Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A “Christmas” catechesis, was delivered by Benedict XVI today in his first Wednesday general audience of 2008. Leaving aside his usual programme- in which he presents the figures of the early Fathers of the Church – he dedicated today’s meetings with pilgrims in the Paul VI audience hall to understanding “the presence of Mary in the life of the church as well as our own personal lives”.
“In this holiday season - the pope said – we have stopped to reflect upon the representation of the Nativity in the Christmas crib. At the very centre of this scene we find the Virgin Mother who offers the Infant Jesus to the contemplation of all those who make their way to adore the Saviour: the shepherds, the poor people of Bethlehem, the three magi from the East. Later on, on the feast of the “Presentation of Our Lord” which we celebrate on February 2nd, old Simeon and Ann the prophetess receive the small Child from the hands of the Virgin Mother and adore Him. Christian devotion has always considered the birth of Jesus and Mary’s Divine Motherhood as two aspects of the same mystery, the mystery of the incarnation of the Divine Word and that is why it has never considered the Nativity as something from the past. We are the “contemporaries” of those shepherds, the wise men, Simeon and Ann as we follow them we are full of joy, because God chose to be God-with-us and has a mother who is our mother”.
The pope ‘s reflection centred on the title of “Mother of God” (Theotokos), a title given to the virgin since the III century and officially decreed with the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D). “With that title” he explained “it was underlined that Christ is God and was really born as a man from Mary”: thus his “unity of true God and True man is preserved”.
The pope’s reasoning has an ecumenical flavour: showing the “Christological” nature of devotion to Mary Mother of God and its bond to the faith of the early Church, in a certain way he is answering to protestant criticism which often deride Catholic “Marian devotion”.
The pontiff explained that all other titles with which the Church honours the Madonna are derived from “the title ‘Mother of God’”, among them that of the “Immaculate Conception” and “Assumption”. In fact the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are not accepted by the Orthodox because they were declared when the church was already separated. But by illustrating their close bond with the title Theotokos (which the orthodox accept) he shows that it even on this point full communion is possible.
All of these “titles” or “privileges”, explained Benedict XVI, “are not given to distance Mary from us but on the contrary to bring her closer to us; in fact by being totally with God, this Woman is also very near to us and helps us like a mother and sister”. It was on consideration of this “nearness” that, “during the Second Vatican Council, on November 21st 1964, Paul VI solemnly attributed the title of ‘Mother of the Church’ to Mary”.
The pope concluded: “Dear brothers and sisters, in these first days of the year, we are invited to carefully consider the importance of Mary’s presence in the life of the Church and our own personal existence. We entrust ourselves to Her so that She may guide our steps during this new period of time and that the Lord gift us life, and help us to be authentic friends of His Son and thus courageous architects of His Kingdom on the earth, a Kingdom of light and of truth. Happy New Year to you all! This is my wish to all of you present at this first General audience of 2008. That the new year which has begun under the sign of the Blessed Virgin, helps us feel more vigorously her maternal presence, so that we may be sustained and comforted by her protection, and thus contemplate with renewed vision the face of her Son Jesus and walk with greater energy along the path of good”.