Mary Sheds Light on the Role of Woman
H.H. Pope John Paul II
December 6, 1995
1. As I have
already explained in the preceding catecheses, the role
entrusted to Mary by the divine plan of salvation sheds
light on the vocation of woman in the life of the Church and
society by defining its difference in relation to man. The
model represented by Mary clearly shows what is specific to
the feminine personality.
times some trends in the feminist movement, in order to
advance women's emancipation, have sought to make her like
man in every way. However, the divine intention manifested
in creation, though desiring woman to be man's equal in
dignity and worth, at the same time clearly affirms her
diversity and specific features. Woman's identity cannot
consist in being a copy of man, since she is endowed with
her own qualities and prerogatives, which give her a
particular uniqueness that is always to be fostered and
prerogatives and particular features of the feminine
personality attained their full development in Mary. The
fullness of divine grace actually fostered in her all the
natural abilities typical of woman.
'Let it be
done to me according to your word'
in the work of salvation is totally dependent on Christ's.
It is a unique function, required by the fulfilment of the
mystery of the Incarnation: Mary's motherhood was necessary
to give the world its Saviour, the true Son of God, but also
importance of woman's co-operation in the coming of Christ
is emphasized by the initiative of God, who, through the
angel, communicates his plan of salvation to the Virgin of
Nazareth so that she can consciously and freely co-operate
by giving her own generous consent.
loftiest model of woman's collaboration in the Redemption of
man—every man—is fulfilled; this model represents the
transcendent reference point for every affirmation of
woman's role and function in history.
carrying out this sublime form of co-operation, Mary also
shows the style in which woman must concretely express her
to the angel's message, the Virgin makes no proud demands
nor does she seek to satisfy personal ambitions. Luke
presents her to us as wanting only to offer her humble
service with total and trusting acceptance of the divine
plan of salvation. This is the meaning of her response:
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me
according to your word" (Lk 1: 3 8).
It is not a
question of a purely passive acceptance, since her consent
is given only after she has expressed the difficulty that
arose from her intent to remain a virgin, inspired by her
will to belong more completely to the Lord.
received the angel's response, Mary immediately expresses
her readiness, maintaining an attitude of humble service.
It is the
humble, valuable service that so many women, following
Mary's example, have offered and continue to offer in the
Church for the growth of Christ's kingdom.
3. The figure
of Mary reminds women today of the value of motherhood. In
the contemporary world the appropriate and balanced
importance is not always given to this value. In some cases,
the need for women to work in order to provide for the needs
of their family and an erroneous concept of freedom, which
sees child-care as a hindrance to woman's autonomy and
opportunities, have obscured the significance of motherhood
for the development of the feminine personality. On the
contrary, in other cases the biological aspect of childbirth
becomes so important as to overshadow the other significant
opportunities woman has for expressing her innate vocation
to being a mother.
In Mary we
have been given to understand the true meaning of
motherhood, which attains its loftiest dimension in the
divine plan of salvation. For her, being a mother not only
endows her feminine personality, directed towards the gift
of life, with its full development, but also represents an
answer of faith to woman's own vocation which assumes its
truest value only in the light of God's covenant (cf.
Mulieris dignitatem, n. 19).
4. In looking
attentively at Mary, we also discover in her the model of
virginity lived for the kingdom.
par excellence, in her heart she grew in her
desire to live in this state in order to achieve an ever
deeper intimacy with God.
called to virginal chastity, Mary reveals the lofty meaning
of so special a vocation and thus draws attention to the
spiritual fruitfulness which it produces in the divine plan:
a higher order of motherhood, a motherhood according to the
Spirit (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, n. 21).
Women sow the
seeds of the civilization of love
maternal heart, open to all human misfortune, also reminds
women that the development of the feminine personality calls
for a commitment to charity. More sensitive to the values of
the heart, woman shows a high capacity for personal
To all in our
age who offer selfish models for affirming the feminine
personality, the luminous and holy figure of the Lord's
Mother shows how only by self-giving and self-forgetfulness
towards others is it possible to attain authentic fulfilment
of the divine plan for one's own life.
presence therefore encourages sentiments of mercy and
solidarity in women for situations of human distress and
arouses a desire to alleviate the pain of those who suffer:
the poor, the sick and all in need of help.
In virtue of
her special bond with Mary, woman has often in the course of
history represented God's closeness to the expectations of
goodness and tenderness of a humanity wounded by hatred and
sin, by sowing in the world seeds of a civilization that can
respond to violence with love.
Weekly Edition in English
13 December 1995
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