The Blessed Mother: Silent No More

In the fifteen centuries since the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 4 3 1) recognized Mary as the theotokos, the Mother of God, she has accumulated a dizzying array of titles. Tower of Ivory, Star of the Sea, Gate of Heaven, Our Lady of Lourdes, Guadalupe, or Mount Carmel, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal; the Immaculate Heart, Our Lady of Good Counsel, and Our Lady of Victory are but a few of the names given to her by the faithful. Since the Blessed Mother often is depicted as silent, it is interesting that she should be responsible for such a proliferation of words, and that more names are attributed to her than to her Son.

Far from being accidental, this multiplication of titles points to an important aspect of the role Mary plays in salvation. Not only is she the beloved daughter whom God the Father chose to be the mother of God the Son and the spouse of God the Holy Spirit, she also is the Mother of the Logos. Hence, Mary is the Mother of the Word of God, the Mother of the Word Made Flesh. Yet, ironically, she is almost never hailed by this title, and virtually nothing has been written on this aspect of her identity.

On the contrary, most commentators emphasize Mary’s silent contemplation, often implying that she was primarily a passive participant in God’s plan of salvation. Part of the reason for this misinterpretation is the traditional idea that Eve was responsible for the Fall—having seduced Adam through her words. Consequently, some exegetes have reasoned that if the first Eve sinned through disobedience and speech, then Mary—”the second Eve”—probably was sanctified exclusively through prayer and silence.

Two problems arise from this popular misinterpretation. First, scripture does not support the idea of Mary as a primarily silent sufferer; and second, this view has estranged many contemporary Catholic women from the filial love for the Blessed Mother that is their spiritual birthright. Many modern women think that the Blessed Virgin has, quite literally, nothing to say to them, and that they, in return, have little to say to her.

The evidence that the Blessed Mother was not only the perfect woman of silence but also the perfect woman of the Word is ubiquitous in the New Testament. In fact, the first time we encounter her, she interrogates the angel Gabriel, asking him point-blank how she will conceive a child, since she does not “know man.” Soon thereafter, when Our Lady goes to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, who has conceived in her old age, we know that Mary speaks as soon as she sees Elizabeth, for the older woman cries out, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? When I heard your greeting, the babe in my womb leapt for joy.” In response, Mary breaks into the Magnificat—one of the Bible’s most glorious hymns to God’s greatness.

Although we know nothing of Mary’s words to the Magi, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna, or even Saint Joseph, it is she, not Joseph, who confronts Jesus when they find Him in the temple. After having searched for her Son for three days, Mary reproaches Him, saying, “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.” Significantly, it also is Mary who encourages Jesus to begin His ministry, when at the wedding feast of Cana she tells Him, “They have no more wine.” And it is she who tells the waiters—in words that echo down the centuries: “Do whatever He tells you.” Likewise, it is Mary who goes to find Christ when He is engaged in His ministry, sending word to Him that His “Mother and brothers” have come to see Him.

Although Scripture does not tell us whether Mary spoke as she stood at the foot of the cross, it does reveal that Christ spoke to her and about her to the apostle John. Tradition also suggests that Our Lady was with the disciples at Pentecost and that she provided Saint Luke with the details of the Holy Family’s life that animate his gospel.

Despite this evidence that Mary was a woman of the Word, commentators have often emphasized her silent contemplation. They frequently focus, for example, on Luke 2:5 1-2., which reads, Jesus “then went down with them [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” This text is a favorite on Marian feast days and much is often made of the Blessed Mother’s silence, trust, faith, fidelity, and essential passivity as she contemplated God’s marvels.

Why—when there is so much evidence to the contrary—do many homilists and writers hesitate to recognize Mary not only as the Mother of the Word but also as the perfect woman of words? Could it be that many who have written panegyrics on Mary’s silence have been familiar with women who talked too much? Could it be that those for whom women’s speech was vexatious, irritating, or seductive found it easier to counsel silence than to deal with feminine talkativeness? Could it be that knowing only fallen women and fallen speech, some have imagined that the common good would be better served by encouraging women to be silent than by encouraging them to speak?

This perspective is lamentably limited. It fails to recognize that because Mary, Mother of the Word, was immaculately conceived and totally in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, neither she nor her speech bore the marks of the Fall. She alone among all women ever born spoke the perfect word on all occasions. Her insights, counsels, inspirations, encouragements, reminders, consolations, and even reproaches were flawless. Offered such speech, only a spiritual deaf mute would choose silence instead.

Our Lady was a woman of silence and sorrow and contemplation, but she also was a woman of words and joy and action. Mary was not only a woman for all seasons and all ages, but a woman for all temperaments and all occasions. She was a woman of the Word who gave her word that the Word of God might come into the world.

So when we contemplate Our Lady in her many different guises, let us sometimes thank her for her fiat on which our salvation hung, and praise her for her intercession, saluting her under one of the many titles she richly deserves—Our Lady, Mother of the Word of God.

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At the time this article was published, Carson Daly wrote from New York.

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