The Blessed Virgin Mary, honored especially during this month of October as Our Lady of the Rosary, has been integral to the Christian experience since the angel Gabriel appeared to her in Nazareth more than 2,000 years ago.
Hints of Mary's role in redemption were found even in the Old Testament, but the Marian vignettes read in the Gospel accounts of Sts. Matthew, Luke and John reveal this woman's unforgotten place in Christian history. The difficulty Mary and Joseph faced over her unusual pregnancy, her challenging venture to Bethlehem to enroll in the Roman census, the perilous flight into Egypt to avoid the persecution of King Herod are familiar to all believers. The evangelists show Mary’s intent to raise Jesus as a good Jew. By the annual family trips to Jerusalem for the Passover, Mary instilled in Christ a respect for Jewish traditions and a reverence for the Jewish temple. The distress that she and St. Joseph felt when they discovered that Jesus was lost in Jerusalem vividly illustrates her maternal concern for her Son.
Jesus’ adult years, his public life, found Mary just as interested in her Son as ever. Jesus' first miracle was performed at Mary's request. Her gentle hint – “They have no more wine” - was enough to turn Jesus’ attention to the plight of the newlyweds. This close maternal bond was dramatically illustrated when Mary, accompanied by some relatives, sought out Jesus in the midst of his ministry, fearful that he was expending himself too zealously on his mission to the house of Israel. And Jesus appreciated his mother's attention. He cites the close relationship he has with his mother as an indication of how closely he wants to relate to his disciples: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is mother and brother and sister to me.” Mary would prove her fidelity to Jesus even more dramatically at the end of his life. Mary, along with St. Mary Magdalene and St. John, would be the only ones to offer support to Jesus as he hung finally on the cross. Jesus would take this moment, in the midst of his intense suffering, to reward Mary for her life of fidelity by entrusting her to the care of St. John in her old age. As the mother cared for her son, now her son was caring for his mother.
Mary continued to be interested in the mission of Jesus even after his death. The Acts of Apostles pointedly informs readers that the apostles and the first Christians and “Mary the mother of Jesus” were present together as the early church struggled for survival and support. Mary would not abandon the work of Jesus in his resurrected life just as she did not forsake him in his public life. Ever since Nazareth, Mary was the loyal promoter of Jesus and his work.
Christians living in subsequent centuries continued to understand that Mary was and would always be important to the work of Jesus. The most ancient churches in Christendom, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of St. Mary Major in Rome, clearly focused on Mary and her important role in salvation history. As soon as the church was allowed to come out of the catacombs with Emperor Constantine's blessing, Mary, along with St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John the Baptist, were the first four saints to have the Christian community honor them with basilicas. Clearly Mary was just as much appreciated by the ancient church as she was by Jesus and the first apostles. The Catholic community never lost this appreciation for Mary's being central to the Christian message and ministry. Every village in Europe had a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. In Italy she was known as the Madonna. In France she was called Notre Dame. In England she was honored as St. Mary. This long standing veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary continued all through the Middle Ages and was brought to the new world by missionaries. The city of Los Angeles in California, named after Our Lady of the Angels, comes easily to mind.
Yet sadly, some Christian believers began to lack the appreciation of Mary's place in salvation history. Some saw Mary as taking attention away from God. Some saw her as an idol left over from paganism rather than an ideal as featured in the Gospels. Much of the Christian world began to lose faith in Mary and her maternal mission.