Book: Our Lady and the Church
Somebody was just mentioning Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner, S.J. (the other Rahner's brother). I don't know who it was, but when I find out I'll give them a hat tip and many thanks. This is yet another awesome little theology book with lots of spiritual nuggets of information in it. Apparently there's a lot to be said for taking the old puzzle pieces and putting them together into a coherent picture.
See, I've always had the vague impression that whatever you said about Mary, you could pretty much say about the Church, and vice versa. (I even remember saying this in a discussion with my friend Joy.) But Rahner takes that tiny old piece of information and goes forth and studies all kinds of interesting things which relate to it. He moves freely from the earliest Fathers to the Middle Ages to the stuff people said practically last week, and the richer and more beautiful the picture gets. I could quote from this book all day.
So yes, Mary is the Mother of God and Jesus' first follower, and hence the Mother of the Church. Indeed, some early Christian people even called her Church; and back when she was Jesus' first and only follower, she in fact was the Church. (Among other reasons.) But on the other hand, the Church carries Christ's Word within her, and with much pain and labor, she is delivered of many newborn Christians, many newborn Christs. (Without having sex, even!) So you can even call the Church the Godbearer, the Theotokos.
(Of course, if you go around calling Mary "the Church" and the Church "the Theotokos", people are not going to understand you without an explanation.)
On the way, we have some fun with Jesus telling Mary and John, "Behold thy son" and "Behold thy mother". Well, considering John had just eaten and drunk Jesus the night before, he really was Mary's Son. Similarly, when Jesus said that those who followed his word were His mother, he was not just complimenting believers (and His mom the perfect follower, of course!), but telling the literal truth. Apparently lots of folks have pointed out that at baptism, we begin to carry Jesus inside us, and hopefully we let Him grow. So the Christian soul becomes the Theotokos -- another Mary. For this reason, St. Ambrose liked to point out that after his resurrection, Jesus just called Mary Magdalene "Mary", and that it was the same thing with the newly baptized:
When the soul, then, begins to turn to Christ, she is addressed as 'Mary'...for she is become a soul who, in a spiritual sense, gives birth to Christ...Not all have brought to birth, not all are perfect, not all are 'Mary'; for even though they have conceived Christ through the Holy Spirit, they have not all brought Him to birth. There are those who thrust out the Word of God -- miscarrying, as it were. See to it, therefore, that you do the will of the Father, that you may become the Mother of Christ.
All those wacky St. Ita visions of rocking Jesukin don't seem so wacky now, huh?
(And maybe Rocco should be a little less snarky over at Whispers from the Loggia about "Bearded Marys", ne?)
Another good bit I noticed is the importance of the baptismal font's symbolism as the womb from which we are born again (both Mary and the Church's womb). So no more of this "chalice as symbol of femininity" stuff. (I always thought it sounded dorky and wrong when applied to Judeo-Christian stuff, and now it turns out it's in the whoooooole wrong part of church. So I laugh hard.)
You will notice just how far beyond feminism or any kind of -ism this sort of sacramental and Biblical imagery goes; everyone is Mary, everyone is Christ, everyone is the Church. Being male or female isn't important to any sacrament of the Church except Matrimony and Holy Orders. (Which I've always thought was a nice and just balance.)
I just wish we'd learned all this back in CCD. They're not exceptionally difficult concepts in themselves, and they give you a lot of deep implications to think about and discuss. There are times I just like to look around church and let my mind rove through the meanings of the symbols everywhere around us, one bright picture melting into another. Thanks to this book, I've picked up a lot more symbols to play with. Now I only hope they'll inspire me to live up to those implications.
Btw, going back to Sor Juana below, she also had a good Mary/Church insight. She wrote a villancico celebrating Mary for being "black and beautiful" in the Song of Songs, and pointed out that the reason Mary (especially la Guadalupana and the popular Black Madonnas of Spain) was so tan was that she spent all day in the light of the Sun of Justice and was also clothed in the Sun; and also that anything, no matter how spotless, that's held up against the Sun looks black by comparison. Fun, fun poem.