Mary in History

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Mary Introduction


From an historical view, Mary was the daughter of Joachim and Ann.  According to tradition, Ann, a descendent in the line of Aaron the high priest, was born in Bethlehem and married Joachim from Nazareth in Galilee, who was of the line of David.  At first, they lived in Galilee, but later moved to settle in Jerusalem.  As they grew older their marriage was saddened because they had no children and were aware that society believed a family with no children was a sign of God’s displeasure.  

It is said that one day an angel appeared to Joachim and announced that he and Ann would be blessed with a daughter whom they should dedicate to God.  The baby girl was named Mary, a name derived from Miriam, who had been the wife of Moses, Israel’s greatest prophet and leader.

THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION - Mary Was Conceived Without Sin

Mary was a human person totally filled with the Holy Spirit, and because of the unique honor of being the Mother of Jesus Christ, the God-man, she was preserved from all stain of Original Sin. At the moment of her conception between Joachim and Ann, she received the full presence of Sanctifying Grace, the very life of God.  Original sin was not removed from the soul of Mary, it was excluded.  The merits of Christ’s redemptive act had been applied to her which assured her absolute purity.  While she was not affected by the baser human emotions and weaknesses, she did experience sorrow, joy, bodily ailments, hunger, and death. She was and is the New Eve through whom the power of Satan over man has been crushed and mankind redeemed.


A widely held tradition says that Mary was born in Jerusalem and dedicated to God in the Temple at the age of three.  Whether she remained in the Temple or often frequented the Temple is not clear, but when she was about 14, the age when Jewish girls married at that time, the high priest asked that unmarried men from the tribe of David who wished to marry her should present their staffs at the Temple altar.  The next day the staff presented by Joseph was found to have blossomed with flowers, which was recognized as a sign that he was God’s choice for Mary.

When Mary was betrothed to Joseph in a ceremony in the Temple, she became his legal bride and belonged to him.  However, according to custom, they were not to live together until about a year later, when the marriage would be celebrated.  Mary returned to her parents' earlier home in Nazareth to prepare for her move into the home which Joseph was preparing.  Before this occurred, the angel Gabriel, acting as God’s messenger, visited her, and greeted her, saying, "Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee."  He said she had found favor with God and would become the mother of Jesus, the Christ,  through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Mary consented to this by saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.” 


Then the angel told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant and also expecting a child.  Without delay, Mary traveled to her cousin and greeted her.  At that instant, Elizabeth told Mary that at the sound of her greeting, the baby in her womb leapt for joy.  Elizabeth greeted Mary with the same words the angel had used, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Next, she referred to Mary as the “Mother of God.”  Mary responded to this greeting by saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.  He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed.  The Almighty works marvels for me.  Holy his name!  His mercy is from age to age on those who fear him.  He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted.  He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly.  He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.  He protects Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy, the mercy promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his sons for ever.”


While Mary’s pregnancy was a pleasant surprise for her friends, it was not the case with Joseph.  Although they were legally married, he was not aware of the mystery of the Incarnation and since he knew that the child Mary was bearing was not his, he decided to divorce her quietly to avoid her public shame.  However, an angel told him that Mary’s child was of the Holy Spirit, that Joseph was to keep Mary as his wife in their ritual marriage contract, and that he was to name her son, Jesus.


A general enrollment census had been ordered at that time by the Roman Caesar Augustus.  It required Joseph and Mary to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in Joseph’s town of birth.  While they were in Bethlehem, Mary’s time was completed, and she gave birth to her son, Jesus, in a grotto used for animals since there was no room for them to stay in the town.  Angels announced her child’s birth to shepherds watching their sheep in the fields nearby, who, drawn by the news and heavenly excitement, came to pay him homage.


Jewish law required every first-born boy child to be dedicated to God and its mother to be legally purified in a Temple ritual forty days after its birth.  Instead of offering a lamb, poor families could substitute two turtle doves or young pigeons for the sacrifice.  At this ceremony, the elderly Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophesied universal salvation through the Messiah, and the great sorrow which Mary would experience because of her son’s future suffering.  Anna, who often frequented the Temple, happened upon them at the same time, and told her listeners of the coming redemption of Israel. 


After Jesus was presented in the Temple, the Holy Family settled in Bethlehem where they were visited by the “wise men from the East” who had been attracted to that place by an unusually bright heavenly light.  During their quest, they inquired in Jerusalem about the young “king of the Jews” which the light foretold.  The questions of these men called the Magi, dismayed King Herod who feared that almost everything was a possible threat to his power.


The very life of the infant Jesus was now in danger because Herod was determined to kill all male children under the age of two years living in and around Bethlehem.  However, Joseph was warned at night of this danger by an angel who told him to flee immediately for safety with Mary and Jesus to Egypt where they would all be safe.

There are many legends in the Coptic and Mennonite Churches regarding the Holy Family’s travel to and stay in Egypt.  It must be remembered that the Jews had some years earlier fled from slavery in Egypt with the resulting loss of the Egyptian Army.  Jews who decided to return and settle there again were sometimes met with distrust and suspicion. Depending on the legends, one can understand the underlying moods and feelings of charity or distrust which the Holy Family experienced.

Upon the death of Herod, an angel directed Joseph to return to Israel, but because Judea was ruled by Archelaus, Herod’s son, the family settled in Nazareth in Galilee.  Joseph again took up the tasks of his trade as carpenter and teaching his son.  Mary became occupied with the necessary work to maintain their home.


Jewish men were obligated to visit the Temple on the three solemn feasts of the year: The Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread – recalling the original Exodus from Egypt;   The Feast of Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks – recalling God giving the Torah on Mount Sinai; and the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkoth – recalling early Hebrew life in the tents or booths while in the desert.  Women often accompanied the men on their trip

The day after a boy reached his twelfth birthday, he became subject to the Law.  On this occasion, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his parents.  But, after one day on their return journey, Mary and Joseph realized that since Jesus was neither traveling with them nor their relatives, he must have been left behind in Jerusalem.  They immediately returned, and after searching for three days, discovered their child in the Temple seated among the learned doctors of the Law, discussing and asking them questions.  Mary must have recognized that her son had changed, when, after she said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety."  he responded, “How is it that you sought me?  Did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?” After this, Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph until the beginning of his public ministry.


Mary’s son was named Jesus.  He was truly human – possessing a human nature as we do.  He was truly divine – being a divine person and possessing a divine nature.  Mary is the mother of Jesus and at the same time, she is the Mother of God, a truth defined in the Council of Ephesus in the year 431 A.D.  As the Mother of God, Mary desires that all learn of her divine son's love for us.  A love so deep that he offered his very life to his father to free us from the bondage of evil due to the Original Sin of our first parents.  By his death at the hands of evil men, he merited for us the opportunity to enjoy his happiness forever.  Mary becomes the guide who leads us to know and love her son.  We in turn, can find in Mary his sinless mother who is the highest and the most perfect intercessor and advocate on our behalf before the throne of God.  Over the years she has been given titles which reflect both her exalted position, and her personal role in the life of her spiritual children.     

Since Mary is the Mother of God, she is our spiritual mother through whom God acted to bring us to Himself in heaven.

Mary assumes many roles as our spiritual mother, just as any loving earthly mother naturally does to help her children.  Just as our earthly mother is the first teacher, she providing things we need, such as: food, clothing, and shelter, Mary desires to protect her children from physical danger and spiritual harm, she consoles us in discouragement, and always encourages us to strive for more noble and higher goals, thus drawing us closer to her Son.

Above all, Mary points to her Son.  When we say Mary, she says Jesus.  When we give her honor and veneration, it reflects upon her son just as the moon reflects the sun’s light.  Mary, our spiritual mother helps us reach spiritual health, spiritual safety and closer union with her son.  Over time, the roles she has played as mother and protector of humanity have been recognized as titles placed in the many litanies which honor her.  The litany to Mary approved by the Church is known as the Litany of Loreto. 

Mary has been portrayed more than anyone else in art and symbolism.  It is the purpose of this site to make Mary's role  more familiar by exploring the meaning of her titles as described by the Catholic Church's canonized saints (those persons, proven by miracles to be in heaven).    

It was in  the year 1854, that Pope Pius IX, acting as head of the Church, defined as a dogma of the Catholic Faith, the belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary, “. . . in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of Original Sin.”  This dogma states without error the universally held belief of the singular dignity given to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.

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