Mother of God
Bishop Corenlius J. Pasichny, OSBM
The Eucharist and the Mother of God
The theme of your UCWLC Eparchial Convention, Mary, Woman of the Eucharist, is very timely and appropriate. It is fitting that you chose to highlight the Mother of God, since she is the patroness of the UCWLC, and it is proper for you to promote knowledge about her, to spread faith in her, and love for and devotion to her. But the fact that you chose to accentuate her connection to the Holy Eucharist is very timely in view of the fact that the Church has declared this year as the Year of the Eucharist. The late Holy Father, John Paul II, in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, called Mary, Woman of the Eucharist, and you have adopted that saying as your convention theme. And so, your theme draws the attention of your members and your eparchy to a topic which the Universal Church is celebrating and stressing to all the faithful this year. May your convention, and this presentation, under the guidance and by the prayers of the Mother of God, contribute to the renewal of faith in and appreciation of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist: Sacrifice and Sacrament/Mystery
In this presentation, we will first consider the Eucharist, both as a sacrifice and a sacrament, and then the relationship of the Mother of God to it. The Eucharist as celebrated in the Divine Liturgy is the re-presentation of the sacrifice Jesus offered at the Last Mystical Supper, as well as His sacrifice of Himself on the cross on Calvary on Golgatha. It is Jesus's sacrifice, because He is the one who offers Himself; and it is our sacrifice, because, at His command, we offer Jesus in sacrifice to the Father (cf. Divine Liturgy, Prayer at, "We who mystically represent…").
Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a sacrifice at the Last Mystical Supper, on the eve of the physical sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross. This momentous event is thus described in the words of the New Testament: "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' ['which will be given for you; do this in memory of me' Lk. 22: 19; 'Do this in remembrance of me' I Cor. 11: 24]. Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the ['new' Lk. 22: 20] covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Mt. 26: 26 – 28). "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (I Cor. 11: 28). St. Paul also has this reminder: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (I Cor. 10: 16).
Thus, at the Last Mystical Supper, Jesus offered His body and blood in a real but mystical, unbloody sacrifice, in order to leave it with the apostles in the church for all time, so that all people, in every day and age, would have a worthy sacrifice to offer to the Father for the forgiveness of their sins and for their salvation. We are reminded of this at the beginning of every Divine Liturgy. At the Proscomedia, the priest, preparing the holy bread for the Liturgy, cuts the bread (prosphoron), or host, in the form of the cross and says: "The Lamb of God [Jn. 1: 36] who takes away the sin of the world is sacrificed for the life and salvation of the world." He then pierces the right side with the lance, and says, "One of the soldiers with a lance pierced his side and immediately there came out blood and water" [Jn. 19: 34]; at these words he pours wine and a little water into the chalice. This draws our attention to the fact that in our Divine Liturgy we have Jesus's sacrifice, both of the Last Supper and of the cross, which we offer to God the Father as our sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of today's world. It is also our sacrifice of praise and glory to God, our sacrifice of thanksgiving to God and our sacrifice of petition to God for all our needs and the needs of the church and the world.
The Sacrament/Mystery of the Bread of Life
Jesus's unbloody sacrifice is one that is meant to be consumed by eating. The Lord's words at the Last Supper were, "Take and eat", and "drink from this cup," because He meant His body and blood to be a source of God's life for those who receive them with faith. He had prepared His disciples for the institution of the Eucharist when He miraculously fed over five thousand people with five loaves of bread. He chose that occasion to teach them about another "multiplication of bread." He told the people who were following him and were amazed at His miracle: "Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you" (Jn. 6: 27).
Upon hearing those words, the people thought of the bread God gave His people in the wilderness, and they said: "Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' [cf. Ex. 16: 4, 15]. Jesus said to them, 'Amen, Amen, I say to you, [Very truly, I tell you] it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' So they said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always'" (Jn. 6: 31-34). Jesus replied: "Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die" (Jn. 6: 49-50). And again, "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever" (Jn. 6: 58).
Then Jesus repeatedly explained the meaning of the bread of life from heaven, and connected it with His own body: "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst'" (Jn. 6: 35). "I am the bread of life" (v. 48). "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (v. 51).
Jesus insists that to be nourished by His body and blood is necessary if one wants to have a share in God's life. He says: "Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever" (Jn. 6: 53-58).
Jesus accomplished the transformation of bread and wine into His body and blood at the Last Supper, and made them available to us as the Bread of Life. This is Jesus's most precious gift to us, and the most marvelous and intimate way in which He chose to remain with us to the end of the world--in His redeeming sacrifice and as the bread that gives God's life. Only Jesus's love for us could explain why He chose to do this; only God's wisdom could have conceived a way of making this possible; and only God's power could make it a reality. The Lord was certainly aware that His continuing presence in our churches and chapels, and our daily celebration or weekly attendance at His sacrifice, could easily make it a routine event for us, and we could lose sight of its majesty and significance. He was aware of the risks involved in making Himself so accessible and available to us, like the loss of respect, the neglect and even abuse that could occur. But His love for us made Him overlook all that in order to remain with those whom He loved to the end (Jn. 13: 1).
The Necessity of Faith
However, it must be said that the finite human mind cannot comprehend this divine mystery of the Eucharist. It must be accepted by faith. We have to believe Jesus's words, and His infinite power. That is why, time and again, our Lord stressed the need of faith. He told the people who were following Him after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand: "This is the work of God [what God requires or asks of you], that you believe in the one he sent" (Jn. 6: 29). After Jesus explained that the bread of life is His own flesh, some of His disciples refused to believe, and said: "This teaching is difficult [or hard]; who can accept it?" (Jn. 6: 60), and they turned back and no longer went about with Jesus. Jesus explained: "It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail [is useless; has nothing to offer]. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe" (Jn. 6: 63-63).
[Similarly, when Peter acknowledged that Jesus was "the Son of the living God," Jesus said to him: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father" ["You did not learn that from mortal man; it was revealed to you by my heavenly Father"] (Mt. 16: 17).Peter received the gift of faith from God].
So although some of His followers turned away Jesus did not retract or modify His teaching. On the contrary, He challenged the twelve apostles: '"Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced [know] that you are the Holy One of God"' (Jn. 6: 67-69). That is why at the Liturgy, before we receive Jesus, we are reminded to approach with faith.
The Mother of God
The motto of your convention turns our attention specifically to Mary's relationship to the Eucharist. What is the relationship of Mary to this sacrifice and sacrament? According to Pope John Paul II, Mary has a very profound and close relationship to the Eucharistic Christ. He says, "The Eucharistic Bread which we receive is the spotless flesh of her [Mary's] Son" (Apostolic Letter, Mane nobiscum, Domine, 31). This relationship is acknowledged in our Acathist to the Mother of God. In the prayer at the end of that service we pray: "O…Mother of God…you have been chosen from among all people…through you the Almighty Lord has dwelt among us, through you we have come to know the Son of God and have been made worthy of His holy Body and most pure Blood…"
Although the Gospels do not mention the presence of Mary at
the Last Supper, she was present with the Apostles when they gathered after
the Ascension, expecting the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So Mary
was certainly present with the first generation of Christians when the Apostles
gathered for "the breaking of bread" (Acts 2: 42), and she received
from the Apostles the Body of Christ, the same body which she had conceived
in her womb at the Annunciation.
Mary represents the human component in the mystery of God-becoming- man. She was chosen by God to provide, by her free and willing consent, a human body for God's Son (cf. Heb. 10: 5). As she utters her fiat, her Yes, to God's proposal, she conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit and gives birth to Jesus. At that moment, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1: 14).
[The word which translates as dwelt means pitching a tent, and recalls the Tent of Meeeting in the Old Testament. Thus, Mary is the new Tent of Meeting where God is present. That word, skene, is related to shekina, referring to the sacred cloud, which was a sign of God's presence. We have a Christmas carol, Skynia zlataja, kovchezhe Zavita, referring to Mary as the golden tabernacle, the ark of the Covenant, in which the Son of God is present].
When God created Eve, Adam said, "This…is bone from my bones, and flesh from my flesh!" (Gen. 2: 23). Mary was able to say the same of Jesus. Because she gave birth to the Son of God, Mary of Nazareth is a part of everything that Jesus is and does as the Son of Man, because she provided His human nature. It is because of Mary that God has been able to become one of us, and then offer His body in sacrifice, and offer it to the world as the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Mary's body became the first place of Jesus's dwelling in the world, His first tabernacle. She is the holy Tent of God's presence, the living ark of the Covenant, a prototype of our tabernacles which house Jesus in the Eucharist.
"At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood…Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived 'through the Holy Spirit' was the 'Son of God' (Lk. 1: 3-0-35). In continuity with the Virgin's faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 55).
The human name God chose for His Son, Jesus, means He "will save his people from their sins" (Mt. 1: 21). And the angel of the Lord announced in Bethlehem that Christ the Lord, the Saviour, has been born (Lk. 2: 11). Mary, the mother of the Saviour, is part of all His saving activity, which includes His sacrifice on the cross, at the Last Supper and in the Eucharist.
Events in Mary's Life
Some events in Mary's life portray her relationship to Jesus's suffering and sacrifice. That relationship is extended to the Eucharist, which is the continuation of Jesus's sacrifice of His body and blood. Thus, when Mary presented the child Jesus in the temple, the elderly Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, predicted to Mary that her child would be a "sign of contradiction" and that "a sword will pierce" her own heart (Lk. 2: 34-35). This prophecy foretold Jesus's suffering and foreshadowed Mary's standing at the foot of the cross and her role in the suffering of Jesus.
Mary did not need to wait very long for the sword of suffering to pierce her heart. When Herod sought to destroy the child Jesus, Mary had to flee to Egypt to save her Son from death (Mt. 2: 13-15). Later, when the 12-year-old Jesus stayed behind in the temple and after three days of searching His mother scolded Him, saying, "Son, why have you done this," He told her that she had to realize that He must be in His Father's house, about His Father's business (Lc. 2: 42-51). The pain of separation from her Child pierced her tender heart.
At the wedding feast in Cana when Mary came to Jesus to plead on behalf of the wedding hosts, because they ran out of wine, Jesus's first response was, "My hour has not yet come" (Jn. 2: 3-4). The word hour as used by Jesus referred to the hour of His suffering and death. It was a reminder to His Mother that all events now are building up to His moment of sacrifice, in which she is to share. And when that hour arrived, Mary was there at the foot of the cross, watching helplessly and offering her suffering along with those of her Son for the same purpose for which He was offering His life -- the salvation of the world.
Mary's words at Cana to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn. 2: 5), are interpreted by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (no. 54) as though Mary were saying to us: "Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood…thus becoming the bread of life."
The Mother of God in the Divine Liturgy
Mary's close relationship to the Eucharist was very well understood by those in the early church who composed the prayers of the church, especially the Divine Liturgy. Since ancient times, the commemoration of the Mother of God has always been part of the Eucharistic celebrations of East and West (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 57). In our Divine Liturgy the Mother of God is mentioned many times.
In the priest's prayers at the iconostas before vesting:
"Open the doors of mercy to us, O blessed Mother of God [Theotokos], that we who hope in you may not perish but be delivered by you from danger, for you are the salvation of the Christian people."
And before the icon of the Mother of God: "Behold, you are a fountain of mercy. Deem us worthy of compassion, O Mother of God. Turn your eyes upon us sinful people. Make manifest your power as you have always done. For with hope in you we cry out: "Hail!" [Rejoice] – as once did Gabriel, prince of the invisible hosts."
At the Proskomedia
As the priest takes the second particle of bread (prosphoron) he prays: "In honor and memory of our most blessed Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, through whose intercession receive this sacrifice upon Your holy altar in the highest heaven, O Lord." As he places the particle of bread (prosphoron) to the right of the holy bread near the center, he says: "The queen stood at your right hand arrayed in gold, robed and adorned" (Ps. 44: 10/45: 9).
In the dismissal, here and at the end of the Liturgy, the priest prays: "Christ, our true God, through the prayers of His immaculate Mother…will have mercy and save us, for He is good and loves mankind."
In the body of the Liturgy
In the Great and Short Ektenias, and in the Ektenia of Petition (when not omitted) we pray: "Remembering our most holy and immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, together with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God."
In the refrain of the First Antiphon we pray: "Through
the prayers of the Mother of God, O Savior, save us."
In the hymn, Only-begotten Son and Word of God, in which we proclaim Jesus as one of the Holy Trinity equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and His crucifixion and resurrection, we profess that He "willed for our salvation to be made flesh [become incarnate] of the Holy Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary."
The prayer of the Thrice-holy Hymn said by the priest is concluded thus: "…grant that we, in holiness, may serve you all the days of our lives, through the intercession of the holy Mother of God and of all the saints, who throughout the ages have found favor with You."
On particular days and occasions there are troparia and prokimenons
that make reference to the Mother of God.
In the Symbol of Faith (Creed) we proclaim that we believe that "by the power of the Holy Spirit He [Christ] was born of the Virgin Mary and became man."
Perhaps most significantly, after the Consecration of the bread and wine, as soon as the Lord is made present on the altar, we recall the person who made it possible for Him to be here, and so we pray in honor of "our most holy and immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady , the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary." And the people respond with the hymn: "It is truly right to bless [extol, magnify] you, O God-bearing One, as the ever-blessed and immaculate Mother of God. More honorable than the cherubim and by far more glorious than the seraphim; ever a virgin you gave birth to God the Word, we magnify [extol] you." Special hymns in honour of the Mother of God replace this one on her feast days, at the Liturgy of St. Basil, and in the Paschal season.
After Communion, in the silent prayer of thanksgiving, the priest gives thanks that we have been made worthy to partake of the heavenly and immortal mysteries, and asks for the Lord's protection "through the prayers and supplications of the glorious Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary..."
After the Liturgy, among the seven prayers recommended for the priest to pray, is one "to the most Holy Mother of God": "Most holy Lady, Mother of God, light of my darkened soul, my hope, my protection my refuge, my comfort and my joy, I am grateful that you have enabled me, unworthy as I am, to partake of the most pure Body and precious Blood of your Son. You bore the true Light…you bore the fountain of immortality… Enable me to receive without condemnation and to my last breath the most pure and sanctifying Mysteries for the healing of my soul and body…for you are blessed and glorified for ever. Amen."
These many references to Mary in the Liturgy remind us of the close relationship of the Mother of God to her Son's suffering and sacrifice and its re-presentation in the Liturgy, as both sacrifice and sacrament/mystery.
"God has visited His people” (Lk. 7: 16). The Father sent His Son, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of Mary of Nazareth. He chose to remain with us to the end of time as our redeeming sacrifice and as the Bread from heaven that gives us a share in God's life. May the Lord be praised for His wonderful works in the words of the Mother of God: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (Lk. 1: 47).