The Word of God and Mary of Nazareth
by Rev. Bertrand Buby, SM, PhD
Dei Verbum. "The Word of God" is the title for the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.
Dei Verbum. “The Word of God” is the title for the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. This document serves as the background for praying, studying, researching, teaching, and writing about Scripture as the Word of God. The document on Mary from the council is found in chapter eight of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Seeing these two documents in tandem, we will be able to reflect on New Testament texts that refer to Mary. This is how we will be able to see Mary’s relationship to Divine Revelation, the Word of God.
We also are helped by what was said at the recent synod of bishops in Rome about our reading the Scriptures in the light of our faith. These are the primary sources for our topic of relating Mary of Nazareth and God’s revelatory words. The Word of God also refers to the Second Person of the Trinity who is Jesus, the son of Mary of Nazareth.
The Mother of Jesus
John’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel and Acts of the Apostles are the primary biblical sources for the relationship of God’s revelatory word and Mary. Both inspired writers were aware of the warm relationship their communities had with the mother of Jesus. Both are theologians and Evangelists of incarnational theology. This is evident in the Prologue of John (John 1:1-18) and in the Annunciation account of Luke (1:26-38). Moreover, both writers have more information than the rest of the New Testament about Mary of Nazareth.
Mary, more than any other woman in the New Testament, is mentioned in all four Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. There may be other indirect or symbolic recollections of her in Paul and in the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation.
By rereading the decree, teachers and catechists will be able to frame their reflections about Mary from the Gospel of John and Luke-Acts. To learn more about the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), go to the best of short commentaries on it given in Bible Today (March 1968), in which six of the best biblical scholars of that time immediately after the council take a chapter from the decree and comment on it.
Mary and the Word of God
In the most recent synod of bishops, Benedict XVI encouraged the bishops and the faithful to approach the Scriptures with a hermeneutic of faith—that is, an interpretation that is made with faith as a guide. This can be best achieved by lectio divina or sacred reading that ponders the Scriptures in a prayerful mode. Dei Verbum cites the two passages that are characteristic of Mary. She ponders over the words and events that happen in her life in the light of her trust and faith in God. They center on the events that surround her newborn son, Jesus. We will return to these two texts in Luke 2:19, 51.
This leads us to the texts of John and Luke that will give us a foundation for our reflection and study of the relationship of Mary to the Word of God. Dei Verbum is our primary source, but we also have the great chapter on Mary’s role in salvation history in the eighth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). There is also a Letter from the Congregation for Catholic Education titled “The Virgin Mary in Intellectual and Spiritual Formation,” which is helpful for our growth in our knowledge of Mary and our love for her. This letter tells us that Scripture is the soul of Marian theology.
In Dei Verbum, the Gospel of John has a certain centrality for what is said about God’s revealing word. Both the Scripture and the Tradition are seen as one source within this document, and the truth of the Scriptures within a living Tradition are guaranteed by the teaching of the Church, which is the guardian of the Scriptures and their revelatory message. Dei Verbum states, “It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (n. 10).
John’s Gospel: A Gospel of Revelation
The Prologue of John’s Gospel is the most sublime introduction and overture that we have of the relationship of the Word of God to all believers, and especially through the living example of the “mother of Jesus”—John’s favorite title for Mary. Again, as we read and ponder over verse 14 of the prologue, we enter into incarnational theology and spirituality, and we experience “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of an only Son coming from the Father, filled with enduring love” (1:14). With that scriptural and incarnational verse, we are assured that there is a special role for Mary in salvation history.
The mother of Jesus was there and Jesus was also invited (John 2:1-12): Mary is present at the beginning of Jesus’ active ministry at the wedding feast at Cana; she will be with Jesus in his last hour as he dies upon the cross. Thus John frames the life of Jesus with a scene at the beginning, in which Mary is central, and at the end of Jesus’ life, as he breathes forth his Spirit upon the beloved disciple and on the mother of Jesus. Here at the foot of the cross the Church is born, just as Jesus was born of Mary his virgin-mother.
At Cana Mary initiates the “hour” of Jesus by acting as a catalyst who makes him aware of the needs of the couple and their family members once the wine has run short. Her words are brief but effective and symbolic: “They have no wine.” Then she speaks directly to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” Once this is done, Jesus changes the six huge water jars into precious wine thereby showing the power of his words and his ability to listen to the needs of others expressed by his mother. The symbols of the water and wine remind us of our own faith pondering the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. These symbols will be seen again at the proper time in this Gospel.
Making known the needs of those responsible for the feast shows Mary’s trust in her son and her belief in his very person as someone who can do what God would do. Her words are meant for us; we are to do whatever Jesus tells us. Jesus anticipates his “hour,” which we will come to realize means his suffering, death, and Resurrection in this Gospel of revelation.
Mary thus is the initiator of the first sign of seven in this Gospel. Her profound faith in Jesus results in an act of hospitality and kindness on a joyous occasion. Now Jesus’ active ministry is set in motion to accomplish God’s plan of salvation for humanity then and in succeeding ages. Not only has the mother of Jesus demonstrated her belief in the power of Jesus’ word but she also leads his disciples to believe in him and his word: “…and his disciples began to believe in him. After this he and his mother and brothers and his disciples went down to Capernaum…” (John 2:11-12).
Mary and the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross (John 19:25-27): The symbolism and the themes present in the Cana account are now fully realized in the revelatory text of John 19:25-28: “Near the Cross of Jesus there stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn he said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother.’ From that hour onward the disciple took her into his care. After that, Jesus realizing everything was now finished, said to fulfill the Scripture, ‘I am thirsty.’”
Here the most solemn meaning of the “hour” of Jesus takes place with the four women at the foot of the cross and the beloved disciple standing next to Mary, one of the four women who is signaled out for a special mission. This mother of Jesus is present as a courageous woman who has remained faithful to the person of her son, Jesus. She remains standing with the faithful women. They witness to his surrendering of his body to God as they see the passing of his life seen in the blood and water that flow from his side. More than the others, Mary hands over the flesh that she had engendered for God as Jesus is lifted up in victory and returns to the bosom of God (see again the Prologue of John 1:18).
Last Words of Love
Before Jesus expires on the cross, he turns to his mother and then to the beloved disciple and says, “Woman, there is your son.” In turn he says to the disciple, “There is your mother.” In both Mary and the beloved disciple, the community of believers—the Church—is being created. This is John’s Pentecostal scene, wherein the Church has its origins—at the foot of the Cross. It is born of the water (Baptism) and the blood (Eucharist) that flows from the side of Jesus. The two precious elements had been foreshadowed at Cana through the water being changed into wine, the blood of the grape and symbol for the Eucharist.
Indeed, the Fourth Gospel is the revelatory word, Jesus, saying these last words of love to his mother and to the beloved disciple whom our tradition tells us is John. The scene is both theological and intimately human. It is one of tenderness and filial love. It is above all a fulfillment of the loving covenant God gave us through the Son; it is the mission of Jesus completed in a revelation of humankind’s salvation.
Luke and the Virgin Mary and the Word of God
Luke the Evangelist is multi-talented as a theologian, a historian, and a literary artist who paints the portrait of Mary so well that she speaks from the framework of his Gospel. We have a wealth of revelatory words of God in the first two chapters of Luke, which we name “Infancy Gospels” or “Infancy Narratives.” As Catholics, especially those devoted to the Rosary, we can easily follow the story of Mary by recalling the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, which are taken from the sequence of events about Mary in Luke’s introductory chapters. These Joyful Mysteries follow the sequence in the verses of the Infancy Narrative (Annunciation, Visitation, Birth of Jesus, Presentation, and Finding of Jesus in the Temple).
The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation recalls only two of these verses but they are perfect for the theme we are developing. The verses are found in Luke 2:19 and 2:51 and they help us see the way in which Mary reacts to the Word of God.
Mary’s relationship to God and the Word of God is highlighted by these two verses from Luke. We enter into her prayerful heart and learn how she responds to the Word of God. No wonder she is able to say, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” And, as Isaiah has told us, it does just that by making the Word become flesh within her. We can learn much from Mary about prayer and how we, too, can respond to the words of God in Scripture and to her son Jesus, the Word of God.
Luke presents Mary as a woman of prayer: first, as a person who articulates the promises of God made to his people. Her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) flows from the inspired words of the Hebrew Scriptures. Her spirit “exults in God her Savior” (Habakkuk 3:18). “The Lord has looked upon his lowly handmaid” (1 Samuel 1:11). God’s name is holy and “his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him” (Psalms 111:9; 103:17). “He has pulled down princes and exalted the lowly” (Job 5:11; 12:19). She continues to pray, “The hungry he has filled with good tidings” (Psalm 107:9) and “He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy” (Psalm 98:3; Isaiah 41:8-9).
Second, Mary prays through the profound reflection she gives to the events in which she is involved through salvation history (the Annunciation, the Birth of Jesus, his presentation in the Temple, and Joseph and her finding of Jesus in the Temple). It is here where Luke uses his phrase about her prayerful heart: “…but Mary kept with concern all events, interpreting them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). And some dozen years later, at the end of the scene in which Jesus is found in the Temple, she prays again in this reflective mode: “His mother kept with concern all these events in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
Finally, a third form of prayer is described by Luke as the community of the disciples is in the upper room in Jerusalem: “All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:12-14).
From the moment Mary is introduced in Luke she is a person who attempts to fathom the mysteries of God within her and those who surround her. She is a reflective person; her prayer is one of biblical reflection. In the first instance at the Annunciation, she reflects on the meaning of how her son is to be Savior and Messiah-Lord. She does not solve the mystery; she ponders it, attempts to understand it, and “re-members” the events.
Luke has set aside his second reference to Mary’s pondering at the end of his considerations of the child’s growth into manhood. The verse acts as a conclusion followed by a short transition to what will ensue in the future. Just as Mary is the bridge to the rest of the Gospel, her prayer stance of “pondering with concern” is one that we, as believers and disciples of Jesus, should take to understand the revelation of the beginnings of salvation and the workings of salvation in the person of Jesus the Lord.
Besides our ordinary forms of prayer, we would do well to imitate Mary’s pondering in her heart the mysteries of God that are in us and surround us. The Sacred Scriptures can be the perfect source for such reflective prayer. To do this, we read the Scriptures carefully, while seeing them within a context. It is only in events and words that are grasped in relationship to other events and words that this pondering becomes fruitful.
We need a quiet time and place for the joy and peace of the Spirit to permeate our lives which are bound up with action. Reflection is the sign of a mature prayer life. Mary is a great biblical model of faith inspiring us to such prayer followed by apostolic action.
Father Bertrand Buby is a professor at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton in Dayton, OH. He has taught Scripture for over forty years and has specialized in Marian topics. Father Bert has published five books on Mary.
Father Bert Buby offers plentiful ideas for a biblical understanding and appreciation for Marian devotion. He graciously weaves Church documents and biblical commentary into a tapestry of spiritual inspiration. His pastoral perspective is reflected in the care and intensity with which he invites us to gaze upon familiar Marian biblical references with new light.
Mary is a great biblical model of faith, inspiring us to such prayer followed by apostolic action. The National Directory for Catechesis states: “At this moment in history, the Church has unprecedented opportunities to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people and nations. By her vocation as the Virgin Mother of God, Mary is a singular model for the Church’s mission of evangelization and catechesis” (n. 74).
1. How would I describe my Marian spirituality? What questions or concerns do I hold about the role of Mary in my spiritual life?
2. What Scripture passages speak to me most profoundly about Mary? Why?
3. Father Buby states: “Both (John and Luke) are theologians and Evangelists of incarnational theology.” What do I understand by the term “incarnational theology”? (See “Incarnation” in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults or the Catechism of the Catholic Church if you need clarification on the term.)
4. Father Buby states: “Mary is a great biblical model of faith inspiring us to such prayer followed by apostolic action.” How do I interpret this for my life? As a catechist, how can I inspire my students to appreciate the implications of Mary for fostering their spirituality?
5. What is the significance of Mary at the wedding feast at Cana? Do I realize new insights presented by Fr. Buby?
6. What are the three forms of prayer that Fr. Buby attributes to Mary? How do these forms speak to my own spiritual life?
1. Create a Mary Journal. Prayerfully reflect each week on the ideas expressed in this article or in the resources referenced here. Include personal reflections, prayers, and applications for nurturing a Marian spirituality.
2. Write a personal Marian Prayer Book grounded on contemplating the Marian biblical passages in the New Testament.
3. Read Chapter VIII (on the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). If you do not have a copy of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, visit vatican.va and search Lumen Gentium. Identify key ideas that could be incorporated into a lesson on Mary.
4. Visit campus.udayton.edu/mary. Explore all the Marian resources that are available for catechesis. Using applications from this website, describe a lesson, prayer service, or catechetical activity.
5. Slowly read aloud the Magnificat. Ponder the phrases and allow your spiritual imagination to capture the breadth and depth of this beautiful prayer. Write a personal reflection on your understanding of the Magnificat. Share your reflection with a colleague or friend.
6. Visit americancatholic.org. Search for articles about Mary. Select two or three articles to read critically, reflect on, and pray over. Share your discoveries with another catechist or your students. Explore how you may incorporate the articles and ideas into a lesson or prayer experience.
Google vatican.va and do a search on Marian documents and related readings to this article.
Go to campus.udayton.edu/mary and explore articles, art, prayers, Marian history, music, etc.
Go to americancatholic.org, search Mary articles.
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