Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church
Monday after Pentecost—Memorial
Liturgical Color: White
One Mother, two motherhoods
Mary mothered Jesus, Jesus then gave life to the Church with water and blood from His side, and the Church then mothers us into existence through baptism. Devotion to Mary goes hand in hand with devotion to the Church because both are mothers. Mother Mary gives the world Christ. Mother Church gives the world Christians.
The metaphorical parallels between Mother Mary and Mother Church are spiritually rich and deeply biblical. Mary was understood by many early theologians as both the mother of the Head of the Church, Jesus, and also the symbol of the Church par excellence. Mother Mary is a virgin who conceived the physical body of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation. In a parallel way, Mother Church is the Mystical Body of Christ who gives every Christian rebirth through the power of the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost. Both Mary and the Church conceived through the same Spirit, without the aid of human seed. Mother Mary makes Christ’s body physically present in Palestine in the first century. Mother Church, in turn, makes Christ’s body mystically present through baptism and sacramentally present in the Eucharist, in every time and place. It was common for a baptismal font in early Christianity to be described as a sacred womb in which Mother Church gave her children life.
The theological cross-pollination between Mother Mary and Mother Church has produced a field ripe for spiritual and theological cultivation. Christ is from Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Galilee. But He is most deeply from the Father. He is one Son but lives two sonships. Similarly, all Christians are born from one Mother expressed in two motherhoods: Mary’s and the Church’s. Mary and the Church, understood most profoundly, form one mother. Both are the mother of Christ, but each mutually assists the other to bring Christ physically, sacramentally, and mystically into the world in all His fullness. Neither Mary nor the Church can exercise their motherhoods alone.
Today’s feast, formally integrated into the Church’s calendar by the authority of Pope Francis in 2018, specifically commemorates Mary’s motherhood of the Church rather than her motherhood of God, a feast celebrated on January 1. Mary likely showed as much tender concern for Christ’s mystical body as it slowly matured in its native Palestine as she did for His physical body in Nazareth. Pope Pius XII perceptively noted Mary’s dual maternity in his encyclical on the Church: “It was she who was there to tend the mystical body of Christ, born of the Savior’s pierced heart, with the same motherly care that she spent on the child Jesus in the crib.” It is possible the Apostles held their first Council in about 49 A.D. in Jerusalem precisely because Mary still dwelled in the holy city. She was likely the young religion’s greatest living witness and pillar of unity. We can imagine her presiding over early Christian gatherings with reserved solemnity, nursing primitive Christianity just as she had Christ.
Ancient pagans spoke of imperial Rome as a Domina, a divine female master. Rome was praised as a conquering mother who brought vanquished peoples close to her own heart, incorporating them as citizens into her vast, multicultural, polyglot realm. Other empires executed prisoners of war, exiled peoples, imposed a foreign culture, or displaced populations. Not Rome. Rome absorbed them all. The early fathers understood Mother Church as the successor to this Domina. In baptism this Mother does not release her children from her body but absorbs them, making them fully her own unto death. Since the early Middle Ages, feast days and devotions to the Virgin Mary have proliferated in Catholicism. Now Pope Francis has given the Church a feast to compliment that of January 1. The two motherhoods of Mary reflect one profound truth, that Christ approaches us in time and in space, in history and in sacrament, in mysterious and beautiful ways. In the words of Saint Augustine: “What (God) has bestowed on Mary in the flesh, He has bestowed on the Church in the spirit; Mary gave birth to the One, and the Church gives birth to the many, who through the One become one.” This is all cause for deep reflection.
Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, you are the fairest daughter of Israel, chosen and prepared by God as the sacred vessel to replace Mother Synagogue with Mother Church. Eve approaches you like mother to daughter, old Eve to New Eve—two mothers of souls both on earth and in heaven.
CONGREGATION FOR DIVINE WORSHIP
AND THE DISCIPLINE OF THE SACRAMENTS
ON THE CELEBRATION
OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY MOTHER OF THE CHURCH
IN THE GENERAL ROMAN CALENDAR
The joyous veneration given to the Mother of God by the contemporary Church, in light of reflection on the mystery of Christ and on his nature, cannot ignore the figure of a woman (cf. Gal 4:4), the Virgin Mary, who is both the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.
In some ways this was already present in the mind of the Church from the premonitory words of Saint Augustine and Saint Leo the Great. In fact the former says that Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church, while the latter says that the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church. These considerations derive from the divine motherhood of Mary and from her intimate union in the work of the Redeemer, which culminated at the hour of the cross.
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.
As a caring guide to the emerging Church Mary had already begun her mission in the Upper Room, praying with the Apostles while awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14). In this sense, in the course of the centuries, Christian piety has honoured Mary with various titles, in many ways equivalent, such as Mother of Disciples, of the Faithful, of Believers, of all those who are reborn in Christ; and also as “Mother of the Church” as is used in the texts of spiritual authors as well as in the Magisterium of Popes Benedict xiv and Leo xiii.
Thus the foundation is clearly established by which Blessed Paul vi, on 21 November 1964, at the conclusion of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Council, declared the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Mother of the Church, that is to say of all Christian people, the faithful as well as the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother” and established that “the Mother of God should be further honoured and invoked by the entire Christian people by this tenderest of titles”.
Therefore the Apostolic See on the occasion of the Holy Year of Reconciliation (1975), proposed a votive Mass in honour of Beata Maria Ecclesiæ Matre, which was subsequently inserted into the Roman Missal. The Holy See also granted the faculty to add the invocation of this title in the Litany of Loreto (1980) and published other formularies in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1986). Some countries, dioceses and religious families who petitioned the Holy See were allowed to add this celebration to their particular calendars.
Having attentively considered how greatly the promotion of this devotion 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.
This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.
The Memorial therefore is to appear in all Calendars and liturgical books for the celebration of Mass and of the Liturgy of the Hours. The relative liturgical texts are attached to this decree and their translations, prepared and approved by the Episcopal Conferences, will be published after confirmation by this Dicastery.
Where the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, is already celebrated on a day with a higher liturgical rank, approved according to the norm of particular law, in the future it may continue to be celebrated in the same way.
Anything to the contrary notwithstanding.
Cardinal Robert Sarah
+ Arthur Roche