From the Church's beginnings – as the New Testament makes clear - Mary has been seen as a great sign of encouragement for believers. References to Mary, though they may seem brief, are deeply meaningful, presenting Mary as a figure of immense significance for the communities that produced these texts. St Luke, in his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, skilfully portrays Mary as the model of discipleship, the one who "hears the Word of God and puts it into practice". Taking a central theme of the Scriptures, St John sees Mary as the "woman" in God's ultimate plan, and "mother" of the family of the disciples of Jesus.
The veneration of Christians down through the ages has had two different emphases. Until the 12th century, Mary was seen as the model of all the Church is called to be. In later centuries, Christians came to emphasise Mary's unique greatness - as the Church was led by the Spirit into the recognition of the full implications of the "great things" God has done for Mary. Within this perspective, a debate in the 14th century that vindicated Mary's "Immaculate Conception" set the pattern for a Marian Movement, whose program has been the vindication of the incomparable "glories" of Mary.
At Vatican II these two points of view were both present, and gave rise to tensions. Some bishops expected the council to speak in a special document of the unique greatness of Mary. Others - following the lead of John XXIII – were convinced that the renewal of the Church should be the council's main concern; and they proposed that the ancient view should be re-emphasised, and Mary should be presented as the model of all the Church is called to be.
The council followed the second path, at the same time making it clear that both emphases are in accord with our Catholic tradition. If the faith of tomorrow's Church can integrate and the two points of view, our people's appreciation of Mary will be greatly enriched.
This talk covers a lot of ground. Groups may choose to discuss it in more than one session. The questions below are meant to facilitate discussion. Use them as you find them helpful.