Saint Paul wrote, “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12:4-5). We often hear priests and bishops tell us, the laity, to be the hands and feet of Christ. The analogy of the many parts making up a whole body makes sense to me. Everyone has an individual role based on your gifts and state in life.
What I never thought about until recently was the specific role Mary plays (using this analogy of the Body of Christ). The Mother of God connects the faithful to her Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. In this post, I will share a few more reasons why Mary is the neck of the Body of Christ.
Her Humble Role in Salvation History
There’s nothing flashy about the neck. It’s a humble muscle whose primary focus is to link the head to the rest of the human body. Likewise, Mary is the connector of the Body of Christ with Christ the Head. Saint Bernard said, “It is not hard to be humble in a hidden life, but to remain so in the midst of honors is a truly rare and beautiful virtue.”
No other person in the history of Christianity (except for Christ) has as many titles or honor given as Mary. The angel Gabriel declared, “Hail, Mary full of grace” (Luke 1:28). To the average person this type of praise could lead to the sin of pride. Verse 29 referred to Mary as being “troubled” by the angel’s claim. According to St. Alphonsus’, “Mary was troubled because she was filled with humility, disliked praise, and desired that God only be praised.”
The humble neck is an appropriate analogy to speak of the Blessed Virgin’s humility.
Testifies to Jesus’ Full Humanity
In the fourth century, there arose a heresy, or false teaching, that denied that Mary was the mother of Jesus. Named after the bishop Nestorius who promoted this belief, the heresy formally became known as Nestorianism.
The Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 declared that Mary is theotokos (the God-bearer). Led by Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the council fathers, wrote about Mary:
“Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.” (DS 251).
Catholics honor Mary as mother, and celebrate her motherhood on January 1st because:
- Jesus entrusted us into the care of Mary as our spiritual mother (see John 19:26-27).
- Honoring the motherhood of Mary reminds us of the humanity of Jesus
- Mary as Mother of God protects against heresies claiming Jesus wasn’t fully man
Necks and Nourishment
Saint Bernard of Clairvoux fittingly wrote about Mary, “‘channel’ or, even, the neck, through which the body is joined to the head, and likewise through which the head exerts its power and strength on the body. For she is the neck of our Head, by which all spiritual gifts are communicated to His Mystical Body.” Saint Pope Pius X echoed the same sentiment in his encyclical Ad diem illum.
Food enters the mouth of the body and is carried down the neck (more precisely the esophagus) into the digestive system. In an analogous manner, Christ’s nourishing grace is channeled through Mary to the rest of the Church’s members.
During my first Marian consecration, I experienced a closer relationship to Jesus. Saint Louis de Montfort said,
[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus.
Notice how the saint didn’t say Mary was the ONLY pathway to Christ. You can still pray directly to Jesus. It is in my experience that anytime I reflect on the life of Mary or ask her for help I always end with only thinking about her Son.
All analogies fall short of the reality they try to explain. But analogies help us understand things beyond our full comprehension. Mary is like the neck of the Body of Christ. Jesus entrusted the Church to his Mother (John 19:26-27). Examples from Church Tradition (Saints Bernard and Pope Pius X) and Scripture display how Mary’s primary role in salvation history is to give birth to Jesus and connect us with Him.