The silence of Mary
The Bible is a very large book. Accounting for differences in translations, its word count tops out at nearly a million. The New Testament accounts for nearly two hundred thousand of those words. Yet not all of Scripture’s principal figures could be considered verbose. In fact, one of the most important individuals in the Catholic faith, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, speaks very little indeed.
We only hear from her a total of four times, and three of these are recounted in the Gospel of Luke: the first when she converses with the angel Gabriel and gives her fiat (Luke 1:34, 38); the second during the visitation with Elizabeth when she praises God through the prayer that has since become known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); and the third when she and Joseph find Jesus teaching the scholars in the temple (Luke 2:48). The fourth and final instance is perhaps the most poignant, when we read recorded in the Gospel of John those invaluable words spoken by Mary to the servants at the wedding in Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
It is possible one may find it unusual that someone as critical to our faith as Mary would have so few of her words recorded. However, there lies a Truth more precious than gold in the silence of Mary.
Somewhat ironically, I want to begin by underscoring that Mary is, in practical effect, far from silent in the Gospels; what few words she speaks have become some of the most well-known and beloved phrases and prayers in the history of the Church. We speak of giving our own fiat to God every day of our lives, promising to seek His Will in all that we do. The Magnificat has been recapitulated in numerous poems and hymns, and her advice to the wedding servants might be the most succinct summation of Christian life ever uttered. And no small wonder, given who spoke it.
Apart from the four passages just referenced, Mary’s presence in the Gospels is perhaps more felt than heard; one has the impression that she remains always in the background, yet never interjecting more than is needful. From Cana onwards, Mary’s portrayal becomes one of action rather than words. Nowhere is this more obvious than the scenes of her Son’s Passion, where we are presented with tableau after heart-wrenching tableau as she, along with us, witnesses Jesus redeem the world; and no words could ever enhance the image of Mary holding the body of Christ.
Is this not in some way a beautiful allegory for how we are meant to live our lives? Despite countless books having been written, despite innumerable orations, sermons, and homilies having been given in the two millennia since Jesus’ death, Christianity at its core is a religion of action, not words. Love, the greatest of the virtues, is dead without action; you cannot clothe and feed your neighbor through speech.
Mary, as the most perfect Christian, should be our greatest model in this regard. The highest engagement in which we can occupy the voices God gave us (to praise Him and His works, His actions), is on full display in the life of Mary. We see this clearly in her “yes” to Gabriel and her spontaneous outpouring of worship in the house of Elizabeth. We may find ourselves searching for God, feeling the pain of holy yearning; then, like Mary, we find Him in His Father’s house, about His Father’s business, where we should have been looking all along. And in the final accounting at the end of our lives, when our souls lie bare before that ultimate Presence, what will matter the most is whether or not we followed Mary’s advice and did whatever He told us; not seeking to fill the void with weightless words, but speaking only what is good and true, then stepping back to let God accomplish the rest.
Source: Moyer, Ginny Kubitz. “How many times does Mary speak in the Bible?” Busted Halo, bustedhalo.com/questionbox/how-many-times-does-mary-speak-in-the-bible. Accessed 16 May 2023.