How I Met My Mother: 10 Reflections from the Book that Changed My Attitude Towards Mary

One of the most misunderstood aspects of our Catholic faith is our fascination and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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Listers, one of the most misunderstood aspects of our Catholic faith is our fascination and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I personally struggled against this concept before I joined the Church. After I converted, I still didn’t give our Blessed Mother the due that she deserved; however, that all changed. On my honeymoon I picked up Mary: The Church at the Source by Pope Benedict XVI (at the time of publishing, he was Cardinal Ratzinger) and Hans Urs von Balthasar (who happens to be my favorite modern theologian). By the time I finished it, I discovered a new love, respect, and awe for our Holy Mother. Mary: The Church at the Source is a collection of essays by Pope Benedict XVI and Hans Urs von Balthasar. As it is written by two of the greatest Catholic theologians of the modern era, this book is by no means a quick read. However, each essay teaches something new and something exquisitely beautiful about our Holy Mother. I would compare this book to a fine wine, which must be savored to be better appreciated. I highly recommend that every Catholic should read this book. Therefore, I have given 10 tastes to whet your mariological palate. Now on to the reflections…1

#1 Mary’s Maternity Is More than Just a Matter of Biology

We must avoid relegating Mary’s maternity to the sphere of mere biology. But we can do so only if our reading of Scripture can legitimately presuppose a hermeneutic that rules out just this kind of division and allows us instead to recognize the correlation of Christ and his Mother as a theological reality.” —Page 29 Pope Benedict XVI.

#2 The Necessity of Marian Piety

The organ for seeing God is the purified heart. It may just be the task of Marian piety to awaken the heart and purify it in faith. If the misery of contemporary man is his increasing disintegration into mere bios and mere rationality, Marian piety could work against this “decomposition” and help man to rediscover unity in the center, from the heart.” —Page 36 Pope Benedict XVI

#3 Mary, the Signpost of Hope

This is why Mary, who has given him birth is truly “full of grace” – she becomes a sign to history. The angel’s greeting makes it clear that the blessing is more powerful than the curse. The sign of woman has become the sign of hope; she is the signpost of hope.” — Page 53 Pope Benedict XVI

#4 Mary’s Openess to God’s Word

Mary’s divine maternity and her enduring attitude of openness to God’s word are seen as interpenetrating here: giving ear to the angel’s greeting. Mary welcomes the Holy Spirit into herself. Having become pure hearing, she receives the Word so totally it becomes flesh in her. — Page 72 Pope Benedict XVI

#5 The Incarnation as Hard to Imagine Without Mary

Thus the woman who called herself lowly, that is nameless (Luke1:48) stands at the core of the profession of faith in the living God, and it is impossible to imagine it without her. She is an indispensable, central component of our faith in the living, acting God. The Word becomes flesh – the eternal Meaning grounding the universe enters in her. It needed the Virgin for this to be possible, the Virgin who made available her whole person, that is her embodied existence, her very self, as the place of God’s dwelling place in the world. The Incarnation required consenting acceptance. Only in this way do Logos and flesh really become one. — Page 83 Pope Benedict XVI

#6 Mary as Jesus’s First Teacher

Now, this means that even Jesus himself has above all his Mother to thank for his human self-consciousness, unless we suppose that he was a supernatural wunderkind who should not have to owe this self-consciousness to anyone. But such a hypothesis would jeopardize Jesus’s humanity […] She must have introduced Jesus into the tradition and so enabled him to recognize his own mission in the mirror of the promise. True, Jesus’ personal prayer and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit disclosed this mission to him with increasing depth. Nevertheless, the human contribution – to this process must by no means be underestimated; this, too, would offend against the learning process of a normal child. — Page 103 Hans Urs von Balthasar

#7 Mary’s Naked Faith

The purpose of this constant training in the naked faith Mary will need under the cross is often insufficiently understood; people are astonished and embarrassed by the way in which Jesus treats his Mother, whom he addresses both in Cana and at the Cross only as “woman.” He himself is the first one to wield the sword that must pierce her. But how else would she have become ready to stand by the Cross, where not only her Son’s earthly failure, but also his abandonment by the God who sends him is revealed. She must finally say Yes to this, too, because she consented a priori to her child’s whole destiny. — Page 109 Hans Urs von Balthasar

#8 Mary and the Eucharist

First, the Mass. Does any Christian really know what a sacrifice it is to offer the Father the Son as the world’s redeemer after the Consecration? But those who contemplate Mary’s sacrificial gesture get a glimmer of why, despite all objection, we can and must describe the Eucharistic celebration as a sacrifice (not of Christ alone, but also of the Church). And does any one of us really receive the Son in Holy Communion as perfectly as he offers himself? We are right to pray, “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of our Church”: on that perfect act of faith that was nowhere as undivided as in Mary — Page 112 Hans Urs von Balthasar

#9 The Importance of the Veneration of Mary

The veneration of Mary is the surest and shortest way to get close to Christ in a concrete way. In meditating on her life in all its phases we can learn what it means to live for and with Christ – in the everyday, in an unsentimental matter-of-factness that nonetheless enjoys perfect inner intimacy, Contemplating Mary’s existence, we also submit to the darkness imposed on our faith, yet we learn how we must always be ready when Jesus suddenly asks something from us. — Page 117 Hans Urs von Balthasar

#10 Mary, Mother of the Church

If we are ready to do this, then even today we can see the face of the Church light up with the motherly look and expression that was so obvious to, and so enriching for, the first Christian centuries. It is because we Christians had long lost sight of this motherly aspect that the present Pope (Paul VI) expressed it by giving Mary the title “Mother of the Church.” This title is legitimate, so long as the Church, precisely as an assembly of individual believers, is also seen as the structured social organization that we customarily consider her to be today. If we could make up our minds to penetrate through this understanding of the Church to a deeper level, we could once more realize the “archetypal identity” between Mary and the Church and, from time to time at least, drop the “of the” between “Mother” and “Church.” —Page 143 Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Mother of the Church, pray for us!


More on Mother Mary from SPL
St. Peter’s List offers a wide range of lists on the Blessed Virgin. To those Catholics seeking a more biblical understanding of Mary’s roles within salvation and to any protestant readers we’d suggest 4 Biblical Reasons Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant and 6 Biblical Reasons Mother Mary is the New Eve. We also offer a wide range of quote banks concerning Mary, the Rosary, and other doctrinal issues. – HH Ambrose

  1. All reflections are taken from the following book: von Balthasar, Hans Urs and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Mary: The Church at the Source. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005. []

Author: Catherine

Catherine was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She converted to Catholicism in November 2004. She graduated from Oral Roberts University in the winter of 2005 with a degree in New Testament Biblical Studies. She married the love of her life in January 2006. She is a mother of two wonderful and rambunctious boys and hopes God will bless her with several more. She loves to read good literature and theology, she dabbles in writing, and she likes to riff bad movies.

  • Sally Shelton

    J.E. Foyer, thank you for sharing the quotes from Benedict XVI and von Balthasar about Mary. Your post has inspired me to reflect further on my own understanding of Mary. As a former Protestant myself, I did not immediately understand why the Catholic Church emphasized Mary so much, but the longer I have been a Catholic the more I have come to love Mary and to understand the crucial role she played in sharing in our Lord’s redemptive suffering for us. Although she herself was not the one who was sacrificed, it was her own flesh-and-blood son that was. That must be why Catholics have so emphasized Mary’s presence at the Cross. Just as any mother suffers when she sees a child of hers suffering, so our Lord’s mother suffered at the sight of Jesus on the Cross. The fact that she remained standing there at the foot of the Cross despite the agonizing pain it must have caused her, even though so many others had deserted him. is an indication of her total devotion to our Lord. Mary is an unparalleled example of what total consecration to Jesus is all about, and this is why praying with Mary as in the Rosary is such a fruitful activity. It is contemplating the life of our Lord through the eyes and with the heart of his beloved mother. In fact, I am now at the place that I want to encourage all Christians, whether Catholic or not, to give a higher place to Mary. If our Lord himself did not fail to acknowledge and provide for her even from the Cross, how can we his followers fail to acknowledge his mother ourselves? I for one want to be among those in every generation who call her blessed.