Words of Mary

The life of Mary has had such a powerful influence among centuries of Catholics. Truly, so many feel a strong bond and special protection with her.  It is intriguing to note, however, that she does not appear all that frequently within the Bible. Matthew makes quick reference to her for some key occasions surrounding the birth of Christ, and Mark barely skims over her existence.  Luke and John, however, offer a few deeper insights into this beautiful mother of God.  These two gospel writers have shared with Christians a handful of specific words that Mary actually spoke.  With just a bit of pondering over these few recorded words of Mary, Bible readers can more deeply understand this loving mother and then hopefully reflect upon the quality of their spiritual growth.  Very interestingly, the first recorded quote of Mary includes words of doubt:

“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  (Luke 1: 34)

 Mary had just been told by the angel Gabriel that she was soon to be with child, that she would become the mother of a divine Son.  Mary was clearly stunned.  She could not comprehend the ability to have a child without having had a husband.  This quote can bring some relief to many.  On one hand, it is important to trust God ― completely.  Many earnestly strive to do just that, however, when something bewildering and unexpected happens, our minds frequently go immediately to how or why.   It is comforting to know that our heavenly mother also felt, at least on one occasion, compelled to question a confusing situation, even in response to an archangel!  After Gabriel’s assuring explanation, Mary then fully accepted what was being asked of her:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  (Luke 1: 38)

This quote can offer encouragement to let the hows and whys in life shift more readily toward O.K.s, to accept whatever God wills of us.  We don’t have to be instantly all-knowing and understanding; perhaps a little curiosity is o.k., but ultimately, whether we are given an explanation or not, we must yield to His will, even if the circumstances are shocking or uncomfortable.  Perhaps our hearts don’t change gears to comply with God’s desires as quickly as Mary’s did, but her example can inspire us to try.

Shortly after, Mary visited her relative Elizabeth, who greeted her with an overwhelming comprehension of Mary’s blessedness.  Mary reacted to the remarkable greeting with the most words ever recorded on her behalf.  The several words that Mary spoke on this occasion were very prayer-like, offering tremendous praise to God.  This prayer has become known as the Magnificat (Latin for “magnifies”), the first word in the Latin version of the prayer: 

“My soul magnifies the Lord,  (In Latin:  Magnificat anima mea Dominum,)
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he had looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; 
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, 
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”   (Luke 1: 46-55)

This striking prayer of Mary poetically reminds us of God’s powerful, caring, and perfect ways.   These particular words of Mary, the Magnificat, can be the perfect prayer to read and re-read during times of challenge and times of joy.

Mary’s next spoken expression takes Bible readers to years later, when Jesus was a twelve-year-old boy.  The small family had just attended the Passover Feast in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph lost track of their son among the crowds on their way home.  After searching for three terrifying days, they found him in the Temple back in Jerusalem and Mary said:

Child, why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  (Luke 2: 48)

 Jesus’ response was simple: he was in the Lord’s house.  Didn’t they know?  Mary’s yielding to anxiety is thought-provoking ― and natural for humans.  Her quiet reaction to Jesus’ response, however, adds something powerful to her words.  Mary responded to her Son with reflection and wonder.  She seemed to let go of her nervousness and mulled the events over in her heart.  This example can hopefully hearten Christians to let go of our own worries a bit quicker.  To do what needs to be done, but avoid clinging to feelings of uneasiness for extended stretches of time ― especially if the crisis is over!  Rather, pause, and quietly reflect for a moment. Let your heart wonder.    

To find Mary’s last two spoken phrases, we go to John’s Gospel.  Early on in the Gospel, shortly after the first apostles had been selected, Jesus, the apostles and his mother attended a wedding in Cana.  Mary noticed a problem and said to her Son: 

“They have no wine.” (John 2: 3)

 This concern for the wedding couple, over something as simple as a lack of wine, shows a tremendous sense of care.  That Mary could fret and express a desire for help from her son illustrates her willingness to notice others’ problems and bring them to Jesus.  Interestingly, Jesus’ reaction appears somewhat disinterested, that the problem was not such a big deal.  Yet, he still arranged for the wine to be miraculously replenished, seemingly to please his mother more than the newly married couple.  Meditating upon this event can foster the belief that, Jesus more than likely still desires to please His mother.  This interaction offers strong incentive to turn to both with our troubles.  We can pray directly to Jesus, but it doesn’t hurt to ask Mary for her involvement as well, for chances are she will bring our problems to Jesus ― just as she did for the newly married couple in Cana. Maybe it’s comparable to calling someone on the phone and sending them an e-mail message.  The receiver receives the message/request in two different ways, perhaps feeling a stronger appeal. 

The last phrase of Mary is the most profound of all.  It is a simple, yet impactive reminder of who is Lord.  Still at the wedding celebration in Cana, but before Jesus’ miracle, it seemed that Mary instinctively knew that her Son was about to somehow assist the married couple.  So, she urged the servants to:

“Do whatever he tells you.”  (John 2: 5)

That these are the last recorded words of Mary is significant.  The last impression of her spoken desires and encouragement are perfect.  Yes, she can help, she can speak to her son on our behalf, she can pray for us, she can make a difference, but she insists that we must do whatever Jesus desires of us.  It seems fitting that her final spoken message to humanity encourages one of the very basic tenets of our faith: to do whatever Jesus wills of us.

*The New Revised Standard Version Bible was used for the quotes.

The Catholic Comparative New Testament.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 2005.

 The New Dictionary Concordance to the New American Bible.  Charlotte, NC:  C.D. Stampley Enterprises, Inc., 1970.

 The New American Bible for Catholics.  Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1991.