Mary's Place is
the Highest After Christ
H.H. Pope John Paul II
January 3, 1996
the, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium,
which in chapter eight "set forth painstakingly both the
role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate
Word and the Mystical Body, and the duties of the redeemed
towards the Mother of God", in this catechesis I would like
to offer a basic summary of the Church's faith in Mary,
while reaffirming with the Council that I do not intend "to
give a complete doctrine on Mary", nor "to decide those
questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully
clarified" (Lumen gentium, n. 54).
It is my
intention first of all to describe "the role of the Blessed
Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical
Body" (ibid.), by referring to data from Scripture and the
Apostolic Tradition, and taking into account the doctrinal
development that has taken place in the Church up to our
since Mary's role in the history of salvation is closely
linked to the mystery of Christ and the Church, I will not
lose sight of these essential reference points which, by
offering Marian doctrine the proper context, enable us to
discover its vast and inexhaustible riches.
mystery of the Lord's Mother is truly vast and has occupied
many Pastors and theologians down the centuries. Some, in
their endeavour to point out the central aspects of
Mariology, have sometimes treated it together with
Christology or ecclesiology. However, taking into account
her relationship with all the mysteries of faith, Mary
deserves a specific treatment which highlights her person
and role in the history of salvation, in the light of the
Bible and of ecclesiastical tradition.
2. It also
seems useful, following the Council's directives, to explain
accurately "the duties of the redeemed towards the Mother of
God, who is Mother of Christ and Mother of men, and most of
all of those who believe" (ibid.).
part assigned to Mary by the divine plan of salvation
requires of Christians not only acceptance and attention,
but also concrete choices which express in life the Gospel
attitudes of her who goes before the Church in faith and
holiness. The Mother of the Lord is thus destined to
exercise a special influence on believers' way of praying.
The Church's liturgy itself recognizes her singular place in
the devotion and life of every believer.
necessary to emphasize that Marian teaching and devotion are
not the fruit of sentimentality. The mystery of Mary is a
revealed truth which imposes itself on the intellect of
believers and requires of those in the Church who have the
task of studying and teaching a method of doctrinal
reflection no less rigorous than that used in all theology.
Jesus himself had invited his contemporaries not to be led
by enthusiasm in considering his Mother, recognizing in Mary
especially the one who is blessed because she listens to the
word of God and keeps it (cf. Lk 11:28).
affection but particularly the light of the Spirit must
guide us in understanding the Mother of Jesus and her
contribution to the work of salvation.
regard to the measure and balance to be maintained in both
Marian doctrine and devotion, the Council strongly urges
theologians and preachers of the divine word "to be careful
to refrain ... from all false exaggeration" (Lumen
gentium, n. 67).
exaggeration comes from those who adopt a maximalist
attitude, which seeks to extend systematically to Mary the
prerogatives of Christ and all the charisms of the
is always necessary in Marian doctrine to safeguard the
infinite difference existing between the human person of
Mary and the divine person of Jesus. To attribute the
"maximum" to Mary cannot become a norm of Mariology, which
must make constant reference to the testimony of Revelation
regarding God's gifts to the Virgin on account of her
Council exhorts theologians and preachers to "refrain ...
from too summary an attitude" (ibid.), that is, from the
danger of a minimalism that can be manifest in
doctrinal positions, in exegetical interpretations and in
acts of devotion which tend to reduce and almost deny Mary's
importance in the history of salvation, her perpetual
virginity and her holiness.
positions should always be avoided through a consistent and
sincere fidelity to revealed truth as expressed in Scripture
and in the Apostolic Tradition.
Council itself offers us a criterion for discerning
authentic Marian doctrine: Mary "occupies a place in the
Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to
us" (Lumen gentium, n. 54).
highest place: we must discover this lofty position
granted to Mary in the mystery of salvation. However, it is
a question of a vocation totally in relationship to Christ.
closest to us: our life is profoundly influenced
by Mary's example and intercession. Nonetheless we must ask
ourselves about our effort to be close to her. The entire
teaching of salvation history invites us to look to the
Virgin. Christian asceticism in every age invites us to
think of her as a model of perfect adherence to the Lord's
will. The chosen model of holiness, Mary guides the steps of
believers on their journey to heaven.
closeness to the events of our daily history, Mary sustains
us in trials; she encourages us in difficulty, always
pointing out to us the goal of eternal salvation. Thus her
role as Mother is seen ever more clearly: Mother of her Son
Jesus, tender and vigilant Mother to each one of us, to
whom, from the Cross, the Redeemer entrusted her, that we
might welcome her as children in faith.
Weekly Edition in English
10 January 1996
Return to Main Page: John Paul II on
the Blessed Mother>>>