Mother of God and the Council of Ephesus

by Edmond Lo
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Numbers 6:22-27

Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 2:16-21

Of all the tourist attractions that I visited during a cruise trip to Italy, Turkey, and Greece with my family in 2012, the experience in Ephesus continues to cause quite a stir in me both spiritually and emotionally whenever it is recalled.

Too lazy to study the itinerary before taking the trip, I kind of "tagged along" as my wife, our unofficial guide and trip planner, took us from port to port on board a 13-deck, 2,850-passenger cruise ship, and to various cities through land excursion tours. Upon disembarkation at the Kusadasi port of downtown Ephesus on a Sunday, we met up with our excursion tourist guide whose first assignment was to make sure we could attend an outdoor Mass at the House of Virgin Mary on time.

We left the terminal and set off in a hurry because time was tight. What happened next was something we totally didn't expect. On our way to the Mass, we unexpectedly passed by the ruins of the Church of Mary where the first ecumenical Council of Ephesus was conducted and the doctrine recognizing Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos) affirmed in 431 A.D. The unexpected encounter was a heart-stopping moment for me personally because through my theological studies I had learned about this pivotal and ancient event of the Church many times. Little did I know that on our way to attend Mass at the House of Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother would give us the blessing of seeing its historic venue, which had been perceptible only from the pages of my theology textbooks until then! When I explained what happened to my family, everyone was overjoyed.

Here we are, on the first Sunday of the new year, 2017, celebrating the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Given the global distress and instability of the world today, the human race probably needs the Priestly Blessing of the first reading more than ever: "The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!" (Nm 6:24-26).

We shouldn't miss the nuance of the chiastic structure of St. Paul's discourse on the incarnated Christ in today's second reading from Galatians 4:4-5. Its arrangement, both literary and theological in nature, goes like this:

God sent his Son,
a Born of a woman
b Born under the law
b' to ransom those under the law
a' so that we might receive adoption.

The chiasm above zeroes in on the mystery of incarnation. It enables us to understand that just as it's necessary for Jesus to be "born under the law" (b) so that those under the law, i.e. the whole human race, could be ransomed or freed from the law (b'); it's also necessary for him to be "born of a woman", i.e. to adopt the human nature through Mary (who, therefore, is the Mother of God in as far as Jesus' humanity is concerned) (a) so that all human beings might receive adoption, or become children of God like Jesus (a'). For St. Paul, Mary's role as Jesus' Mother, or as the Mother of God, is pivotal in God's plan of salvation because it's only through Jesus being born of a woman, Mary, that we could become sons and daughters of God.

The shepherds "made known the message that had been told them about this child" in Bethlehem (Lk 2:17), and "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Lk 2:19). On this Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, let's follow Mary's example to keep all these things and reflect on them in our hearts.