“Having attentively considered how greatly the promotion of this devotion [to Mary as Mother of the Church] might encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety, Pope Francis has decreed that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, should be inscribed in the Roman Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost and be now celebrated every year.”1
With these words, a new memorial feast day in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary was born. Celebrated by the universal Church for the first time on May 21, 2018, the justification for honouring Mary under this title has its basis in Scripture. Mary is the Mother of Jesus (Lk 2:7), and Jesus is the Head of the Church (Col 1:18). We, His adopted sons and daughters, are members of His Body, the Church (1 Cor 12:12-13). Because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, this means that she is also the Mother of the Church and our Mother.
From the Incarnation …
Belief in Mary’s maternal care has been part of the teaching of the Church since the time of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine (in the 4thcentury). St. Leo the Great (400-461) taught that Mary’s role as Mother of the Church had its roots in the Incarnation. Blessed Pope Paul VI echoed this teaching, saying that from the moment that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s virginal womb (Lk 1:35-38), He “took to Himself as Head his Mystical Body, which is the Church. Mary, therefore, as Mother of Christ is to be regarded as Mother also of all the faithful and pastors, that is, of the Church.”2
To the foot of the Cross …
But it was at the foot of the Cross that Mary’s mission as Mother of the Church began. In the Gospel, we read, “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:25-27).
With these words, Our Lord entrusted Mary to the care of his beloved disciple, John; but, at the same time, He also entrusted John – who represented us all – to her maternal care. In the decree proclaiming the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, Cardinal Sarah explains, “Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal. She thus became the tender Mother of the Church which Christ begot on the cross handing on the Spirit. Christ, in turn, in the beloved disciple, chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.”3
Mary’s acceptance of John as her son showed her motherly care for us, and we, too, have a filial duty towards her as beloved sons and daughters. St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, brought Mary into his home, into his life. Spiritual writers have seen these words of the Gospel as an invitation to all Christians to bring Mary into their lives. Mary certainly wants us to invoke her, to approach her confidently, to appeal to her as our mother, asking her to ‘show that you are our mother’”4
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins; my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.”
To the Upper Room and beyond.
When the Apostles joined together in prayer to await the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12,14), Mary was present with them in the Upper Room. Since that time, she “has never ceased to take motherly care of the Pilgrim Church on earth,”5 faithfully interceding for us in all our needs and petitions. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. writes, “That Mary obtains for us and distributes to us all graces is a certain doctrine. … With even greater reason after the assumption and her entrance into glory, Mary is the distributor of all graces. As a beatified mother knows in heaven the spiritual needs of her children whom she left on earth, Mary knows the spiritual needs of all men. Since she is an excellent mother, she prays for them and, since she is all powerful over the heart of her Son, she obtains for them all the graces that they receive. … She is, it has been said, like an aqueduct of graces and, in the mystical body, like the virginal neck uniting the head to its members.”6
Though the Church throughout history has acknowledged Mary’s maternal role in the life of her members, it wasn’t until November 21, 1964 – in the closing homily for the third session of the Second Vatican Council – that Blessed Paul VI formally declared Mary Mother of the Church.7 Now, more than 50 years later, it is the hope of Pope Francis that the proclamation of this new Marian feast day will not only encourage greater devotion to our Blessed Mother, but will also remind us that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and Mary, the Mother of our Redeemer.8 Blessed Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
Sharon van der Sloot
Prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church9
Mother, help our faith!
Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call.
Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.
Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith.
Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature.
Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One.
Remind us that those who believe are never alone.
Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!
1 Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “Decree on the Celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church in the General Roman Calendar, 11 February 2018.” Available at Paul A. Zalonski, “Mary “Mother of the Church” Officially Added to Roman Calendar (3 March 2018),” Communio [Catholic blog]; available from http://communio.stblogs.org/index.php/2018/03/mary-mother-of-the-church/; Internet; accessed 12 May 2018.The date of the decree, Feb. 11, 2018, is significant because it marks the 160thanniversary of the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, France. “The celebration of a memorial generally means that prayers and readings specific to the day’s memorial are used in the Mass.” Hannah Brockhaus, “Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church added to liturgical calendar,” CNA [Catholic News Agency]; available from https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/memorial-of-mary-mother-of-the-church-added-to-liturgical-calendar-43501; Internet; accessed 26 May 2018.
2 Anthony M. Buono, The Greatest Marian Titles: their History, Meaning and Usage (New York: Society of St. Paul, 2008), 114-115.
3 Robert Cardinal Sarah, “Decree on the Celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church in the General Roman Calendar, 11 February 2018” Communio [blog].
4 St. Josemaría Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By, 140. Quoted in the Navarre Bible, Gospels and Acts, 2nded. (New York, NY: Scepter Publishers Inc., 2008, reprinted 2010), 694.
5 Comment by Robert Cardinal Sarah, “The Memorial of Mary ‘Mother of the Church’,” available from http://communio.stblogs.org/index.php/2018/03/mary-mother-of-the-church/; Internet; accessed 26 May 2018.
6 Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. 1 (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1947; reprint 1989), 126, 128.
7 In his homily,Blessed Pope Paul VI proclaimed, “For the glory of the Blessed Virgin and our consolation, we declare most holy Mary Mother of the Church, that is, of the whole Christian people, both faithful and pastors, who call her a most loving Mother. And we decree that henceforth the whole Christian people should, by this most sweet name, give still greater honor to the Mother of God and address prayers to her.”Quoted inBuono, The Greatest Marian Titles: their History, Meaning and Usage (New York: Society of St. Paul, 2008), 114.
8 Cf. Robert Cardinal Sarah, “Decree on the Celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church in the General Roman Calendar (11 February 2018).”
9 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei (29 June 2013), available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei.html; Internet; accessed 11 May 2018.