epist. 22, 21: PL 22, 408. Cfr. S. Augustinus, Serm. 51, 2, 3: PL 38, 335; Serm. 232, 2: col. 1108. - S. Cyrillus Hieros., Catech. 12, 15: PG 33, 741 AB. - S. IO. Chrysostomus, In Ps. 44, 7: PG 55, 193. - S. Io. Damascenus, Hom. 2 in dorm. B.M.V.,3: PG 96,728.
[10.] Cfr. Conc. Lateranense anni 649, Can. 3: Mansi 10, 1151.S. Leo M., Epist. ad Flav.: PL 54, 759. - Conc. Chalcedonense: Mansi 7, 462. - S. Ambrosius, De inst. virg.: PL 16, 320.
[11.] Cfr. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Uystici Corporis, 29 iun. 1943: AAS 35 (1943) PP. 247-248.
[12.] Cfr. Pius IX, Bulla Ineffabilis, 8 dec. 1854: Acta Pii IX, 1, I, p. 616; Denz. 1641 (2803).
[13.] Cfr. Pius XII, Const. Apost. Munificentissimus, 1 nov. 1950: AAS 42 (1950); Denz. 2333 (3903). Cfr. S. Io. Damascenus, Enc. in dorm. Dei genitricis, Hom. 2 et 3: PG 96, 721-761, speciatim col. 728 B. - S. Germanus Constantinop., In S. Dei gen. dorm. Serm. 1: PG 98 (6), 340-348; Serm. 3: col. 361. - S. Modestus Hier., In dorm. SS. Deiparae: PG 86 (2), 3277-3312.
[14.] Cfr. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Ad coeli Reginam, 11 oct. 1954: AAS 46 (1954), PP. 633-636; Denz. 3913. SS. Cfr. S. Andreas Cret., Hom. 3 in dorm. SS. Deiparae: PG 97, 1089-1109. - S. Io. Damascenus, De fide orth., IV, 14: PG 94, 1153-1161.
[15.] Cfr. Kleutgen, textus reformatus De mysterio Verbi incarnati, cap. IV: Mansi 53, 290. Cfr. S. Andreas Cret., In nat. Mariae, sermo 4: PG 97, 865 A. - S. Germanus Constantinop., In annunt. Deiparae: PG 98, 321 BC. In dorm. Deiparae, III: col. 361 D.S. Io. Damascenus, In dorm. B. V. Mariae, Hom. 1, 8: PG 96, 712 BC - 713 A.
[16.] Cfr. Leo XIII, Litt. Encycl. Adiutricem populi, 5 sept. 1895: ASS 15 (1895-96), P. 303. - S. PiUS X, Litt. Encycl. Ad diem illum, 2 febr. 1904: Acta, I, p. 154; Denz. 1978 a (3370). - Pius XI, Litt. Encycl. Miserentissimus, 8 maii 1928: AAS 20 (1928) P. 178. Pius XII, Nuntius Radioph., 13 maii 1946: AAS 38 (1946) P. 266.
[17.] S. Ambrosius, Epist. 63: PL 16, 1218.
[18.] S. Ambrosius, Expos. Lc. II, 7: PL 15, 1555.
[19.] Cfr. Ps.-Petrus Dam., Serm. 63: PL 144, 861 AB. - Godefridus a S. Victore. In nat. B. M., Ms. Paris, Mazarine, 1002, fol. 109 r. - Gerhohus Reich., De gloria et honore Filii hominis, 10: PL 194,1105AB.
[20.] S. Ambrosius, l. c. et Expos. Lc. X, 24-25: PL 15, 1810. - S. Augustinus, In lo. Tr. 13, 12: PL 35, 1499. Cfr. Serm. 191, 2, 3: PL 38, 1010; etc. Cfr. etiam Ven. Beda, In Lc. Expos. I, cap. 2: PL 92, 330. - Isaac de Stella, Serm. 51: PL 194, 1863 A.
[21.] Sub tuum praesidium.
[22.] Conc. Nicaenum II, anno 787: Mansi 13, 378-379; Denz. 302 (600-601) .conc. Trident., sess. 25: Mansi 33, 171-172.
[23.] Cfr. Pius XII, Nuntius radioph., 24 oct. 1954: AAS 46 (1954) P. 679. Litt. Encycl. Ad coeli Reginam, 11 oct. 1954: AAS 46 (1954) P. 637.
[24.] Cfr. Pius XI, Litt. Encycl. Ecclesiam Dei, 12 nov. 1923: AAS 15 (1923) P. 581. - Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Fulgens corona, 8 sept. 1953: AAS 45 (1953) PP. 590-591.

Excerpted from Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, on Nov. 21, 1964.