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.
According to St. John Paul II, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Families are a microcosm of society. The breakdown of the family unit is the greatest tragedy of our lifetime.
Living with other people is challenging.
Raising children is a full-time job. It’s an underappreciated and exhausting job. There is no parent manual. Too many unique circumstances exist for a clear-cut black and white rulebook. Right?!
While the details of parenthood can be debatable, there is a blueprint to raising a family with grace and love. This model is found by examining the Holy Family! Jesus. Mary. Joseph.
An analysis of Scripture and Traditional Catholic teaching will show us that the Holy Family’s love, obedience to God’s will, humility, and patience give you an example of how to foster meaningful and lasting relationships with your friends, spouses, children, and neighbors.
Model for the Family
In his Angelus on December 31st, 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared, “The Holy Family of Nazareth is truly the “prototype” of every Christian family which, united in the Sacrament of Marriage and nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, is called to carry out the wonderful vocation and mission of being the living cell not only of society but also of the Church, a sign and instrument of unity for the entire human race.
Jesus displayed obedience to his parents. This truth is shown in the tradition of the Catholic Church. The opening Antiphon in the Divine Office for the Feast of the Holy Family is “Come let us worship Christ, the Son of God, who was obedient to Joseph and Mary.” Simple yet profound!
Imagine being God and still able to submit yourself to the authority of your father and mother.
Silence leads to sanctity
Guess how many words of St. Joseph did the Evangelists record in the Gospels? If you guessed a whopping ZERO than you are correct my friend! Though included in the key infancy and adolescent scenes of Jesus’ life the foster father of our Lord said nothing!
The adage “actions speaks louder than words” applies more directly to St. Joseph than arguably any other person in history– as we can only analyze his actions. Cardinal Robert Sarah in The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise plainly stated, “Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise.” Using Sarah’s logic Joseph not only clearly, but overwhelmingly chose God!
Joseph’s ability to heed the Angel’s message to flee the wrath of King Herod demonstrates a complete trust and dependence on God. The noise of life yanks me in different directions– all away from God. Looking to the silent saint as a role model helps to remind me of the importance of asking the Lord for help.
St. Joseph provides the ideal for what it means to be a kind and loving father and man. More than ever this world needs strong men to be role models for their families and communities.
Humility overcomes Hubris
According to St. Louis de Montfort, “The Son of God became man for our salvation but only in Mary and through Mary.” Mary is honored because of her humility and obedience to the will of God. Her YES to God’s plan was the pathway by which Jesus entered our world.
Like St. Joseph, Mary’s trust in God was evident in her obedience, despite the unique circumstances the Holy Family was in.
Due to Original Sin, humanity suffers a fractured relationship with God. The Mystery of the Incarnation involved God becoming man in the Person of Jesus Christ. Divine Love selected Joseph of Nazareth to be the legal and foster father of Jesus Christ and protector of Mary. Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God.
St. John Paul II closed his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio by saying, “I entrust each family to Him, to Mary, and to Joseph.”
May all men reflect upon the silent, humble, and diligent example of the Holy Family. Come Holy Spirit grant us opportunities to be holier versions of ourselves!
The most common question students got wrong in my catechism class was related to the teaching of the Immaculate Conception. Nearly all the students thought the Church is referring to Jesus. Instead, the Immaculate Conception is referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary!
According to Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
The angel Gabriel testifies to the holiness of Mary in Luke 1:28 by greeting her, “Hail, favored one full of grace.” Mary’s perfect obedience to God’s will of selecting her to bear the Son of God is another instance of her holiness.
How was Mary Saved
I once heard a priest describe Mary’s salvation this way. Imagine that humanity fell into a muddy pit. This caused our first parents (Adam and Eve) to get dirty with the stain of sin.
In order for mankind to be purified or washed from this imperfection God instituted the sacrament of Baptism. Mary did not need Baptism (and the other sacraments) for salvation because God saved her from falling into the pit (of sin) in the first place!
Mary is not a deity to be worshiped. Her role as in salvation history is that of Jesus Christ’s Mother. The Son of God is still the focal point of our hearts, mind, and soul.
To Jesus through Mary
We can look to Our Blessed Mother as a guide, a signpost, and a beacon that orients us toward God. Throughout Church Tradition, the Old Testament signs of Noah’s ark and Jacob’s ladder are interpreted as symbols of Mary. The Blessed Virgin acts as a bridge or intercessor between us and Christ. She is NOT a replacement for Christ.
The beauty and grandeur of Mary exists because she is the perfect mirror. Immaculately conceived and without sin. That was the mysterious plan of God. She reflects God’s love outward toward all of humanity. May we continue to grow closer to God and learn from the humble example of Mary to obey God in all things!