To all who have ears to hear and eyes to see, the coming of the Gospel has exalted and safeguarded the intrinsic dignity and value of women more than any other single event in history. Before the Gospel, women were treated as mere objects and shamelessly deprived of the conduct owed to the honor of a lady. As Leo XIII relates:
Solemn rites, invented at the will of the law-givers, brought about that women should … bear either the honorable name of wife or the disgraceful name of concubine[.] … Hence, too, sprang up the greatest confusion as to the mutual rights and duties of husbands and wives, inasmuch as a man assumed right of dominion over his wife, ordering her to go about her business, often without any just cause; while he was himself at liberty “to run headlong with impunity into lust, unbridled and unrestrained, in houses of ill-fame and amongst his female slaves, as if the dignity of the persons sinned with, and not the will of the sinner, made the guilt.” When the licentiousness of a husband thus showed itself, nothing could be more piteous than the wife, sunk so low as to be all but reckoned as a means for the gratification of passion, or for the production of offspring. Without any feeling of shame, marriageable girls were bought and sold, like so much merchandise, and power was sometimes given to the father and to the husband to inflict capital punishment on the wife. 
Thus, not only were women subject to such shameful debasement, but the deplorable practice of wife-murder, even among the Romans, was lawful (as Emperor Constantine is reported to have done). Even the practice of the chosen people Israel was not perfected, as our Lord says in the Gospel regarding divorce. It is truly the mark of non-Christian culture to mistreat women as objects having inferior human nature. Cahill states flatly: “In no nation known to history did the woman enjoy her natural rights previous to the advent of Christianity” .
Against this the Gospel proclaimed indissoluble marriage (the lifelong bond of security and provision for a woman and her children), monogamy (the perfected manifestation of man’s and woman’s equal dignity), and the rights and duties of man and wife to each other — some mutual and some particular.
Most of all, however, God glorified the Virgin Mary and exalted her above every mortal as the Immaculate Mother of God. The Church came to understand her as the Queen of Heaven and Earth and the leader of the whole Church in its human element. The figure of the Virgin Mary more than anything else helped exalt and glorify womanhood in every daughter, wife, and mother as a cherished gift of inestimable worth.
One cannot overstate the effect on the treatment of women that such a theological innovation made on all women and men. Now every Christian reverenced this woman as “Our Lady.” Christian mothers and virgins alike could look to her as their perfect model. Men would be willing to die for her honor and thus could truly love their wives and honor them. How many long hours of manual labor have been recorded for history by our fathers working for decades to build magnificent churches in her honor?
Christ could have appeared on Earth without a mother. Instead, He, as the perfect model of manhood for every Christian man, glorified the woman closest to Him with the highest honor ever bestowed upon any mortal. In this Christ makes a special gift to masculinity in healing its fallen abuse of women to perfect it into true Christian headship of the family. The Roman father gave no honor to his wife, and he could put his wife to death. The Christian husband gives honor to Our Lady and thus his wife and would rather die than see his wife come to any harm. He will fight to preserve her honor. This is how the Church converted lawless barbarians into knights in shining armor.
The Virgin Mary Is the Glory of Femininity
The glory of Our Lady is the glory of every woman, because she perfectly manifests the beauty of Christian femininity. It was with Marian devotion as a cultural fulcrum that was able to bring our fathers from debauchery to chivalry, so boys could grow up knowing the glory of femininity in her. As Cahill puts it:
The doctrine of Aristotle, that the woman is a kind of inferior man is devoid of foundation, and is especially repulsive to the Catholic, who has been taught from childhood to honour the Mother of God next to God Himself. 
A boy who grows up honoring the Mother of God truly will not dishonor a woman for being a woman. A girl who grows up honoring the Mother of God truly will love her own femininity as the gift of her nature, the same nature that was “the cause of salvation to the human race” .
Even the enemies of the Church are forced to admit that the cult of the Virgin Mary raised the dignity of woman beyond anything imagined before:
For the first time the woman was elevated to her rightful position … no longer the slave or toy of man, no longer associated only with the ideas of degradation and sensuality, woman rose in the person of the Virgin Mother into a new sphere, and became the object of a reverential homage of which antiquity had no conception. 
Mary as Queen Makes Every Wife the Queen of Her Home
St. Louis de Montfort marvels at the life of Our Lord with Mary:
God made Man has found His liberty in seeing Himself imprisoned in her womb. He has made His Omnipotence shine forth in letting Himself be carried by that blessed Virgin. He has found His glory and His Father’s in hiding His splendours from all creatures here below, and revealing them to Mary only. He has glorified His Independence and His Majesty, in depending on that sweet Virgin, in His Conception, in His Birth, in His Presentation in the Temple, in His Hidden Life of thirty years, and even in His Death[.] … It is she who has suckled Him, nourished Him, supported Him, brought Him up, and then sacrificed Him for us[.] … Jesus Christ gave more glory to God the Father by submission to His Mother during those thirty years than He would have given Him in converting the whole world by the working of the most stupendous miracles. 
The heart of the Holy Family was the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As Pius XI puts it, “if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love” .
As a single man, I thought this phrase was beautiful, but it was not until I was married and saw the love of my children and their mother that I truly began to understand it. The mother truly gives to the children a foundation of love that fathers are not capable of replicating. And it is Mary who gave this foundation to Jesus Christ in His life on Earth. The Virgin Mary shows us that the hidden life of the heart of the home is truly a glorious, exalted vocation. Pius XI calls this “her truly regal throne” . Catherine Doherty exults in this glory, particularly in the quintessentially feminine joy of nourishing the family with food:
The preparation of food, as well as its acquisition, has always been an expression of love. This act became exceedingly holy with the Coming of Christ. His mother sanctified it in a very special manner by transforming the fruits of the earth for the nourishment of His Human Body, which He assumed for our sake at Christmastime.
The act of preparing food became even more holy when Christ, the Lord, used bread and wine to feed us, by transforming them into His Body and Blood.
The holiness of the kitchen is beyond the ability of human words to express. To lovingly and joyfully transform the raw products of God’s earth into food to feed one’s brothers and sisters: this is a service and a privilege almost beyond compare!
Those who work in the kitchen are especially blessed, for they ‘feed the hungry’ in the most literal of terms. They are blessed, because Our Lord said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.” Those who eat of this food are also blessed, because they are like the disciples who sat at table with Jesus, in the village inn at Emmaus, “And they knew Him in the breaking of bread.” 
The feeding of the family in particular manifests the beauty of femininity that shone forth from our Lady as the heart of Christ’s earthly home. This truly royal throne in the heart of the family becomes the great privilege of every wife and mother to shine like Mary in a way that is theirs as women.
But besides these things affecting the discourse of women in the family and society, there is another deeper and more exalted dignity given through the Virgin Mary in the intimacy of every Christian soul. We will take up this subject in the next part of the series.
 Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880), 7
 Rev. E. Cahill, S.J., The Framework of a Christian State (Roman Catholic Books reprint 1932), 429
 Ibid., 423
 St. Irenaeus, Adv. Hacr. III, 22, 4: PG 7, 9S9 A
 William Lecky, Rationalism in Europe, vol. I, ch. 3, 213 cited in Cahill, 431. Cahill identifies this Irish historian as a rationalist.
 Pius XI, Casti Connubii (1930), 27
 Ibid., 75
 Catherine De Hueck Doherty, Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas (Madonna House: 1994), 72
Timothy S. Flanders is the author of Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and four children.