Q: Archbishop J, how is Mary Mother of the Church?
Pope Francis, in 2018, instituted the feast Mary, Mother of the Church (May 24). This feast pulls together many mysteries that we are asked to contemplate.
Mary becomes mother of God. The angel said to her: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus … The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:31, 35).
Christmas invites us to contemplate this mystery. A baby is born in a manger to a virgin and a carpenter. Two thousand years later, we have not begun to scratch to surface of this profound mystery.
Motherhood of Mary
Mary becomes mother a second time. In St John’s Gospel we read: “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’. From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19: 26–27).
A new son is entrusted to Mary—the beloved disciple. It is interesting to note here, Jesus refers to Mary, not as mother but as woman. This is done twice in John’s Gospel. First at the wedding feast of Cana, and then at the foot of the cross.
To understand Jesus’ use of ‘woman’, we need to go back to Genesis. In this first book of the Bible, Eve is called woman 11 times—in Chapters two and three. At the time of the Fall, God says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:16).
In the wedding feast of Cana and at the foot of the Cross, Mary is cast as the new Eve, the mother of a new humanity. The first of her children, born at the foot of the cross is the beloved disciple.
After this entrustment of the beloved to Mary, the evangelist says: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished’, and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19: 28–30).
The drinking of the wine ties the cross to Cana and to the Last Supper. Then He says: “It is finished.” A better translation is: “It is consummated.” Here a son, a beloved disciple is born of the woman.
Mother of the Church
After Jesus’ Ascension, we read in the Acts of the Apostles that 120 of the disciples gathered in the upper room. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14).
Here, Mary is cast in a new role. After the finding in the temple, we met her in Cana and twice when the family had concerns about Jesus. From the crucifixion to Pentecost, Mary is clearly in a different role. What has changed?
Mary was the only human who had experienced of the Holy Spirit. She alone knew what it was like to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and to have a relationship with the third person of the Blessed Trinity.
During the days between the Resurrection and Pentecost, Mary (as she gathered in the upper room with the disciples) would have had great influence over the disciples, helping them to be ready for what was to come.
Together, Mary and the disciples are devoted to prayer. Mary would have spoken to them about the mysteries she pondered in her heart (Lk 2:19). They would have shared with her the experiences they had during the three years of ministry. This fruitful exchange prepared the Church for Pentecost.
They speak about Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit: she speaks, not of the promise, but of the reality of the relationship between the human and the Holy Spirit. She speaks to them on what to expect, what it means to be overshadowed and to be in this vital relationship.
Mary had no resistance to the Holy Spirit, so the Holy Spirit did with her everything that was possible and necessary. We have resistance to God, so we need to understand how to cooperate and how to let go and trust.
The early Church taught that Mary already is everything the Church was destined to become. Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit: the Church at Pentecost is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.
Mary gave birth to Jesus; the Church will bring forth Christ in all nations, to all people and in all times.
Mary ponders the sacred mysteries in her heart; the Church ponders these mysteries and brings them to all her children.
In all the iconography of Pentecost, Mary is in the centre of the picture with the apostles around her. The images portray her as presiding over Pentecost.
We call Pentecost the birthday of the Church. If this is so, the Church, which is the Body of Christ, is birthed by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. And, for the second time, with Mary’s fiat, “Let it be done to me according to thy word.”
Now the Paschal mystery has come to a close. A new birth has taken place and the Apostles go forth to mission and to bring Jesus to all nations, just as Mary went to mission bringing Jesus to Elizabeth.
The Decree on the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church, 2018, says:
The Virgin Mary … 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.
Mary is mother of the Church. She teaches us how to be open to the Holy Spirit and to fully cooperate with the design of God.
Ask Mary’s intercession to assist you to be open to the Holy Spirit and to be available for God’s mission.