Vatican II Insights on the Humanity of Mary, The

Faith of Mary: Vatican II Insights on the Humanity of Mary, The

Richard, R Thomas

The Faith of Mary: Vatican II Insights on the Humanity of Mary. By Antoine E. Nachef, STD. Alba House: The Society of St. Paul, 2187 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, NY 10314-6603, 2002. Pp. 172. Paperback. $12.95.

1. Overview.

This work begins with a fifteen-page introduction that sets the context and suggests the contemporary need for this book. The author lists several movements current today, within the Church or in society, which highlight the need for the truth of Mary and also which explain some of the difficulties that the Church faces in proclaiming her truth. Problematic movements among some persons include an overemphasis of the spiritual at the expense of the fully human and, among others, a distrust of human reason or any development of doctrine. Some persons deny the supernatural, and some seek to reduce reality to the observable or measurable. Found among some is a nihilism that sees no end or ultimate truth for humanity, finding meaning only in process and in search.

In this challenging context, Dr. Nachef seeks to hold up a most remarkable woman, Mary of Nazareth, who most perfectly lived a life of faith in the One God, who is light no matter how deep the darkness. The theme of the book is the faith of Mary who believed that “God’s words to her would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45) even when appearances seemed to contradict that faith. Dr. Nachef bases his development on Vatican II (Lumen Gentium Ch. 8), extending that foundation to the writings of Paul VI and then to John Paul II.

The book consists of three chapters. The first chapter presents the faith of Mary according to Vatican II; the second, the insights of Pope Paul VI: “Mary the Perfect Realization of Human Existence”; and the third, the perspectives and developments of Pope John Paul II: “Mary: A Dynamic Woman for all Generations.” Dr. Nachef sees clear doctrinal unity and continuity in this sequence-yet also he notes a change of emphasis. Because of his personalistic philosophical approach, Dr. Nachef observes, John Paul II gathers his readers into a personal engagement, a personal following with Mary in her journey of faith and commitment.

2. Some Important Themes.

Clearly the central theme of this book is the faith of Mary. This faith, unique in its purity and its intensity, yet completely consistent with her humanity, is the foundation from which all aspects of her role for the Church are built. An essential study of Mary’s historical life on earth, which is developed and explained by the author, is that her life was a pilgrimage of faith. Through concrete human experiences, Mary entered more and more deeply into the mystery of her divine Son. For this, the author references Lumen Gentium 57-59 and the stages of the life of Mary.

Through the stages of her life, Mary lived a pilgrimage of ever-maturing faith. Her communion by faith in the mystery of Christ began, in this study, with the Annunciation when by faith she received Christ into her life and into her body. This honor and mystery was soon confirmed in her visit with Elizabeth, who exclaimed to her, “Blessed is she who believed.”

The second stage of her pilgrimage, the birth of the Lord, continued the context of great joy and promise in the One to come. Here the Council places the dogma of her perpetual virginity within her historical pilgrimage: her virginal integrity was “sanctified” by the birth of Christ. Mary, for her part, responds in faith and continues her journey. In the next stage, at the Presentation, she will learn of the “sword” in her own life; her faith will be put to a great test.

In the fourth stage of her faith, finding the child Jesus in the Temple, Mary experienced a sorrow not yet of the depth or intensity of a trial to come at the close of his ministry, yet she held these things, pondering them in her heart. More of his mystery would be lived in her presence, when his public ministry began, yet it was at the foot of the cross that her pilgrimage of faith reached its climax. The author refers to Lumen Gentium concerning this crucial experience for Mary.

Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith and faithfully persevered in her union with her son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, endured with her only begotten son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim who was born of her (LG 58). The true character of Mary is shown, the author asserts, in this most revealing and trying hour in the heart of redemptive suffering. Thus she advanced: persevering, enduring with her Son, associating herself with his sacrifice, and consenting.

Her pilgrimage does not end there at this climax but continues in her prayer with the Church for the gift of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, waiting and praying with the Apostles, that same Spirit who conceived his body in Mary at the Annunciation would now “conceive the body of Jesus, the Church.”

Mary’s pilgrimage of faith ends with the Assumption, yet her fruitful virginity and her maternity by the Spirit will continue. Paul VI saw in “the concrete life of Mary, the ultimate model of human existence.” His approach to Mary is more devotional, the author concludes, than that of Vatican II. Marialis Cultus forms a bridge, Dr. Nachef suggests, between “the faith of Mary” and “the faith of Mary for us.” Mary offers us all, he says, a model of right spiritual attitude, but perhaps especially she offers this for the women of the modern world.

3. Summary and Critique.

In my opinion, Dr. Nachefs study finds its most fertile ground and its most potent expression in the third chapter that concerns Mary as seen by John Paul II. The personalist perspective of the Holy Father is clearly acknowledged by Dr. Nachef and seen as highly influential in his papal documents that concern Mary. Thus, the salvific aspects of Marys virginity and her divine motherhood are two main features of John Paul’s focus. For him, these aspects reveal Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Church: “The Church, following the example of Mary, ‘is a virgin who keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse and becomes a mother, for she brings forth, to a new and immortal life, children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.'”

This book presents a study of the faith of Mary that is well-grounded in the teachings of the Church, from Vatican II to the present. It should serve well anyone beginning an academic study of Mary or those seeking to clarify Mary’s place in the Church as understood by the Church today. For those seeking to grow in the spiritual life, there is much to be learned from Mary, and this work presents solid and trustworthy perspectives. If pressured to offer some critical comments, I would mention a slight unevenness in the style of writing-perhaps suggesting that more thorough editing could have been helpful. However, the content is the crucial matter, and here the work stands as excellent. It is well-researched and presents its major themes strongly and convincingly. Also, I believe that this subject- Mary and her role in the Church today-is a most important one. We need to grow in our understanding of Mary and in imitation of her faith. This book is an excellent resource for the Church, seeking to learn from her our mother.

R. Thomas Richard is currently working in adult religious education and formation. Dr. Richard has directed formation programs for lay ministry and for the diaconate at the diocesan level, has directed religious formation at the parish level, and has directed retreats and retreat programs for laity and clergy. He is the author of The Ordinary Path to Holiness, published by Alba House.

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