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Keeping Mary Close

Keeping Mary Close

If you’ve ever wondered what devotion to Mary is all about, you’ll treasure this one-of-a-kind, popular glimpse into the early Church’s life, doctrine, and devotion to Our Lady. Through lively stories, teachings of the Church fathers, and evidence from ancient archaeology, the authors invite you to enter the fascinating world of the early Christians, giving you an imaginative glimpse into how they demonstrated their love for Mary through their prayers, art, and daily life. Along the way, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of Mary’s role in your own life and that of the Church today.

Keeping Mary Close: Like what you just read? Find more inspiration in the book.

Mother Mary: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis

Mother Mary

Our journey of faith is the same as that of Mary, and so we feel that she is particularly close to us. As far as faith, the hinge of the Christian life, is concerned, the Mother of God shared our condition. She had to take the same path as ourselves, a path which is sometimes difficult and obscure. She had to advance in the ‘pilgrimage of faith.’ Our pilgrimage of faith has been inseparably linked to Mary ever since Jesus, dying on the Cross, gave her to us as our Mother, saying: “Behold your Mother!” (Jn 19:27).
—Pope Francis, Homily, Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, January 1, 2014

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis encouraged devotion to “Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.” On the first day after his election to the papacy, he visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome to place flowers on the altar and pray for Mary’s help and protection. Since that day, he has continued to shine a light on the woman he calls “the first pilgrim” and “the perfect disciple.”

The writings, homilies, prayers, talks, and even tweets of Pope.

Francis in this book gather his most important and inspiring words about Mary. For Pope Francis, Mary is an icon of wisdom, strength, courage and joyful hope. Her unconditional “yes” to God encourages modern believers to say “yes” to God’s call today. We must turn to Mary often, he says, for she is a mighty intercessor and a faithful companion on our spiritual journey.

“Mary is so closely united to Jesus because she received from him the knowledge of the heart, the knowledge of faith, nourished by her experience as a mother and by her close relationship with her Son.” —Pope Francis, January 1, 2015

Because Pope Francis highlights Mary’s “feminine genius” and her receptivity to divine guidance—something to which believers of many religious tradition aspire—people of many faiths will find nourishment in the Pope’s words. 

Read more about what Pope Francis says about Mary's "Yes" to our Lord. 


Through the Year with Mary

Through the year with Mary

Daily insight into truths about the Mother of God.

This book will draw you closer to Mary and also to Jesus—and closer to Jesus is where Mary wants you to be. A fresh turn of phrase, an unexpected train of thought, a piercing insight from writers across the centuries will lead you into the heart of this woman uniquely chosen by God to be his mother, your mother, ready to help you all day, every day.

This book features one quote per day accompanied by a brief question or reflection designed to fuel prayer. Major Marian feasts will offer entries specific to the feast day, while other quotes will be more universally about Mary's faith, life, example, and intercession. Quotes are from a wide variety of sources, including popes, the saints, spiritual writings, literature, and the Blessed Mother's own words from approved apparitions.

Get the book here! 


Wholly Mary: Mother of God

Wholly Mary
There's a little bit about Mary in Scripture. We can glean a bit more from the tradition of the Church. Some of the approved apparitions add a little insight, too. But where can we go to get the complete picture, to find out about the whole Mary?

Wholly Mary does just that. In an engaging style, Chris Padgett walks us through what the Bible has to say about the Mother of God. What has she meant to the Church throughout the centuries, what do the apparitions add, what have the saints told us about her and, most importantly, what can we learn from her ourselves? Other facets of this explanation of the Blessed Mother include:
  • The power of the rosary
  • How the Mass relates to Mary
  • Four important dogmas about Mary
  • Mary and the Trinity
  • Mary and ecumenism
With the enthusiasm and passion Chris Padgett is known for, Mary is sure to come alive for you in a wholly new way!

Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living our Lady's Graces

Mysteries of the Virgin Mary
You may wonder why the Church celebrates so many feasts in honor of Mary throughout the year. You may also wonder what meaning they have for your own life. Fr. Peter John Cameron considers some of the major "mysteries" associated with the Mother of God not only to help you better understand these feasts, but also to help you see that Mary is always at hand, ready to help you become who you are meant to be. She stands in solidarity with you so that you might stand in solidarity with her Son, living your life to the fullest.
This handy guide to the Church Marian feasts offers reflections to encourage meditation on the 13 principal Marian mysteries celebrated by the Church. Chapters unfold according to the chronology of Mary's life, starting with the Immaculate Conception and including, for example, her birthday, the Annunciation, the Visitation, her sorrows, etc.

Visiting Mary : Her U.S. Shrines and Their Graces

Visiting Mary
The Blessed Mother has appeared under many titles and under many different names. Each of Mary’ s names and titles reflect a different aspect of her role in the life of the Church and in the lives of her children. Numerous shrines throughout North America have been built to facilitate devotion to Mary under her many titles and numerous graces, and author Julie Cragon has visited many of them with her family.
She has discovered that at each site there is a special grace connected to the particular devotion associated with each individual shrine. In this book Cragon captures the experience of visiting these shrines, giving us a personal glimpse into each place. More than a travelogue, Visiting Mary is a book that encourages devotion to Our Lady and helps readers to capture her graces in their daily lives.
Visiting Mary: Her U.S. Shrines and Their Graces

Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God

Discovering Mary
As a convert to Catholicism, David Mills discovered that entering the Church didn't automatically confer appreciation for the mother of Jesus. Soon, however, "I found myself developing an experiential understanding of Mary and indeed a Marian devotion-which surprised me. It surprised me a lot."
Having wondered about Mary himself, Mills knows the questions that puzzle not only new Catholics but many cradle Catholics and non-Catholics as well. Discovering Mary brings together essential Marian information in an engaging manner not only to instruct but also to deepen devotion to "the one who bore our Savior and deserves our love."

Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers, and Devotions

On May 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary first revealed herself to a trio of shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. She would appear to them five more times over the course of the year until the great miracle of the sun on October 13, 1917. She brought a message of love and peace that was heard around the world—a sorely-needed antidote to the ravages of World War I. To mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle provides a one-stop guide to the tradition, history and spirituality of Our Lady of Fatima, including the testimonies of those who have made the pilgrimage and prayers for those who share this devotion.

In Our Lady of Fatima, award-winning author, journalist, pilgrimage host and host of EWTN’s Everyday Blessings for Catholic Moms and Catholic Mom's Café Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle offers a mini-Fatima retreat—an “armchair pilgrimage,” if you will. This collection of prayers, testimonies and reflections will bring to life the events of Fatima and help you find ways to apply Mary’s Fatima message to the nitty-gritty details of your daily life.

Each chapter begins with a quote by or about the Blessed Mother before delving into a key aspect of the story of Mary’s appearances to nine-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. A prayer, a simple reflection and a doable call to action transform this book from a simple historical retelling into a practical devotional.
The Blessed Mother’s Fatima message is needed now more than ever. The uncertainty of global events can seep into our daily worries, creating fear and anxiety that’s difficult to overcome. Our Lady of Fatima is a welcome remedy for that worry. In it, you’ll find a chance to grow in faith and holiness, as well as a needed dose of inspiration, hope and peace in following its advice and suggestions, and in praying the prayers. 
Our Lady of Fatima

Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace

Forgiving Mother
Forgiving Mother offers you practical guidance and spiritual wisdom to begin your journey to wholeness of spirit. Highly recommended! — Lisa M. Hendey, author, The Grace of Yes

Marge Steinhage Fenelon knows the pain, fear, hopelessness, insecurity, resentment and anger of being raised by a troubled mother. She also knows the way out: Mary.

In Forgiving Mother, Fenelon deftly explores the ways the Blessed Virgin can provide comfort and healing if you truly desire it. Drawing from personal experience as well as wisdom from Church documents, Scripture, and the saints, Fenelon sketches a path from despair to peace. She offers concrete steps and prayers to help you deal with the painful memories, emotions and fears that are rooted in your past.

Part memoir, part spiritual guide, Forgiving Mother is a workbook for healing even the most deeply rooted pain. It also includes a novena, which you can pray alongside each chapter or as a final step in the healing process. You will likely find solace from going through the novena again and again, as you’ll find healing is a cyclical process—not a linear one.

You are a child of Mary and she loves you tenderly. She really, truly is your mother—given to you by our Lord as he hung dying on the cross. Jesus wants you to accept his mother as your own and to develop a deepening relationship with her so that she can fill the void that the past has left inside of you. And in her kind, motherly way, she will. What’s more, she will lead you to her son who, as God, is the ultimate source of all healing and peace.

Pray through it, meditate on it, and let Mary’s love sink into your heart and soul. Above all, be gentle with yourself. This is your healing process, and no one else’s. With the Blessed Mother’s help, you can become the whole, healed and truly cherished person you were meant to be.
Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace

The Miraculous Medal: Stories, Prayers, and Devotions

The Miraculous Medal
Over twenty years ago, Mother Teresa gave Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle her first Miraculous Medal, and she has never taken it off. To date, Donna-Marie has given away thousands of Miraculous Medals. But what is the Miraculous Medal—and why is it considered miraculous? Why is it important for us today? You’ll learn the answers to these questions to these questions, and you’ll also discover:
  • The origin and history of the Miraculous Medal
  • How the medal got its name
  • The story of St. Catherine Labouré
The author has collected many contemporary stories of the Miraculous Medal’s attraction and impact. Also provided is a section of prayers and devotions, including the perpetual novena prayer, spiritual benefits, and more. This is an informative, fascinating, and inspiring book, designed to stir the hearts of those who aren’t familiar with the Miraculous Medal’s miraculous powers through the Blessed Mother’s intercession, as well as those who are.
The Miraculous Medal: Stories, Prayers, and Devotions

Blessed Are You: Finding Inspiration from Our Sisters in Faith

Melanie Rigney uses stories of the saints, our sisters in faith, to help readers grow in their spiritual lives. Some of these saints are familiar—Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Bernadette of Lourdes, Elizabeth Ann Seton—while others are not so well known—Maria Karlowska, Claudine Thevenet, Josephine Bakhita, Elizabeth of Portugal.
They come from different places and different times, creating an intimate portrait of the universal Church. Yet the lives of each of these women illustrate the qualities of the Beatitudes—what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “the heart of Jesus’s preaching” (1716)—in a down-to-earth and human way. Through the lives of these exemplary women saints and the qualities they espouse—meekness, mourning, poverty of spirit, justice, mercy, purity of heart, peace, righteousness—women will find ways to live more fully the Gospel values of Christian life.
Blessed Are You

Lourdes Today

Lourdes Today
The Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen-year-old peasant, eighteen times between February 11 and July 16, 1858, in Lourdes, France. Today, 150 years later, pilgrims continue to flock to this remote southwestern European village in search of the hope, healing and conversion long identified with this holy site.

Lourdes Today invites you to enter into the healing promise of this famous Marian shrine through contemporary testimony, history and first-hand descriptions of twenty-first-century Lourdes. Whether you visit Lourdes in person or experience it through this book, you will never forget your encounter with the mercy of God as revealed by the Mother of God to an ordinary French teenager.
Lourdes Today

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary


The Story of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary’s presentation was celebrated in Jerusalem in the sixth century. A church was built there in honor of this mystery. The Eastern Church was more interested in the feast, but it does appear in the West in the 11th century. Although the feast at times disappeared from the calendar, in the 16th century it became a feast of the universal Church.

As with Mary’s birth, we read of Mary’s presentation in the temple only in apocryphal literature. In what is recognized as an unhistorical account, the Protoevangelium of James tells us that Anna and Joachim offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was 3 years old. This was to carry out a promise made to God when Anna was still childless.

Though it cannot be proven historically, Mary’s presentation has an important theological purpose. It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the birth of Mary. It emphasizes that the holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continued through her early childhood and beyond.

Treasury of Women Saints

Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary


The Story of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This is a fairly late feast, going back only to the 13th or 14th century. It was established widely throughout the Church to pray for unity. The present date of celebration was set in 1969, in order to follow the Annunciation of the Lord and precede the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.

Like most feasts of Mary, it is closely connected with Jesus and his saving work. The more visible actors in the visitation drama (see Luke 1:39-45) are Mary and Elizabeth. However, Jesus and John the Baptist steal the scene in a hidden way. Jesus makes John leap with joy—the joy of messianic salvation. Elizabeth, in turn, is filled with the Holy Spirit and addresses words of praise to Mary—words that echo down through the ages.

It is helpful to recall that we do not have a journalist’s account of this meeting. Rather Luke, speaking for the Church, gives a prayerful poet’s rendition of the scene. Elizabeth’s praise of Mary as “the mother of my Lord” can be viewed as the earliest Church’s devotion to Mary. As with all authentic devotion to Mary, Elizabeth’s (the Church’s) words first praise God for what God has done to Mary. Only secondly does she praise Mary for trusting God’s words.

Then comes the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Here, Mary herself—like the Church—traces all her greatness to God.


One of the invocations in Mary’s litany is “Ark of the Covenant.” Like the Ark of the Covenant of old, Mary brings God’s presence into the lives of other people. As David danced before the Ark, John the Baptist leaps for joy. As the Ark helped to unite the 12 tribes of Israel by being placed in David’s capital, so Mary has the power to unite all Christians in her son. At times, devotion to Mary may have occasioned some divisiveness, but we can hope that authentic devotion will lead all to Christ and therefore, to one another.

Click here for our page devoted to the Blessed Mother!

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Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary



The Story of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus; both have the possibility of uniting people easily divided on other matters.

The feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary began in Spain in 1513 and in 1671 was extended to all of Spain and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1683, John Sobieski, king of Poland, brought an army to the outskirts of Vienna to stop the advance of Muslim armies loyal to Mohammed IV of Constantinople. After Sobieski entrusted himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he and his soldiers thoroughly defeated the Muslims. Pope Innocent XI extended this feast to the entire Church.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary


The Story of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Church has celebrated Mary’s birth since at least the sixth century. A September birth was chosen because the Eastern Church begins its Church year with September. The September 8 date helped determine the date for the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.

Scripture does not give an account of Mary’s birth. However, the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James fills in the gap. This work has no historical value, but it does reflect the development of Christian piety. According to this account, Anna and Joachim are infertile but pray for a child. They receive the promise of a child who will advance God’s plan of salvation for the world. Such a story, like many biblical counterparts, stresses the special presence of God in Mary’s life from the beginning.

Saint Augustine connects Mary’s birth with Jesus’ saving work. He tells the earth to rejoice and shine forth in the light of her birth. “She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley. Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents is changed.” The opening prayer at Mass speaks of the birth of Mary’s Son as the dawn of our salvation, and asks for an increase of peace.

Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary


The Story of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith: “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.” The pope proclaimed this dogma only after a broad consultation of bishops, theologians and laity. There were few dissenting voices. What the pope solemnly declared was already a common belief in the Catholic Church.

We find homilies on the Assumption going back to the sixth century. In following centuries, the Eastern Churches held steadily to the doctrine, but some authors in the West were hesitant. However by the 13th century there was universal agreement. The feast was celebrated under various names—Commemoration, Dormition, Passing, Assumption—from at least the fifth or sixth century. Today it is celebrated as a solemnity.

Scripture does not give an account of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. Nevertheless, Revelation 12 speaks of a woman who is caught up in the battle between good and evil. Many see this woman as God’s people. Since Mary best embodies the people of both Old and New Testaments, her Assumption can be seen as an exemplification of the woman’s victory.

Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul speaks of Christ’s resurrection as the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Since Mary is closely associated with all the mysteries of Jesus’ life, it is not surprising that the Holy Spirit has led the Church to believe in Mary’s share in his glorification. So close was she to Jesus on earth, she must be with him body and soul in heaven.

Queenship of Mary


The Story of the Queenship of Mary

Pope Pius XII established this feast in 1954. But Mary’s queenship has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, she is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship. We can also recall that in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court.

In the fourth century Saint Ephrem called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.” The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary’s litany celebrate her queenship.

The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption, and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection, and because of her intercessory power.

Mary, Our Path to Jesus

Blessed Virgin Mary jpg

Two thousand years ago, Mary had a baby. We can relate a few historical facts about both mother and child, but very few. Then there is the theologizing about Jesus and Mary that has taken place over the centuries—lots of words and ideas. Add to that the sentimental and devotional practices that surround both, and we have what very possibly could be a truly confusing mess. As the king in The King and I stated so well, “’tis a puzzlement.”


In his apostolic exhortation Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Paul VI speaks of the singular dignity of Mary as being “Mother of the Son of God, and therefore beloved daughter of the Father and Temple of the Holy Spirit” (p. 46). In this, she is “far greater than any other creature on earth or in heaven.” And yet, Mary herself claims her own nothingness in her Magnificat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary’s greatness lies in her willingness to continue to bring Jesus to the world. She doesn't draw attention to herself, but to him. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ” (487).

With these principles in mind, let’s look at a few of our beliefs and see what they tell us.



Mary as mediator. The Scriptures tell us that God chooses to shower his many gifts upon us through the mediation of others. We see this most clearly in the scriptural statements that Moses and the prophets mediated God’s word; and that the angels were often God’s messengers. We also see it clearly in creation, in the sacraments, and in the fact that our parents and teachers were highly instrumental in our coming to know Jesus. In his first letter to Timothy, Saint Paul says that Jesus is the “one mediator” between God and us. Jesus is the one in the sense of primary, not the exclusive, mediator (I Tm 2:5). That is why, in the next few verses of that same letter, Paul urges us to pray for others. Prayer is a form of mediation. We are all mediators in our own way, but Christ is the mediator in whose role he allows us to share.

It stands to reason that Mary, the perfect disciple, would be a major mediator of her son’s gifts. The gifts are given by Jesus through Mary. We see this exemplified when Mary went to visit Elizabeth. It is Mary’s son, whom she carries in her womb and makes present to Elizabeth, who causes John the Baptist to leap for joy and Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit. 

Mary mediates their coming together, but it is Jesus who brings the gift of joy and the Spirit (cf. Lk 1:39-45). So the doctrine of Mary as mediator not only speaks of Mary’s loving care for us, her children, but also of the generosity of her son, Jesus, in sharing his role and gifts with us.

Mary as mother. One of Mary’s titles is Theotokos (God-bearer), which is often translated “Mother of God.” This is a doctrinal statement that Mary is the one who gave human birth (and human nature) to God the Son. Thus, we speak of her divine motherhood, not meaning that she existed before God and gave birth to the Trinity, but that she was the one who gave human birth to God the Son in time.

In saying her “yes” to God through the angel Gabriel, Mary consented to this role and thus conceived her child. But this doctrine of Mary’s motherhood was not the result of independent thinking about Mary. It emerged while various councils discussed the natures of Jesus and tried to clarify what it means to say that he is both human and divine. In effect, the doctrine speaks to the reality of Jesus as the God-man by emphasizing the role that Mary played in giving him human birth. Thus, Theotokos speaks of our understanding of Jesus and Mary’s involvement in his becoming human. 

We also believe that Mary is our mother. This belief implies not only an awareness of the Incarnation—God sharing in our human nature and, thus, being our fellow human being—but also an appreciation of what Jesus did from the cross as he was dying. Saint John tells us that seeing his mother along with the disciple whom Jesus loved (presumably Saint John himself) Jesus said; “Woman, behold your Son. Then he said to the disciple, Behold your mother” (Jn 26-27).

Jesus was seeing to it that his mother would be taken care of after his death, but there was a great deal more at stake here. By this statement, Jesus emptied himself of that very intimate relationship between himself and his mother, which he had known and relished all his life. In one last gesture of love, Jesus gave up his exclusive relationship with Mary and shared her with us. Jesus gave his mother to be our mother. Thus, calling Mary our mother not only speaks of Mary’s maternal love for each of us, but also of Jesus’ total self-sacrifice on our behalf.

Mary as the new Eve. Here we have an example of what might be called theology by analogy. It’s a technique often used by the early Church preachers and writers. Saint Irenaeus, for example, used it to communicate a truth about Mary and Jesus by contrasting their behavior with those who are considered historical figures in the Bible, Adam and Eve.

But, as we know, some aspects of an analogy do not follow logically (otherwise we would have an identity instead of an analogy). So the identification of Mary with Eve—and of Jesus with Adam—is not a perfect fit. For instance, Eve is seen as the physical mother of all mankind; Mary is our mother because she gave birth to Jesus, our brother, and was given to us by Jesus on the cross.

But Saint Irenaeus used this analogy to speak of how one virgin corrected the activity of another, how Mary’s faithful obedience counteracted Eve’s unfaithful disobedience. His thinking was based on Saint Paul’s statements in Rom 5:19 and I Cor 15:45 in which Saint Paul compared Jesus with Adam (cf. Against Heresies). Here we have a doctrine about Mary that clearly flows from our understanding of Jesus.

It’s important to note that Pope Pius IX stated that it was “by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race” that this gift was granted to Mary. Mary did not earn it or deserve it, but it was granted to her as gift. It was God’s way of preparing her for her life’s mission as mother of Jesus, his Son. As the great Franciscan doctor John Duns Scotus argued: Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit (it was possible, it was fitting, therefore God did it). 

This doctrine not only says a great deal about Jesus and his role as savior of the human race, but also about what the Church teaches concerning the Sacrament of Baptism. The gift given to Mary is similar to the gift given to each of us at Baptism—the ability to overcome sin. While we may not be as successful in avoiding sin as was Mary, nevertheless she is our hope and our model as baptized Christians.

The notion of Mary being assumed into heaven body and soul—defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950—is a long-standing belief among the faithful dating back to the early centuries of the Church. It emphasizes the close relationship of Jesus with his mother in the life to come as well as here on earth, for death is not the end of love relationships, but their purification.

This glorified state, in which Mary presently participates to the full, will be ours after the resurrection of the dead. In this, Mary models what the Church desires and hopes to be.


Marian doctrine can seem a little dry and esoteric when wrapped in theological and historical terms. But it speaks about a very practical reality—the love of a mother and her divine son and their love for us. Perhaps we find ourselves lost in all that theological talk, but I hope this look helps us see the human being beneath that talk and discover the simple mother who is always leading us to her son and a profound model of what it means to be church.

Mary, the First Disciple

Praying to Mary

I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

She may be the most famous woman who ever lived, and yet there is surprisingly little in the New Testament about her. Mary is featured only in a few Gospel scenes and the first chapter of Acts.

Nevertheless, these Marian passages, arranged in a plausible chronological order, illustrate how quickly devotion for the Virgin Mary developed over the centuries.



Among the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry, Mark’s is generally considered the oldest. In it Mary appears only once (3:21,31-35) and is referred to once more (6:1-6). The basic scene involves a transition in Jesus’ life: He is moving out of the Nazareth family circle into an active career of teaching and healing centered at Peter’s house in Capernaum.

He is attracting such attention that he does not even get time to eat (3:20). His worried family, thinking his behavior strange (“he is beside himself”), sets out to bring him back home. Mark fills in the time required by their journey down to Capernaum by telling how Jesus dealt with scribes from Jerusalem who also fail to understand him (“he is possessed by Beelzebul” [3:22-30]).

Having answered this second misunderstanding immediately, Jesus answers the first only when the family arrives at the lakeside house (3:31-35). Since he is inside surrounded by a crowd, the word has to be passed in: “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” Jesus’ response (“Who are my mother and my brothers?”) raises the issue of who really constitute his family now that the Kingdom of God is being proclaimed. As his natural family stands outside, Jesus looks at those inside and proclaims, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.”

This scene, in which Jesus praises a family of disciples that is obedient to God at the expense of a natural family that does not understand him, would not incline readers to develop devotion to Mary. Yet it is regarded by many non-Catholics as the basic Marian text, perhaps in reaction to Catholic elevation of Mary.

The dourness of the Marcan outlook is not alleviated by 6:1-6. The locals at Nazareth are astounded at Jesus’ religious prominence: “Where did this fellow get all this wisdom? Isn’t he a carpenter? Isn’t he the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” In response to the townspeople who have taken offense at the local carpenter-turned-preacher, Jesus compares himself to a prophet who is not honored in his own region, among his own relatives and in his own house. Another discomforting passage for a positive appreciation of Mary!



A significant change in outlook comes about because Matthew has a story of Jesus’ conception and birth that was lacking in Mark. Joseph is married to Mary but has not yet taken her to live with him. A shocking report reaches him that Mary is pregnant, but before he can take action to dissolve the marriage by divorcing her, an angel appears in a dream (Matthew 1:18-25). The angel reveals to Joseph that Mary’s conception is from the Holy Spirit (not from a male); her child to be named Jesus will save his people from their sins and embody God’s presence with us (Emmanuel).

Although Matthew is silent about Mary’s reaction to this intervention by God, the conception creates a context for Matthew’s treatment of Mary in the ministry. Surely this uniquely privileged mother would have understood when Jesus began his ministry of proclaiming God’s kingdom. Accordingly when Matthew draws on Mark 3, he completely omits 3:20-21, in which the family thinks Jesus is beside himself and sets out to bring him home.

When Jesus returns to Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58), he acknowledges that he is not honored in his own region and in his own house, but makes no mention of being dishonored by his own family. Nevertheless, Matthew 12:46-50 reports virtually unaltered the family-choice scene recounted in Mark 3:31-35: Jesus still gives preference to disciples related to him by doing God’s will.



Contrasted to the portrayal of Mary in Mark and Matthew, which ranges from dark to neutral, this two-volume work paints her in much warmer colors. While the mother of Jesus had only a restricted role in the Matthean infancy narrative, the virgin of Nazareth (Luke 1:26-27) is the principal figure in the Lucan infancy narrative.

Here too (although the situation is indicated only indirectly) she and Joseph have been married but have not yet lived together. In an appearance to Mary (1:30-33) the angel Gabriel, quoting freely from 2 Samuel 7:12-16, announces that she is going to be the mother of the Davidic Messiah. When Mary asks how this is to be since she is a virgin, the angel quotes what Luke’s readers would recognize as the language of Christian preaching: “The holy Spirit will come upon you; the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and so the child will be called holy, the Son of God” (1:34-35).

Paul uses similar imagery (Holy Spirit, power, divine sonship) in Romans 1:3-4 to phrase the gospel of Jesus as Son of David and Son of God. In the same way here, Luke is presenting Mary as the first one to hear the gospel. She responds, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Thus she fulfills perfectly the requirement we saw in Mark for the family of disciples: “Whoever does the will of God is…mother to me.”

Next the Lucan Mary acts out her discipleship in two ways. First, she hastens to go to her relative Elizabeth to share the good news. By way of full response to the gospel, Christian disciples do not simply receive and hold on to what God has revealed; they communicate it to others. Mary’s arrival causes Elizabeth, under the influence of John the Baptist in her womb, to prophesy in praise of Mary.

Like the heroic women deliverers of Israel, Jael and Judith (Judges 5:24; Judith 13:18), Mary is titled “blessed among women.” Moses had said that, if Israel heeded the voice of God, the wombs of the Israelite women would be blessed with fruitfulness (Deuteronomy 28:1,4). Elizabeth, recognizing that Mary’s womb is uniquely fruitful, blesses her as the mother of the Lord (Luke 1:41-44).

But Mary’s heeding the word of God in the Annunciation had another dimension beyond that envisioned by Moses—a gospel dimension that Elizabeth recognizes when in 1:45 she blesses Mary a second time for having believed (and thus having met the criterion of discipleship). If all future generations will call Mary blessed (1:48), they will do so in fidelity to Elizabeth’s prophetic recognition of her roles as mother of the Lord and true Christian disciple.

Second, Mary develops discipleship to the fullest by blessing God in the Magnificat (1:46-55). In that hymn Mary interprets the good news she has brought to Elizabeth. The angel told Mary who Jesus is, namely, Messiah and Son of God; but Mary translates this identity in terms of what his coming means.

On the one hand, God’s gift of Jesus shows strength to Israel, exalts the lowly and fills the hungry; on the other hand, it scatters the proud, puts down the mighty and sends the rich away empty. Mary is anticipating the gospel of her son who, though proclaimed by God as Divine Son (3:22), proclaimed himself in terms of blessings for the poor, the hungry and the sorrowful, and woes for the rich, the satisfied and the revelers. More than any other biblical passage, the Magnificat has made Mary an emblem of hope and a sign of God’s care for the oppressed and downtrodden throughout the world.

In the scenes immediately following the birth of Jesus, Matthew (2:11,14, 21) mentions Mary only as a passive object of care. For Luke, next to God she is the major actor. While others are amazed at the glorious news of the birth of the Messiah and Lord, Mary treasures away all these things carefully, interpreting them in her heart (Luke 2:19). This echoes the language of Genesis 37:11, Daniel 4:28 (Greek) and 7:28 in which a visionary reflects on a mysterious revelation, only part of which he has fully understood.

Despite what has been revealed to her, the way that Jesus’ career will work out will be a trial and involve decision even for Mary, as Simeon prophesies figuratively in Luke 2:34-35 in terms of a sword passing though her soul. The last scene of the Lucan infancy narrative, when Jesus reaches age 12, illustrates her difficulty. She and Joseph cannot understand the way he has behaved in the Temple and his response that he must be about his Father’s business (2:49-50). The challenge to accept God’s unfathomable will in faith is ongoing in the life of the disciple.

That Mary met the ongoing challenge is shown in the Lucan form of the basic ministry scene we saw first in Mark. No longer are the mothers and brothers who come looking for Jesus contrasted with the family created by discipleship. Rather, they are the best examples of those who hear the word of God and do it (Luke 8:19-21), the group that are like the parabolic seed in the good soil mentioned a few verses before (8:15), namely, those “who, hearing the word, hold it fast.” Indeed, the mothers and the brothers endure into the beginnings of the Church, for they are counted in Acts 1:13-14, alongside the Twelve and the women, among the believers awaiting the Pentecostal coming of the Spirit.



Although this Gospel has no infancy narrative, it has two ministry scenes involving Mary. In content they differ from the accounts in the first three Gospels, but the basic theological issues are the same.

At Cana, a scene in which Jesus moves from family life to public ministry, his mother and brothers are attending a wedding (John 2:1-12). The mother’s implicit request— “They have no wine”—exerts a family claim on Jesus, similar to the mother and brothers coming to look for Jesus in the basic Marcan scene. The rejection of that claim in terms of “My hour has not yet come” is similar to the Lucan Jesus’ response to his mother’s complaint about his behavior at age 12, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

In relation to earthly family both answers give priority to the role assigned to Jesus by the heavenly Father who sent him. Yet the mother of Jesus in John persists with, “Do whatever he tells you,” similar to Mary’s response to the angel in Luke 1:38, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The second Johannine scene, which takes place at the foot of the cross (John 19:25-27), confirms that Mary’s final reaction at Cana reflected the obedience characteristic of disciples. The hour has come (13:1); Jesus is finishing the work the Father has given him to do (19:28-30); gathered around him is a group of followers who have remained loyal to the last. Chief among them are two figures whom John has mentioned but whose personal names he never supplies, namely, the mother of Jesus and the disciple whom he loves.

By making the former the mother of that disciple, and the latter his own mother’s son, Jesus is establishing a family of disciples. This is John’s form of dealing with the “Who are my mother and my brothers?” issue. If in Mark and Matthew there was a contrast between two families, one by nature and the other by discipleship, in John (as in Luke) the natural mother is brought into the family of discipleship in a preeminent way, for she now is the mother of the most perfect disciple who becomes Jesus’ brother.

Later theology will recognize that God accorded Mary many privileges, but all of them are derivative from those already found in the sparse New Testament references. She was the mother of God’s Son, the Messiah; she met the requirements of discipleship in an outstanding way. Pope Paul VI wrote succinctly: “Mary is held up as an example to the faithful for the way in which in her own particular life she fully and responsibly accepted the word of God and did it….She is worthy of imitation because she was the first and most perfect of Christ’s disciples.”



Mary, Mother of Jesus

In "The Passion of the Christ" Mary goes to Jesus, Friar Roger Lopez tells us, just as she had done throughout his life.