‘Hail, Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.’ These joyous words from the hymn to the Mother of God on the Feast of her Entrance into the Temple vividly express the significance of the Virgin Mary. In truth, the awareness of her essential role in the history of our salvation runs like a scarlet thread through the entire Scriptures and beyond.
Mary’s importance is first revealed in shadowy forms and prophecies. She redeems Eve, our first mother, whose image and likeness was tarnished by sin. We see her then prefigured in the prophecy of Isaiah that ‘the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel’ (Isa. 7:14). In a vision of a restored house of worship, Ezekiel beheld the glory of the Lord entering the temple ‘by way of the gate which faces toward the east,’ (Ez. 43:4), a foreshadowing of the Theotokos, ‘she who bore God’.
Clearly, however, the centerpiece of Scriptural praise for the Mother of God is found St. Luke’s account of the Lord’s Nativity. In it, we find Mary herself declaring in song the miracle of God’s grace in her life.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name. (Lk 1:48-49)
The most striking aspect of this hymn of praise is Mary’s recognition that God has worked His saving plan by regarding Mary’s ‘low estate.’ Mary sees clearly that blessedness does not come because we are elevated, but because God condescends. St. Paul put it this way
We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us (2 Cor. 4:7)
When daylight fills our earthly lives, the moon is hidden. But when darkness overshadows us, the moon reveals itself in its heavenly glory, as it reflects the Sun itself. So too with us. If we humble ourselves, or if suffering and circumstances do so for us, then we gain a glimpse of the glory of God. We behold him reflected in his deeds and his qualities, in the fulfillment of His promises and the wonders of his justice and mercy.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Lk. 1:54-55)
Yet between her expression of humility and her praise of God’s grace, there is yet another lesson for us, as we shall see next time.