May 18, 2006
Among the most ancient and important catacombs in Rome are the catacombs of Saint Priscilla on the Via Salaria. From the early 100's, the home of the Roman matron Priscilla was used as a burial place for Christians. These catacombs are really no different than many others in the city of Rome. However, painted on the walls of these catacombs are numerous frescos dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. that throw light on the faith of the early Church.
One fresco depicts the Virgin Mary seated, with the infant Jesus at her breast. Next to her stands a man pointing to a star directly above. The star was the symbol in Jewish tradition for the Messiah. It comes from Balaam’s prophecy in the book of Numbers. This ancient soothsayer announced "a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel" (
Num 24:17). Thus, this fresco expresses the mystery of the incarnation: God’s Son, the long-awaited Messiah, is born of the Virgin Mary.
Dating from the early 200’s, this is the oldest representation in art of Mary and Child. The fresco evidences that, from the very beginning, the Church has placed Mary in a place of honor and devotion. She is the one who is chosen to bring forth our Savior.
From all eternity, God chose Mary. As Saint Augustine says: "Before the Word was born of the Virgin, He had already predestined her as His mother"(
In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus VIII, 9). But God does not use Mary as a mere object. He respects the person he made. He chooses her and predestines; but, he also calls her to exercise her freedom in accepting his plan.
At the Annunciation, the freedom of God and the freedom of man meet in Mary. When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, he reveals to her God’s plan that she is to become the mother of Christ. The angel invites her response. Mary is the creature in dialogue with the Creator. Between Gabriel’s announcement and Mary’s
fiat, the whole world trembles in expectation. God made Mary free and he waited for her to say “yes” to His will.
Her “yes” allowed God to realize in her the greatest vocation a woman ever was asked to live. As Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. defined, she became
theotokos, the Mother of God. The Spirit descended on her and she conceived her child, God’s only-begotten Son. She became the Mother of the Jesus and, at the same time, both the model and the Mother of all vocations.
First, the model of our vocation.
Mary images the vocation of every person. Each of us has been chosen by God. He has willed us into life with a purpose and a mission.
He makes His choice in the mystery of His all loving and eternal providence. And His choice for us goes beyond what we could ever image. In time, God’s choice becomes clear to us. And then, we are called to follow the example of Mary.
We are called to freely embrace God’s will, to accept His plan and to live out the vocation He has placed within our heart. Just as Mary’s “yes” to God’s plan allowed God to accomplished great things, our ‘yes” to God allows Him to continue His work in us. As Mary’s
fiat was a blessing to Mary and others, so our “yes” becomes a source of blessing.
Second, Mary is the Mother of our vocation.
The mother who gives birth to us brings not just our body, but all that we are into this world. So too Mary. She is the Mother of the whole Christ. And, as the Mother of Christ, she is truly the Mother of all believers. As Paul teaches, the body of believers, the Church, are Christ's body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27-31; Ephesians 4:1-6, 15-16; Colossians 1:18). In giving birth, therefore, to Christ to whom we are all joined, she is the Mother of the Church. In Christ, we are called to life eternal. In him, we are called to a special work. As Mother of Christ, the whole Christ, Mary, then, is our Mother and thus the Mother of vocations - a role that Mary continues even now.
At the Annunciation, Mary accepted all that God willed. She united her whole self to the work of salvation. Thus, her fiat contains her complete co-operation with God’s plan for all of us who are joined to Christ.
Mary’s role in salvation is inseparable from her union with Christ. This union begun at the Annunciation finds fulfillment in heaven. Mary stands before her divine Son. She is unreservedly and fully united with him. She constantly says “yes” to God’s will for us in Christ. She makes constant intercession for each of us. Her maternal prayer calls down God’s blessing upon us so that we, too, can freely respond to the grace and mystery of our vocation.
Elizabeth called her blessed. We rightly repeat her praise. Mary is truly blessed and a source of blessing for each of us, her children.