Mary plays a vital part in the Catholic faith. She is called ‘Mother of God’ because she became the mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true man (c.f. Lk 1:43). She is called the ‘Virgin’ because she was and remained a virgin before, during and after Jesus’ birth. Mary’s question to Gabriel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34), and the angel’s response, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Lk 1:34) indicates Mary’s commitment to virginity was upheld by the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus Christ. Mary was herself conceived immaculate and spared from Original Sin and its effects from her beginning, fitting her to be the pure Mother of Jesus Christ. Scripture refers to Mary as ‘full of grace’ (c.f. Lk 1:28). She was assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life (c.f. Rev 12:1). It was fitting that one without sin who shared so closely in the saving death of Christ, should be the first to share his Resurrected life in heaven.
In Mary we see our human nature gloriously restored and raised to heaven. She is the ‘Second Eve’, the mother of the redeemed (c.f. Jn 19:27), who protects and intercedes for us. The most famous devotional prayer for Mary’s intercession is the Hail Mary. Catholics honour and love Mary as the Mother of God and our heavenly mother, as well as praying for her powerful intercession, but do not worship her as divine (cf. Rev. 19:10). Devotion to Mary is fitting and fruitful for Christians. For example, the Hail Mary repeats the words that Elizabeth uses in the Gospel of Luke, “Blessed art thou among women” (Lk 1:42). Furthermore, those who say these words in prayer fulfil an important Scriptural prophecy of Mary, “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). In addition, just as the Ark of the Covenant, which bore the word of God on tablets of stone, was fittingly honoured in the Old Testament, it is even more important for Christians to honour Mary, who bore the Word made flesh. Furthermore, devotion to Mary is not a novelty or corruption of the ancient Christian faith. As early as the second century, St Irenaeus referred to Mary as the ‘second Eve’ and an ‘advocate’ (Against Heresies, V.19) and the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD defended the ancient title of Mary as the ‘Mother of God’. Furthermore, a Rylands Library papyrus records a mid- third century hymn to Mary now known as the Sub Tuum Praesidium, “Under your mercy we take refuge, O Mother of God. Do not reject our supplications in necessity, but deliver us from danger, [O you] alone pure and alone blessed.” These sources give clear evidence of a special devotion to Mary in the early Church.