Mary in Philippine Life Today

A Pastoral Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines



To the people of God in the Philippines, especially the clergy, religious men and women, and members of mandated organizations

Dearly Beloved

1.  The unavoidable conclusion of anyone contemplating the religious practices of the Philippines is that we Filipinos are indeed a religious people.  The thousands of churches and chapels all over the Islands, from the Batanes in the North to Jolo in the South, testify that Christianity has become a true part of Philippine life.  We consider ourselves the Christian country of Asia.

2.  When one tries to determine the characteristic of our Christian faith, one finds that our practice of religion has taken on a popular color and has a special sense of devotion that makes it spefically Filipino.  He finds that certain traits of Philippine Christianity transcend the boundaries of Catholicism and are found with equal prominence in other groups of Filipino Christians and in other Philippine Christian Churches.  The devotion that the Filipino people show for the principal mysteries of our Redemption comes from the very life of our men, women and children in the form of a deep and personal faith.  The celebration, for instance, of Christmas with its cheerful and colorful religious and family customs, on the one hand, and the mournful but no less colorful celebration of Holy Week on the other, center the Christian life of the average Filipino on the Incarnation and Passion of Our Lord.

3.  No less prominent is another trait connected with the two mysteries just mentioned — the special place the Mother of Christ has in the life of the Filipino people.  It is to this devotion to the Blessed Mother that we would like to dedicate our Pastoral Letter.  The spirit of reform and renewal, or to use the catchword “aggiornamento,”  made famous by the late Pope John XXIII, which began at the end of the Second Vatican Council has led us to direct our attention to this aspect of the religious life of our people.  This devotion to the Blessed Mother should be reflected upon and examined so that golden mean may be kept between these forms of devotion that reflect “the diversity of native characteristics and temperament among the faithful,”1 and the principle stated by the Council itself “that true devotion consists neither in fruitless and passing emotion, nor in a certain vain credulity.  Rather, it proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues.” 2

4.  We had been considering the idea of addressing to you a pastoral letter on renewal of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary — “renewal” in all its facets is also one of the purposes of the Holy year — when we received the Apostolic Exhortation of our Holy Father Paul VI Marialis Cultus which he has dedicated to this very theme.  We feel, therefore, doubly justified in addressing ourselves to you now.  This offers an opportunity to examine one important aspect of our religious life at a time when there are excesses in both directions, credulity and unbelief, and not a few of our faithful are looking for appropriate guidelines in the matter of devotion to Mary.

5.  We begin this Letter with a description of the veneration of Mary in the Philippines.  There will follow a doctrinal reflection on the basis of the devotion to Mary and finally we will make concrete pastoral applications to the religious life of our faithful.


6.  Statistics are cold numbers which will never express accurately a spiritual reality nor the intensity of religious faith.  At times, however, numbers may constitute a significant index of a more profound reality.  It would be enough to open the Catholic Directory of the Philippines to realize that a very large number of parishes are dedicated to the Mother of God under one of her many invocations.  Four hundred sixty-three, or over one-fourth of all parishes, have the Virgin Mary as their titular patron without counting innumerable barrio chapels, religious oratories or private shrines dedicated to her.3

Various Invocations and Titles

7.  Over 100 of the parishes honor the Immaculate Conception, over 60 are dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, while others carry various titles like the Assumption, Our Lady of Carmel, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, etc.4

Some of the shrines dedicated to Mary have won nation-wide popularity either as focal points of national pilgrimages or as well-known centers of devotion.  To mention just a few among the better-known, we find Our Lady of Charity and Our Lady of Badoc in Ilocos, Our Lady of Piat in Cagayan Valley, Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan, Our Lady of Salambao in Obando, Bulacan, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo, Rizal, the Purification of Our Lady (or La Candelaria ) in Mabitac, Laguna, Our Lady of Caysasay in Taal, Batangas, Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City, Nuestra Señora Virgen de Regla in Lapulapu City, Our Lady of the Pillar in Zamboanga, etc.

8.  This widespread devotion to the Blessed Mother goes back to the origins of Christianity in the Philippines.  As early as 1571 we find ancient statues of Mary, like Nuestra Señora de Guia, now venerated in the Ermita Church and whose origins are somehow lost in the folkloric details of legend, and Our Lady of the Rosary in Manila whose origin dates back to 1587.5

9.  Among the titles under which Mary is venerated in the Philippines, two are particularly prominent:  the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of the Rosary.  The invocation of the Immaculate Conception goes back to the year 1578 when Pope Gregory XIII in a Bull issued on February 6 decreed that the Manila Cathedral should be erected under the invocation of the Conception  of the Blessed Virgin Mary.6 Clement VIII decreed on 13 August 1595 that the Cathedrals of Nueva Segovia and Caceres also be erected under the same title of the Immaculate Conception.  Moreover, one of the three ships that reached the Philippines in the first voyage of Magallanes in 1521 was the “Concepcion,” named after the Immaculate Conception, together with the ships “Trinidad” and “Victoria.”  Hence the Islands before being named Filipinas, and even before the name of Christ had begun to be preached, saw on these shores the name of Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception.

10.  The veneration to Our Lady under the title of the Rosary goes back to 1587 when her statue was brought to the Philippines.  A confraternity was established in 1588.  Nuestra Señora de la Naval occupies a place of honor among the national shrines dedicated to Mary in the Philippines.7 The Blessed Mother was referred to as the Senora Grande de Filipinas on account of the many favors attributed to her.  The recitation of the Rosary became a popular practice8 which has more than one analogy with the popularity that the novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help enjoys today.

Various Practices of Devotion

11.  As other examples of paraliturgical devotions in her honor, we may mention novenas to the Blessed Mother as preparation for the patronal feast.9 These include the special weekly novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, now very popular in the Philippines.

12.  The Block Rosary is practised in some parts of the Archipelago.  It offers a good example of a devotion that is connected with the visit of images or statues of Mary from house to house and from one family to another, where special veneration is given to Mary during the term of the image’s stay.

13.  A familiar sight in many homes, even of modest income, is what can be called the “family altar .”  In most families the image venerated is the image of the Virgin Mary under one of her familiar invocations.  This fact, more than any other, constitutes a proof of how deeply rooted the veneration to Mary is in the socio-religious structure of the Filipino Christian family.

14.  The various manifestations of popular piety towards the Mother of God appear not only in the number of churches, chapels, or shrines consecrated to her, but in many other forms, ranging from the liturgical celebration of her feasts throughout the year to religious calendars with the holy picture of Mary — not always of the most artistic nature, it must be acknowledged — in the most humble nipa huts or in the slums of the cities, to her picture in public vehicles, buses or jeepneys.  Grottoes dedicated to the Immaculate Conception under the invocation of Lourdes are found in private gardens or in various public places, along the roads or in corners of modest dwellings.10

15.  The endless symphony of Marian names in the baptismal records of our parishes constitutes by itself a tribute to the devotion of our people to the Mother of God.  It may be safely said that of the names of saintly women imposed in Baptism, none is more frequently found than the name of Mary either expressly or in one of her many titles.11

The Liturgical Year

16.  The liturgical year has its climax in the solemnity of Easter, but within the year the Church recalls the mysteries of Redemption, thus opening to her faithful “the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that they are in some way made present at all times, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold of them and become filled with saving grace.”  “In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ’s mysteries, the Church honors with special love the Blessed Mary Mother of God, who is  joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son.  In her the Church holds up and admires the most  excellent fruit of the redemption.”12

17.  Thus we find various feasts of Mary celebrated in the Philippines.  We find her feasts particularly in the Christmas cycle which comprises the Aguinaldo Masses where the traditional celebration is the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, New Year’s day when the Church celebrates the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the feast of the Holy Family which falls within the octave of Christmas, and the feast of the Purification, now called the Presentation of Our Lord, and popularly known in the Philippines as La Candelaria.

It is a well-known fact that the most important religious occasion of the year for the Filipino, with the possible exception of the religious celebration of the town fiesta, is Christmas.  Christmas offers a special opportunity for the people to show their veneration to Mary:  not only will the belen feature the “Mahal na Birhen,” but in other dramatic presentations, like the posada, or panunuluyan (“begging for shelter”) which persists in many communities, Mary place an important role.13

Christmas caroling could also be conveniently related to and considered as a commemoration of the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to spend the night.  This feature should be brought out more clearly in order to give this custom a truly religious meaning.14

The re-enacting of the Nativity of Our Lord, with the part that Mary had in it, is done dramatically, with a deep sense of simple faith and identification with both the Infant Jesus and Mother Mary.

18.  During the Lenten season, especially during Holy Week , Mary plays an important part in the popular devotion of our faithful.  Good Friday has a deep human appeal for many Filipinos especially with its Way of the Cross and commemoration of the sufferings of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Easter Sunday brings the deeply human and dramatic encounter of the Mother with her risen Son in the Salubong, which is artistically enacted in many places all over the Island.15 A popular feature of the Holy Week is the Pabasa ng Pasiyon.  Although there are versions in almost every major language of the Philippines, the best known Tagalog Pasiyon16.  which begins with a prayer to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only tells the story of the creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, but even tells of the birth of Mary.  After having described a series of selected events from the life of Christ, especially His Passion, Ressurection and Ascension, the death, burial, and assumption into heaven of Mary are treated, as well as her crowning as Queen of Heaven17.  When the Holy Week solemnities are accompanied by processions, the custom is that the last statue in the procession is the Mater Dolorosa (the Sorrowful Mother) behind which the priest walks, followed by a brass band playing solemn marches.18

19.  It would be worth our considering the sociological implications of the two most popular celebrations we have just described where Christ and His Mother are presented together:  the feast of Christmas and the celebration of Holy Week, particularly the Salubong.  If one compares the two feasts, as locally celebrated, he will observe that in the traditional celebration of Christmas, it is the Family which is the center of interest from the time of the Misa de Aguinaldo onward.  In the Easter celebration, the folk practices center on the reunion of Christ and His Mother, while all who participate feel the joy of this meeting vicariously.  Both of these feasts, therefore, feature a family reunion, and are for this reason extremely rich experiences for the Filipino.

Popular Celebrations

20.  In May the classical Flores de Mayo are held in many localities, towns, or barrios, parishes or private chapels and involve not only women and children but in some places the whole family.  They are celebrated with a splendor and simplicity of faith and devotion which echoes the simplicity of the Gospels.19

Then follows October with the Rosary devotions, a practice widespread since time immemorial, due mainly to the zeal of the Sons of St. Dominic, and the historical procession of La Naval.

The Immaculate Conception , whose feast falls on December 8, remains the principal Patroness of the Philippine Islands.  After the suppression of several Church holydays in the Catholic Calendar of the Philippines, still her feast stays as one of the three holydays of obligation during the year, the other two being Christmas and January 1, when the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is celebrated.20

21.  It would not be correct to qualify all these manifestations of the Marian piety of our faithful as mere actions or symbols without meaning, or to consider that they do not stem from a sincere and simple faith, since all these devotions represent a normal outlet for human and religious remembrance, thoughts, and affection.  In fact this veneration of and deep commitment to Mary blossomed in the mid-eighteenth century with the foundation of the first Filipino congregation for religious women, dedicated from its beginning to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Philippines, popularly known as Religious of the Virgin Mary.  The Barangay Sang Birhen, the Sodality of Our Lady, the Legion of Mary, the Association of the Children of Mary Immaculate, are also fruits of the same devotion and have contributed in their own way to the development of Christian life in the Archipelago.

22.  An element that often escapes the superficial observer is the deep religious meaning that some of these practices, and in particular the town fiesta, have in the life of the Filipino people.  The fiesta is neither exclusively sacred nor secular but a mixture of rites and feasts.  But from the religious point of view, the fiesta has three notable effects:  the fulfillment of the community’s obligation to its heavenly patron, in our case the Virgin Mary; a certain, perhaps only initial, renewal of the spiritual life of the individual by the reception of the sacraments of confession and communion, and in many cases also by the baptism and confirmation of children; and the renewal (or creation) of the individual’s consciousness of membership in the Catholic Church.

This is true of the fiestas is general, but it applies in a particular way to the fiestas in honor of Mary who is the patroness of so many parishes and barrio chapels.  In this sense, the celebration of the fiestas in her honor offers a particular occasion for revitalizing Christian life, and thus fulfills a truly religious function.  This would be reason enough to allay the fears of those who may think that these celebrations divert the attention of the faithful away from God to Mary and thus appear to be anti-Christian or superstitious.  What is needed is a renewal, not a suppression.

Veneration of Mary in other Christian Churches

23.  This veneration of Mary is not a feature exclusively of Catholics.  Even the followers of the late Gregorio Aglipay often have shown and continue to show many of the signs of veneration toward Mary that Catholics do in celebrating her feasts, such as holding processions in her honor, keeping lamps buring in front of her image, and even having associations that carry the name of Mary. 21

Without in any way minimizing the differences in attitude toward the Mother of God among various Christian groups in the Philippines — some respectful, some rather belligerent regarding Catholic doctrine and practice — we find for example, that there is also a genuine Marian piety among the faithful of the Philippine Episcopal Church manifested in the liturgical celebration of various Marian feasts (Annunciation, Purification), the song of the Magnificat in the Evening Prayer, and even the fact that their cathedral in Manila is dedicated to St. Mary and St. John.

24.  The facts we have presented above show the extent of devotion to the Blessed Mother in our country, especially among Catholics.  Before we come to pastoral and more practical considerations in this matter, we wish to offer some theological reflections on the veneration to Mary, the Mother of God.


25.  In order to preserve and purify and strengthen our Filipino heritage of devotion to Mary, we should compare our own practices and attitudes with the sources of Revelation and the documents of the Magisterium, so that we can retain and enhance what is truly Christian and eliminate what is merely legendary or false.  We should also set our devotion to Mary in the context of our Filipino society and in confrontation with the needs of the Filipino people today, so that it may be truly our own and may mirror  our way of approaching Mary and Christ.

In this way too we can avoid the deviations against which the Second Vatican Council, and recently Pope Paul VI himself, warned us:  exaggeration that can falsify our devotion to Mary, or a sentimentality that can substitute merely external practices for a serious commitment to the Gospel in action and in life.22

A.  Mary in Scripture

26.  The Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus issued on 2 February 1974 by Pope Paul VI calls our attention to the fact that “Today it is recognized as a general need of Christian piety that every form of worship should have a biblical imprint.”23

A first level of biblical imprint on Marian devotion is attained when scriptural texts that mention Mary or allude to her are used in liturgical worship as well as in popular devotions.24 It is therefore useful for us to review these scriptural texts briefly.

The Texts

27.  The mother of Jesus is mentioned in Mark 3:31-35 and its parallels in Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21 (see also Luke 11:27-28).  There Jesus speaks about the person who does what God wants as His true kinsman.  A reference to her is also made in Galatians 4:4 when St. Paul emphasizes the full humanity of Jesus, son of a human mother.25

Basic Gospel Data

28.  The data we have from the Gospels concerning Mary are that she was bethrothed to Joseph (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26-27) in Nazareth; that she was a virgin when she conceived (Luke 1:27.34-35; Matthew 1:25; see also Luke 2:5) and that she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:25-2:1; Luke 2:4-7).  Otherwise she is simply located at various places, always connected with her Son:  in the hill country of Judea for Elizabeth’s recognition of her unique maternity (Luke 1:39ff.); at Jerusalem for her own purification in the Temple and the offering of the Child to God (Luke 2:22ff.); at Nazareth for the Child’s rearing (Luke 2:51; Matthew 2:23); at Jerusalem for the discovery of Jesus speaking with the teachers in the Temple (Luke (2:42-46); at Cana for a wedding (John 2:1); and finally at Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified (John 19:25) and when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles (Acts 1:18).

Theological Reflections

29.  It is necessary for us to go beyond the historical data in order to appreciate what Scripture has to say about Mary.  When she is spoken of in the New Testament, the inspired writers often convey a deeper meaning by their words than may be immediately seen by the average reader.

a.  Matthew

30.  Matthew connects the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.  In so doing the teaches us that before the event God chose Mary to be the Virgin Mother of the Saviour.  The Evangelist reenforces this point by stating that Joseph “did not know her” until the birth of the child.  According to Matthew then, Joseph recognized that Mary was divinely chosen to be the Virgin Mother of the Child, and fully respected God’s will that Mary remain a virgin.

It has been said that Matthew gives more attention to Joseph than to Mary, but it should not escape our attention that the role of Joseph in Matthew’s narrative is to provide the title “Son of David” (Matthew 1:1) for the Son of Mary (Matthew 1:25) — a role he fulfills because he is of Davidic lineage (Matthew 1:20) and the husband of Mary; to understand Mary’s virginal motherhood of Emmanuel; and to care for and protect mother and child so that they could achieve their salvific mission to the Jews and the whole world.

31.  In the story of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12)  Matthew keeps silent about Joseph but says that the Magi from the east “saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage”  (Matthew 2:11).  Jesus is revealed to the Gentile world, represented by the Magi.  Mary’s Son is the “Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1), the one through whom the divine promise that all the nations are to be blessed in Abraham is fulfilled (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8-9).  A clear allusion to Mary in a perhaps not too clear context but with deep religious and moral significance for Christian discipleship is found also in Matthew 12:46-50 — “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother” — a parallel with Mark 3:31-35.

32.  It is clear from Matthew’s theology that Mary has a special place in God’s salvific plan.  She was chosen by God to be the woman who would give reality to the messianic hope of Israel, and the one who will be with the Messiah when the Gentiles come to worhsip.

b.  Luke

33.  By an artistic use of comparison and contrast the Infancy narrative of Luke shows the superior dignity of Jesus over John and of Mary over Zachary and Elizabeth.  The literary style of the narrative draws heavily upon words, expressions and figures of the Old Testament, not by direct citation of them, but by allusion.

34.  In the Annunciation the angel Gabriel greets Mary saying: “Rejoice (Hail), so highly favoured (full of grace)!  The Lord is with you”  (Luke 1:28).  The Evangelist suggests that this greeting is not to be interpreted conventionally, for he describes Mary as pondering it and asking herself what this greeting could mean (Luke 1:29).

All three parts of the greeting are connected with Old Testament prophecies that invite Israel, under the figure of a woman, the “daughter of Sion,” to rejoice because God will bring about the promised salvation of the people.26 The invitation to rejoice parallels that of Zephaniah 3:14.27 The expression, “so highly favoured” recalls the idealization of Israel as God’s favoured people, spoken of as the “virgin daughter of Sion” (Isaiah 37:22) or “virgin Israel” (Jeremiah 31:4), who is invited to rejoice at the fulfillment of her messianic hope.  The assurance, “The Lord is with you,” as used in the Old Testament28 expresses the idea of God’s salvific presence, and when connected with Zephaniah 3:15, “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in  your midst,” it refers to the inauguration of the messianic era.  As the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-17) invited Israel to rejoice over the presence of God within it to save it from all its misfortunes, so the angel invites Mary to rejoice because she is favored with the presence of God who saves her from all the misfortunes of her people.  In this way Luke teaches that Mary, by becoming the Mother of Jesus, Son of the Most High, receives in her person the messianic hope of her people. The total salvation which in the past was just a promise, becomes a living reality in Mary.  She epitomizes all that God has done for his people. 29

35.  Mary’s famous question in Luke 1:34, “How can this come about, since I am a virgin (I do not know man)?” raises exegetical problems that have not yet been fully solved.  However it is clear that, in contrast to Zachary who requested evidence to verify the truth of Gabriel’s prophecy concerning Elizabeth’s child (Luke 1:18), Mary does not challenge Gabriel’s message, but merely asks that she be given an understanding of it.  The angel replies that the divine favor is to be shown her through a virginal conception of the child by the divine presence residing within her (Luke 1:35).  Just as in the Old Testament an overshadowing cloud symbolized the divine presence in the meeting Tent housing the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 40:35), so also the power of the Most High will cover Mary with its shadow, and cause – not only symbolize — the presence of God’s Son in Mary’s womb, the new Ark of the Covenant.

Overwhelmed at God’s favor, Mary professes her humility but accepts the angelic message in its entirety, expressing her confidence in the virginal conception as an action of God, in the mystery of the divine presence in the Child, and in the pledge of God that the divine favor toward her and her Child will be manifested in due time.  Through this act Mary becomes the model of faith.

36.  In the visitation (Luke 1:39-45.56) Mary, carrying the Child in her womb, is compared by allusion to the Ark of the Covenant, the site of the permanent presence of God, among His people.  As the Ark was brought to Jerusalem in David’s time (2 Samuel 6:1-11), so the mother of Jesus departs in the direction of the Holy City to visit Elizabeth.  As Israel honored the presence of God in the Ark during its trip toward Jerusalem, so Elizabeth recognizes at Mary’s greeting that the mother of Jesus carries in herself the divine presence.  But unlike David’s (2 Samuel 6:9), Elizabeth’s reaction to the presence of the Lord is one of joyful awe, not reverential fear (Luke 1:43); for Mary carries the presence of God that sanctifies (Luke 1:4) in contrast to the terrible presence that dealt Uzzah a mortal blow (2 Samuel 6:11), so Mary remains with Elizabeth for about three months (Luke 1:56).

37.  The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) brings back the theme of Mary’s exalted dignity hidden in her humility.30 She is again presented as a model of faith, but this time faith takes the charactreristics of the Anawim, the spiritual community of the humble poor who found their joy and strength in their dependence on God.31 Essentially the Magnificat is a series of religious reflections invoking various Old Testament ideas that concern the mystery of God’s salvific plan finding fulfillment in Mary, through whose maternity of Jesus the generations to follow will receive the blessings of the messianic era.  All generations, recognizing the divine favor bestowed upon them through her, will call her blessed.

38.  The second chapter of Luke invites the reader to reflect on the mystery of Jesus through the eyes of his mother.  The Child’s birth occurs in simple and lowly surroundings that reflect the condition of Mary as the embodiment of the Anawim. Together with the shepherds, who also represented the Anawim, Mary ponders the revelation of her Child to Israel.

Also in her capacity as one of the Anawim , Mary presents the Child  to the Lord in the Temple and makes the offering of the poor, two turtle doves (Luke 2:22).  On this occasion God acts to manifest the significance of the Child as Saviour not only of Israel but the Gentiles as well, thereby also giving joy to the old man Simeon (Luke 2:32).  But Mary is invited to look at Jesus as a “sign that is rejected” and to prepare herself for the sword that will pierce her heart (Luke 2:33-35).  The prophetess Anna gives a joyful ending to the episode by praising God and speaking of the Child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).

39.  Luke concludes his Infancy narrative by putting a veil of quiet obscurity on the Holy Family fulfilling God’s design through humble living in Nazareth, a veil lifted for a little while by the episode of the Child lost and then found in the temple, sitting among the doctors, busy with his Father’s affairs (Luke 2:41-50).  Mary is presented as the model of those who ponder things in their heart as Jesus increases in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men (Luke 2:51-52).

40.  The saying in Luke 8:21, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice,” has been so edited by the Evangelist that it becomes the conclusion of a series of teachings about hearing the word of God.32 Far from being a denial of Jesus’ filial sentiments toward Mary, the saying is Jesus’ praise of his mother as the perfect hearer of the word of God.  She is commended as the model of Christians inasmuch as they must respond to the word of God.  She is a figure or type of the Church, the community of those who, listening to the words of Christ, become his mother, brothers and sisters.

A similar message is found in Luke 11:27-28, the passage telling the incident of the woman who spoke to Jesus saying, “Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked.”  Jesus replied:  “Still happier those who hear  the word of God and keep it.”  Although the happiness that came to Mary because of her physical motherhood of Christ was great, greater still was the happiness of being the disciple of Christ, the woman of faith.  This is the deeper level of understanding that Luke wanted his readers to attain.33

41.  The theological portrait of Mary in the Lucan writings is rich in its variety of roles:  Mary is the   Daughter of Sion, or personification of God’s beloved people, who is invited to rejoice at the messianic fulfillment of God’s promises; she is the New Ark of the Covenant that causes rejoicing because she makes God present among men; she is the embodiment of the Anawim who rejoice in their complete dependence on God.

c.  John

42.  John has been called “the Theologian” par excellence among the Evangelists as he constantly invites his readers to see the deeper meaning of what Jesus did and said.  He frequently does this by alluding to Old Testament events, personages, oracles, as well as Jewish religious practices, and by suggesting that the New Testament inaugurated by Jesus brings the past to perfection and makes it operative in the present.  Even the eschatological and future glory of the Church is presented by John as already present in the person of Jesus Christ.

From the Johannine viewpoint Mary, as the mother of Jesus and the woman most closely associated with him, acquires a prominence unequaled in the other Evangelist’s treatment of the public ministry of Christ.

43.  Mary is presented by John at Cana, when Jesus begins his ministry (John 2:1-12), and at Calvary when he consummates his work (John 19:25-27).  In the narrative of both episodes we find the term “the mother of Jesus” as well as “woman” and “hour.”

It is impossible to interpret satisfactorily the Cana narrative on the assumption that it is solely the historical record of an objective event.  John has purposely saturated his historical data with allusions to the Old Testament so that the deeper meaning of what happened could be appreciated by the discerning reader.

44.  John avoids Mary’s proper name and designates her with a title, “the mother of Jesus” (John 2:  For John titles are important to clarify the religious significance of personages.34 As mother, then, Mary had a role to play in Jesus’ glorification.  This is called his “hour”35 and is achieved through his Passion, Death and Resurrection.  Once  glorified by these events he can bestow messianic benefits on Israel and on all men.

Without denying the historical value of Mary’s declaration, “They have no wine,” we must seek in it a theological meaning intended by John.  Wine, in the Old Testament symbolism, stands for the messianic benefits.36 In the theology of John, the statement, “They have no wine,” may be understood as implying that Mary is asking Jesus to bestow the benefits of the messianic kingdom on Israel.37

45.  Taking account of the petition implied in Mary’s remark, Jesus addressed her as “woman.”  This title as used in John 2:4 cannot be taken simply for the respectful term of address it represented in the Greek world of the Evangelist’s time.  John gives it a theological meaning which we can grasp only after the meaning of changing water into wine becomes evident.

The element of rejection in the question, “What (is it) to me and to you?” is explained by the fact that, at the historical moment of the Cana event, the “hour” of Jesus had not yet arrived.  Jesus will not yet give the people the messianic benefits for they will be given only after his Resurrection.  However, a “sign” of the messianic benefits could be given, and this is what Jesus proceeded to do.38

By changing water into wine Jesus manifested to his disciples that he will fulfill the messianic benefits promised to the Patriarchs.  A confirmation of this thought is provided by the setting of the miracle, a wedding banquet. This is a Christian term portraying the joys of the messianic kingdom.39 The meaning of the symbolism is further confirmed by the fact that the wine came from the water of ritual purification. Jesus will transform Old Testament rituals into New Testament salvific sacraments.

46.  In the light of the message so far gathered from the Cana narrative, we can see more fully the meaning of “woman” in John 2:4.  It echoes the “woman” in Isaiah 26:17, the metaphor of the pregnant woman, yearning for the kingdom but unable to bring it about.  The title “woman” in the Cana narrative makes of Mary a figure of the people of God:  first, of the old Israel yearning for salvation through Christ, yet completely dependent on the action of God through him; and second, of the new Israel to come into existence through his Passion and Resurrection. However, in Christ’s ministry, the kingdom is being inaugurated.  Its full benefits can not yet be imparted but a “sign” of them can be given.

From this standpoint Mary is the mother–Israel foretold in Isaiah 60:4-5 and 66:7-11.  Through her participation in the miracle at Cana she is beginning to experience the joy of gathering the new people of God into the kingdom that Christ will finally establish.

47.  In the Calvary scene John appears to offer — if  not to complete — his reflection on Mary as a”woman” who willl be the associate of Jesus in renewing mankind.  “Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, this is your son.”

Mary’s physical motherhood is perfected with the addition of spiritual motherhood.  She is not only the “mother of Jesus” but also the mother of John, who typifies the new people of God.  At the word of Christ the John who was not the son of Mary is changed to the John who is Mary’s son, just as, at Cana, by the command of Christ, water was changed into wine.  The messianic benefits Mary asked for at Cana and which were then deferred and granted only as “sign” are now given in full measure to the new people of God represented by John. The messianic benefits are summed up in the privilege of becoming the son of Mary.  The Mother of Jesus becomes also the Mother of the Church. 40

48.  We mentioned above a first level at which the Bible left its imprint on Marian devotion.  A deeper level is attained when this devotion is made a channel through which great themes of the Bible are brought to the attention of the people (Matthew 22:2; 25:10; Luke 12:36)  In seeking to reach this level we can avail ourselves of the practice not uncommon in the patristic era of seeing Mary typified in Eve, Esther, Judith, the Ark of Noah, etc.  We can also apply to Mary such texts as Proverbs, ch. 8, and Ecclesiasticus, ch. 24, as well as the book of the Song of Songs.  But the task of extending the biblical typology and accomodating biblical texts go beyond the strict study of Scripture.  We therefore conclude this section happy in the thought that modern advances in biblical studies have enriched rather than diminished the place of Mary in Scripture

49.  We may say in fact that in our time a great interest in Mary has been  shown by biblical scholars, both Catholic and Protestant.  Their findings converge remarkably, while at the same time both emphasize the fact that the Mariological orientation in Scripture is always and definitely Christological.  The description of Mary is always pithy and sober, without any hint of exaggeration even in Matthew and Luke.  It will also be useful to remember  that the Gospel data regarding Mary do not present a historical narrative of Mary’s life but rather a kerygmatic picture of Mary as the Church saw her since its beginnings, a paradigm of what we see her also today.

B.  Mary in Tradition:  Doctrine and Life of the Church

50.  Scripture gives witness that Mary’s privileged role became the object of the early Church’s reflection.  We might say that following Jesus’ last bequest on the Cross, the disciples of Christ took Mary as their own and sought to discover the great graces with which God rendered Mary truly blessed among women.

Mother of God

51.  By this title we express the most basic truth of our faith, that God became man, the mystery of Incarnation.  We honor Mary with this title whenever we recite the Hail Mary; we honor her as Mother of God in each of our Eucharistic Prayers.

This title was in use in the Church as early as the third century.  The original form of the familiar prayer “We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God” may also be that early.  In the doctrinal controversies of the fifth century that accompanied and followed Euthyches’ and Nestorius’  opinons on the problem of nature and person in Christ, the title of Mary as Mother of God was challenged.  And although the point at issue was Christological rather than Mariological, the logical consequence of Nestorius’ doctrine as understood in the debate was the denial of Mary as Theotokos (Mother of God).

52.  The church reacted strongly to this challenge.  St. Cyril of Alexandria defended Mary’s title of Theotokos precisely as a profession of faith in the divinity of her Son:  “Jesus Christ was not first born of the holy Virgin as an ordinary man, in such a way that the Word only afterwards descended upon him, rather he was united with flesh in the womb itself, and thus is said to have undergone birth according to the flesh…  For this reason the holy Fathers have boldly proclaimed the holy Virgin Theotokos.”41 It was this faith in Christ’s Incarnation that the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 A.D. when it supported St. Cyril and defined Mary’s title of “Theotokos” as a doctrine of Christian faith.

Mary then can rightly be called “Mother of God,” not indeed in the blasphemous sense of having existed before God, but as an affirmation of the truth of the Incarnation.  The Son of Mary and the Son of God is one and the same person, Emmanuel.

“Ang Mahal na Birhen”

53.  This is the title by which Filipinos very often address Mary.  And our Filipino tradition has nuanced this title with all the reverence paid to Mary as Mother of God and all the childlike trust with which we can call her our own Mother.

Mary’s virginal Motherhood is a mighty act of God, an overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, as is related to us in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Christ’s virginal conception is a mystery acknowledged and proclaimed by the Fathers of the Church.  In fact the earliest Fathers took Luke and Matthew literally on this point.  We profess Christ’s virginal conception in our acts of faith and recite it in our creeds.

54.  Some perhaps may find it strange, if not difficult, to understand how this fact can be a point of revelation on the part of God.  Virginal Motherhood seems so much like a private privilege which would only benefit Mary, and would have little relevance for our lives as Christians.  Theologians hasten to point out that Mary’s virginal Motherhood is a great sign of God’s own absolute intiative in redeeming mankind.  As St. Irenaeus says, “Because an unexpected salvation was to be initiated for men through God’s help, an unexpected birth from a Virgin was likewise accomplished.  The sign was God-given; the effect was not man-made.” 42

When we emphasize God’s absolute initiative in granting Mary the privilege of her Virginal Motherhood and the Church celebrating her virginity, both elements are to be properly understood.  It is not simply the absence of a man that is being extolled at the Incarnation, but also Mary’s action of totally committing herself to God for the redemption of mankind.  It is precisely from this mutuality of God’s initiative and Mary’s total reponse that her blessedness appears in full light.

Mother of the Church

55.  The first new insight given us by the Fathers of the Church is that of Mary as the “new Eve.”  As early as the second century St. Justin brought out the constrast between Eve and Mary.  The virgin Eve accepted the word of the serpent and gave birth to disobedience and death; the virgin Mary received the word of the angel with joy, and through the power of the Holy Spirit gave the birth to the Son of God.43 “And thus,” adds St. Irenaeus, “as the human  race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin; a virgin’s disobedience is balanced by  virginal obedience.”44

This comparison of Mary with Eve quickly gave rise to the veneration of Mary as the new “mother of the living.”45 Thus the title that had been given to the Church from the beginning was also applied to Mary; and this in turn occasioned the growing comparison between Mary and the Church.  The Woman of Apocalypse (the Church) and the Woman at the foot of the cross (Mary) became one.

56.  Filipinos have always had a very tender devotion to Mary as Mother; and this devotion has brought down numberless benefits on our people.  The loyalty of our people to Christ has been closely bound with our devotion to Mary who is his Mother and ours.  Rather than discourage a filial devotion like this, we hasten to praise it, and pray that we may always preserve our childlike trust in Mary’s maternal love for us. But with the maturing faith of the Filipino, we should reflect and consider what we mean by Mary’s spiritual motherhood.

57.  St. Epiphanius, who first honored Mary as “mother of the living,” explains it thus:  “Life itself was introduced into the world by the Virgin Mary…  Mary brought forth the cause of life, through whom life itself is produced in  us.”46 Mary is our spiritual Mother because she is the physical Mother of our Savior Jesus Christ. Of course, mere physical motherhood would have been of no avail either for Mary’s own sanctification or for our redemption.  A basic element of Mary’s motherhood was her faith and consent expressed in her “yes” to the Angel of the Annunciation.  Mary conceived in her heart, with her whole being, before she conceived in her womb.  As St. Augustine says (and the Second Vatican Council quotes his words), Mary is “clearly the mother of the members of Christ…  since she cooperated out of love that there might be born in the Church the faithful, who are members of Christ their Head.”47

St. Augustine hastens to add that we too are Christ’s brothers and sisters and mother when we do the Father’s will in charity, and labor for others until Christ be formed in them.  We are all brothers and sisters, parents and children to each other spiritually.48 But Mary is the spiritual Mother of us all, because she cooperated in the birth of us all when she bowed to God’s will and consented to be the mother  of our Redeemer.  And the Vatican Council reminds us that Mary’s cooperation with her Son’s work of redemption lasted from the moments of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death.  And even after Jesus’ ascension, she prays with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Finally, even in heaven Mary’s maternal heart reaches out to us, the members  of her Son’s Mystical Body.  With confidence then do we “rely for help on her intercession,” as we profess in the Eucharistic Prayer.

58.  It is based on these ideas that Pope Paul VI on 21 November 1964 at the closing of the Third Session of the Council proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church.49 This title refers to Mary’s spiritual motherhood toward the members of the Church, pastors and ordinary faithful alike, the Church being the mystical body of which Christ is the Head.

59.  Mary is the way God chose to carry out his wonderful work of reconciliation and redemption.  Mary totally gave herself to this work in her cooperation.  But she is not a dead instrument, rather we see the effects of God’s wonderful redemption present in her in a very special way.  She who has to work and cooperate with her Son was also to be the first to experience all the wonders of God’s redemptive power.


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ANG MAHAL NA BIRHEN Mary in Philippine Life Today

(part 1)