Mary, Mother of the Church
Pope Francis very recently declared that a new obligatory memorial is to be celebrated in honor of our Blessed Mother under the title: Mary, Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesiae). Fittingly, this memorial will take place on the Monday following Pentecost Sunday. The decree was signed on February 11th (the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes) and released this past Saturday, March 3rd, 2018, by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Of course, Mary was there at the start of the Church: when Jesus entrusted the beloved disciple to Her at the foot of the Cross (cf John 19:25-27) and in the Cenacle, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, and all those gathered with them, at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).
This title of Our Lady, has its origins in early Church Fathers: St. Ambrose in the 4th century, whose Mariology Fr. Hugo Rahner rediscovered and brought to light, St. Augustine, “[who said] 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 [Pope St. Leo the Great said] 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” [from Pope Francis’ decree]. The Holy Father also explains how:
“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.”
In recent history, we’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work to bring this title for His spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the full consciousness of the Church. The Papal Magisterium, no doubt inspired by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, cooperated with this! And, when the Papal Magisterium, through the years, puts emphasis on something, you better believe it’s important.
There have been some notable milestones among these developments:
- Lumen Gentium: When Blessed Pope Paul VI promulgated the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (LG) in 1964, he proclaimed the Blessed Virgin “Mother of the Church”, for as LG 61 states, “she is a mother to us in the order of grace.”
- Votive Mass: As well, a votive Mass was proposed on the 1975 Holy Year of Reconciliation to honor Beata Maria Ecclesiae Matre and was subsequently added to the Roman Missal.
- Litany of Loreto: In 1980, St. John Paul II added the Mother of the Church title to the Litany of Loreto, a highly indulgenced Marian litany commonly recited after the rosary.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Catechism devotes paragraph 6 “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church” (and subsequent subparagraphs) of Article 9 “I Believe in the Holy Catholic Church”, to her motherhood with regard to the Church as well: wholly united to her Son, in her Assumption, and also in the order of grace.
- Monastery founded: In the 1990s, St. John Paul II also founded the Mater Ecclesiae monastery at the Vatican, which is where Pope Benedict XVI now lives.
- Pope Benedict: calls Mary, Mother of the Church, recalling Blessed Paul VI’s devotion.*
So, what’s the purpose of this decree promulgating this obligatory memorial? According to the Vatican News, Cardinal Robert Sarah “said the Holy Father wishes to promote this devotion in order to “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”.** Why now? Because, if ever we needed the help, direction, and example of our Blessed Mother in this world lacking a firm foundation in Christ Jesus, a world adrift in a morass of sin and moral relativism, a world which calls good evil and evil good, it is now.
May She ever be Our Mother!
Art for this post on Mary, Mother of the Church: Pentecost – Stiftskirche in Hechingen (Collegiate Church in Hechingen), Fidelis Schabet, between 1846 and 1848, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.