We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
That’s one of the Church’s most ancient and most beautiful prayers, summing up so much Christian feeling and dogma. The oldest copy we have is in Greek on papyrus, found in Egypt and dating from the third century. By then, perhaps, it was already an old and familiar prayer — the source of the Marian doctrine we find in Justin, Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Over time it became especially popular in the Western churches.
Only God could choose his own birth mother, and he made the most perfectly informed decision. The Word became flesh in her womb. He took flesh, so that even our flesh might share in his divinity (see 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Corinthians 8:9, 3:18; Galatians 4:4-6; Romans 8:14-17; 1 John 3:1-2). There is nothing he has not shared with us. In Christ we dare to pray “Our Father” — Abba! We delight as we call upon the patronage of his mother, who has become the mother of every beloved disciple (John 19:26-27).
Today is a great feast, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a feast that enshrines the doctrine of the fifth-century Council of Ephesus. (For a bit of the dramatic story of that council, see my posts here and here.) It’s my hope that this day begins a great Marian year for you and me. I’m lousy at making New Year’s resolutions, but I guess mine would be to live 2012 as a truly Marian year, flying often to the patronage of the Mother of God, living as the neighborly kinsman and playmate of her Holy Child (the patron of my parish in Bridgeville, Pa.).
Think about joining me in making a Marian reading plan for the months ahead. Check out my godson David Mills’s book Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God and Scott Hahn’s Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God — and, of course, Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought.
The old Catholic Encyclopedia has something to say about today’s feast and the dogma it celebrates …
Mary’s Divine motherhood is based on the teaching of the Gospels, on the writings of the Fathers, and on the express definition of the Church. St. Matthew (1:25) testifies that Mary “brought forth her first-born son” and that He was called Jesus. According to St. John (1:15) Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Word Who assumed human nature in the womb of Mary. As Mary was truly the mother of Jesus, and as Jesus was truly God from the first moment of His conception, Mary is truly the mother of God. Even the earliest Fathers did not hesitate to draw this conclusion as may be seen in the writings of St. Ignatius [Ephes 7], St. Irenaeus [Adv Haer 3.19], and Tertullian [Adv Prax 27]. The contention of Nestorius denying to Mary the title “Mother of God” [Serm 1.6.7] was followed by the teaching of the Council of Ephesus proclaiming Mary to be Theotokos in the true sense of the word. [Cf. Ambr., in Luc. II, 25, P.L., XV, 1521; St. Cyril of Alex., Apol. pro XII cap.; c. Julian., VIII; ep. ad Acac., 14; P.G., LXXVI, 320, 901; LXXVII, 97; John of Antioch, ep. ad Nestor., 4, P.G., LXXVII, 1456; Theodoret, haer. fab., IV, 2, P.G., LXXXIII, 436; St. Gregory Nazianzen, ep. ad Cledon., I, P.G., XXXVII, 177; Proclus, hom. de Matre Dei, P.G., LXV, 680; etc.]