One doubts whether Christ observes America’s great civic holiday for celebrating and thanking our mothers, but it’s surely a fitting day for American Christians to think of that lady, Mary.
Only three years ago, Evangelical and Catholics Together released the momentous statement, “Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life,” which affirmed the shared evangelical Protestant and Catholic love for the mother of our Lord:
Since the sixteenth century, the subject of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been a primary point of differentiation, and even conflict, between Evangelicals and Catholics. While figures such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli retained a special reverence for Mary, this dimension of their teaching and piety was largely lost by their followers in the course of growing animosity between Protestants and Catholics. On the Catholic side, the determination to draw a clear line against Protestantism sometimes led to exaggerations and distortions in Marian devotion.
In our time there is among Evangelicals a renewed interest in Mary, and among Catholics a determination to make clear that the greatness of Mary is in her faithfulness to Jesus Christ, her Lord and ours. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “No creature could ever be counted as equal to the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. . . . The Church does not hesitate to profess the subordinate role of Mary” (Lumen Gentium 62). Whatever is said about Mary is ever and always in the service of what must be said about Christ.
The drafters of the statement offer some particularly appropriate thoughts for today:
Agreeing on the miracle of the virgin birth, we would also encourage a fuller reflection on the maternity of Mary. As the mother of Jesus, she was the first to learn of his nature and mission, and she was the first to give faith’s assent: “Let it be with me according to your word.” We picture her nursing him at her breast, teaching him his first words, kissing his bruises when he fell, introducing him to Israel’s understanding of the ways of the Lord—the mother who helped him memorize the psalms and say his prayers, even as he grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).
What does it mean for a woman to be the Theotokos, the bearer and mother of God? This is the question at the root of Christians’ longstanding reflection on, and devotion to, the the woman we all confidently can call “mother.”