The veneration of Mary as Mother of the Church has ancient roots
Q: I heard something about a new Marian feast day happening in May. What’s the story?
A: On February 11, 2018, Pope Francis issued a decree establishing the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, to be celebrated every year on the Monday following Pentecost (May 21 this year).
While the universal feast may be new, the veneration of Mary as Mother of the Church has ancient roots. Pope Francis has simply recognized in an official way something the church has believed ever since the time of the apostles. Let’s look back at some key historical moments to better understand the graces Pope Francis hopes we will experience through this new universal celebration.
Jesus himself gave Mary a special ministry in the church and a particular relationship to all Christians as disciples of her Son, as can be seen in Scripture.
In the Gospel of Luke, Mary is presented as the exemplary disciple who “hears the word of God and observes it.”
(Luke 11:28, see 1:38, 45) Luke also relates how Mary the disciple becomes Mary the missionary when she goes in haste to visit Elizabeth after the Annunciation. (Luke 1:39-45) Through her faithful obedience and apostolic zeal, Mary gives us a good example to follow.
In the Gospel of John, Mary is presented at two important moments in Jesus’ life and ministry: the wedding at Cana and the Crucifixion. (John 2:1-10 and 19:25-27)
At the wedding at Cana, Mary demonstrates her concern for the couple by interceding with her Son on their behalf. Her utter confidence in the power of Jesus’ word is captured by her declaration of faith: “Do whatever he tells you.”
At the Crucifixion, Jesus entrusts his mother to the Beloved Disciple (“Behold, your mother”). This represents the enduring gift of Jesus’ mother to all disciples. Our Lord then “hands over the Spirit” to the church standing at the foot of the cross. (John 19:30) The Spirit of Jesus that dwells in the hearts of all disciples can truly call out to Mary as “Mother,” and Mary can see in all disciples the Spirit of Jesus and call out to them as “Son.” Pope Francis teaches us that this moment forms the basis for a lasting relationship between Mary and the church.
Disciples must respond to this great gift of Jesus by receiving Mary just as the Beloved Disciple did. In John 19:27, we are told that “from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” This means much more than just giving Mary a spare room in his house. It really means that the disciple took her into his thoughts, decisions and daily affairs (the Greek word translated home — idia — gives us the English word idea and means something different from the physical structure of a house). The disciple accepted Mary as a part of his entire world.
That is a powerful response! And it is the response Jesus wants from all of us.
Mary’s identity and ministry as Mother of the Church is further exemplified and strengthened in the Acts of the Apostles, where we are told she was praying with the apostles in the upper room and was present when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost and the church began its mission. (Acts 1:14 and 2:1)
Because of the manifold ministries in the work of salvation which Jesus gave to Mary, several popes have referred to her with terms such as Mother of Disciples, Mother of the Faithful, Mother of Believers and so forth. During the Second Vatican Council in 1964, Pope Paul VI formally declared Mary Mother of the Church.
Mary is most authentically understood in relationship to her Son, Jesus. She is sent by her Son to comfort us with the same care she showed him when she held him as the babe in Bethlehem and as the crucified Lord taken down from the cross. She constantly intercedes for us with her Son so that we can receive grace and mercy in our time of need. She always leads us to her Son and shows us how to live as missionary disciples.
Jesus willed that Mary have this relationship with us in the life of the church, so he gave us his mother from the cross. It is up to us to accept that relationship and her presence in our daily lives so we can fully experience the grace-filled ministry of her prayer and example.
As the Holy Father stated in his decree, “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 the Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.”
Thank you, Pope Francis! Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - May 2018
Daniel Mueggenborg is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle. Send your questions to email@example.com.