In two thousand and thirteen years of history, the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church (the one who gets the Pope-mobile) has made infallible statements only twice. On both occasions, they were concerning a woman known as Mary, the mother of God; the first declared that Jesus was born even though his mom and (earthly) dad didn’t do it, and the second is that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. This should tell us something about her relative importance. Mary looms large over the life of the Church, appearing to the faithful in Lourdes, Guadalupe, Fatima, La Salette, and in other places, mostly in times of oppression and poverty when a floating virgin is just the sort of pick-me-up everyone needs. Images of her are ubiquitous: here’s Mary in a veil; here’s Mary with the Infant Jesus; oh look, here’s Mary with a veil and the Infant Jesus.
Normally it is Jesus who is credited with the miracles, appropriately enough given the fact that he is the Son of God. But you know what I think is miraculous? Mary’s breasts. I take that back; anyone’s breasts. Breasts are the coolest shit ever.
How miraculous is it, how divine, that a mother can nurture her own baby? That for the first few months of life, the mother and child can operate as a self-sufficient unit, giving new and literal meaning to the phrase “all I need is you”? How glorious that every mother who breastfeeds can experience the joy of Christ, who gave his body so that we might live? It is my opinion that breasts should be considered holy, sacramental objects, regardless of whether a woman chooses to breastfeed or not, because they can be powerful symbols of the giving-of-self that Christ showed on the cross.
And that’s just my breasts we’re talking about. Thinking about the breasts which suckled the Savior of the World—my goodness, there must have been something mighty nutritious in that milk! Mary raised Jesus from infancy, nurtured him through his awkward tween years, stood at the foot of his cross when he was persecuted as a common criminal, and I think a brilliant shorthand for this nurturing is the image of Jesus nursing at Mary’s breast. It is a reminder of Jesus’ utter humanity, his dependence on Mary to survive even in his divinity. It counteracts the image of Eve in the Garden—women’s role in the Bible is no longer that we caused the Fall, it is that we gave birth to Salvation. You’re welcome.
Now I give you a challenge. Go to your local Christian Church. Find an image of the Topless Virgin. Curiously absent, no? In fact, I bet you that no painting, no statue, no bits of colored glass revealed more than her face and hands. Why are we so afraid of Mary’s breasts?
It wasn’t always this way, you know. Medieval times weren’t nearly so squeamish about the image of a nursing Jesus. I present to you an artistically done engraving of Mary projectile-lactating into someone’s face:
The person receiving the Holy Breast Milk in the eye is Saint Bernard (some legends have it going in his mouth, but either way it’s great aim on the statue’s part). After this experience, St. Bernard began to venerate the Virgin Mary and advocate a new importance for her in the early Church. Up until then, she was a minor character, much different than we now recognize her. St. Bernard recognized the incredibly important role she played in the life of Jesus, conveniently symbolized by her breasts, and the Cult of the Virgin began to grow.
What’s my point? My point is that we all got squeamish about breasts when we forgot their purpose. The breast became detached from its function and was hyper-sexualized; seeing Mary’s breasts suddenly veered to the dangerously erotic, and if there is one figure in Christianity we must keep safe from sex it is the Virgin-capital-V Mary. How dare she be associated with anything as base as a vagina! Mary is perfect because she never had sex (and we all know what society thinks of women who have too much sex—link to Erin’s post) so we must strip her of any hint of sexuality, strip her of anything society deems immodest, strip her of everything except her clothing, which we heap on in order to “protect” men from the lusty sight of her nursing her child.
I think it’s all hogwash.
Mary’s breasts were miraculous because they fed the Son of God who would someday feed the world. What a proud tradition to be a part of!
People celebrate Mary as the Mother of God but deny her the hugely symbolic (and quite necessary) act of breastfeeding because society has so grossly misinterpreted the role of the breast as something solely sexual. A call to arms, then: donate a picture of the nursing Mary to your local parish or church and pester them until they hang it. Send out Christmas cards of the Topless Madonna. Walk around and tell everyone how miraculous your breasts are. Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of the Breast…pray for us.