I saw the replica of Restout's Pentecost painting today at a local church in Flemington. I first saw a photo of the original last year at school, and I was really struck by Mary's demeanor. The artist paints her front and center, purposefully the only person standing tall, serene, and strong. I will likely refer to this painting more than once, because it is an excellent moment of Mariology caught in time. Most striking is the fact that while the men, tongues of flame overhead, scurry and rush to the sides and floor of the piece, looking shocked and overwhelmed, the women (also alight) are calm. But above them all is Mary, looking up tot he heavens as if to say: been there, done that. She knows exactly what is going on, since she has intimate knowledge of what it means to be overcome with the Spirit.
It is worthwhile to understand how the Immaculate Conception is transformation of a woman by the working of the Holy Spirit. This adaptation of grace is the personal transformation of Mary which makes way for the very transformation of mankind. It is in the Virgin becoming Mother that the fallen becomes redeemable, and her motherhood is no longer merely about the incarnation of God, but about the birth of God’s people, wherein: “the redemptive economy of grace, brought about through the action of the Holy Spirit, there is a unique correspondence between the moment of the Incarnation of the Word and the moment of the birth of the Church. The person who links these two moments is Mary (Redemptoris Mater 24).
Thus, the cooperation of the Spirit and the Son with the Father in their empowerment of Mary to bear God in her body is the start of our salvation. Mary gives birth to more than a child, even more than a child who is both God and Man. The Giver of Life did not simply overshadow, but generates the Body of Christ. The Virgin Birth is essential to our faith, because through it the Spirit and Word come together to bring new life. God made flesh is inextricably bound to man in the womb of a human mother, who became in that moment a universal mother. In choosing to save us by becoming like us, “the Son of God united himself in some fashion with every [person]” (Gaudiam et Spes 22). It is in this way that all humankind shares in the relationship to Mary as Mother, and through her to the intimate graces of life in the Holy Spirit. Humanity gains a new and irrevocable dignity when God is made man.