Children's storyteller Laura Krauss Melmed tells of a young boy who asks his father the rather odd question: "What was the first song ever sung?" His dad replies that the first song was "a strong song, a man's song, a warrior's song, a friend's song."
Dissatisfied with that answer, the boy asks the same question of others. His little brother says the first song was "a stomping, shaking, shout song;" his sister says it was "a jumping, twirling, leap song." He asks the dog, the minnows in the brook, the birds. None of the answers will do until the boy heard the response of his mother.
"The first song ever sung was a mother's song, a hush song, a sleep song, a love song," the mother replied. And so the boy climbed into her lap and his mother sang him to sleep (The First Song Ever Sung, Puffin Books, 1995).
Indeed, it is a mother's song that is not only first in our experience, but also the most comforting. It is our mother who carried us inside her for nine months and who continued to be our chief comforter after birth. It is our mother who gave and nurtured life.
So it is with our spiritual life. Mary, the mother of God, transmits spiritual life to us just as our physical mothers gave us biological life. Mary's spiritual motherhood, moreover, is more than a metaphor for how she helps us grow closer to Jesus. It is real motherhood; Mary really does give life.
This is a perplexing notion, one which only makes sense if we understand the church as the body of Christ. Not as something similar to Christ's body, but as the real flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.
Pope Pius X made this explicit when he wrote: "Bearing Jesus in her womb, Mary bore there also all those whose life was included in that of the Savior. . . . We ought to consider ourselves as having come forth from the womb of the Virgin, from which we once issued as a body attached to its head." This point has since been reiterated by other pontiffs and by the Second Vatican Council.
Mary's spiritual motherhood became a reality at the Annunciation when she willingly accepted to be not only the biological mother of Jesus, but to accept, on behalf of humanity, his redemption of us from sin. Vatican II taught that, "At the message of the angel, the Virgin Mary received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world" (Constitution on the Church, 53).
Her acceptance reached its climax at the crucifixion when Mary stood at the foot of the cross, sharing in Christ's suffering as only a mother could. There, Jesus proclaimed her spiritual motherhood to the world "when he said to his mother, 'Woman, here is your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother'" (John 19:26-27).
From that moment at which the church was born, Mary has had a special role in giving life in Christ to each of us. And each person draws nearer to Jesus by honoring and loving his mother.
Mary treats us as a mother would. She advocates on our behalf, gives us life and showers us with spiritual gifts. We should treat her with the same respect we treat our biological mother. When we neglect Mary, we are the ones cheapened by this inattention.
In the life of grace, the first song ever sung was Mary's song, a praise song, a mother's song, a love song. It was the song which Mary sang when, with Jesus growing within her, she visited her cousin Elizabeth. And, as her children, we have it as our song too. It begins, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior . . ." (Luke 1:46-55).
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.