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Apostle of the Two Hearts

Apostle of the Two Hearts

“You must never separate what God has so perfectly united. So closely are Jesus and Mary bound up with each other that whoever beholds Jesus sees Mary; whoever loves Jesus, loves Mary; whoever has devotion to Jesus, has devotion to Mary.”

– St John Eudes

(Statue depicting Saint John Eudes in the central nave of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome)

In her writings and memoirs, Sister Lucia of Fatima records that in the years following the ‘public’ appearances of Our Lady at Fatima, she received a number of further messages and revelations. Amongst these was one in 1932, during which the Lord Jesus told her that He wished the Church “to place devotion to this Immaculate Heart alongside devotion to My Sacred Heart”

This was not, in fact, a new call – as far back as the middle of the Seventeenth Century, one man had been making precisely the same request, with varied degrees of success. That man was Father John Eudes, a French Priest who would later be declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925; and since then, there have been calls to have Saint John Eudes declared a Doctor of the Church. Indeed, in 2017, a dossier compiled by the Eudists and supported by the Episcopal Conferences of seven different nations, was given to our Holy Father Pope Francis.

Father Eudes was initially a Priest of the Congregation of the Oratory of Jesus and Mary Immaculate – the Oratorians– who were founded by Cardinal de Bérulle and influential in the French Schoolof spirituality. He preached numerous missions and tended to the victims of plague. Father Olier, founder of the Sulpicians, later called him “the prodigy of his age”. Father Eudes was very concerned at the need for spiritual improvement for Priests, because of which he founded a number of seminaries, where future Priests could be appropriately trained. He also founded a number of confraternities in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, receiving Papal recognition and blessing in the process.

As his work progressed, he saw a need to work with prostitutes and so in 1641, he founded a religious congregation called the Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, receiving diocesan approval and, finally, Papal approval in 1666.

In 1643, Father Eudes left the Oratorians and established the Congregation of Jesus and Mary – not a religious order but a ‘society of apostolic life’– later to become known as the Eudists, whose principal works are giving missions and the training of Priests.

His spirituality was greatly influenced by the French school, by the writings of St Francis de Sales, and by the revelations given to St Gertrude and St Mechtilde by the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  This devotion to the Sacred Heart was, at that time, very much a private devotion; Father Eudes wanted it to become an established part of the Church as a whole. To this end, he wrote several Masses in honour of the Sacred Heart, and these were eventually accepted and became widely known. It was for this reason that proclaiming his heroic virtue in 1903 as part of the process leading to canonisation, Pope St Leo XIII called him the“author of the liturgical worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the holy Heart of Mary”.

At his beatification in 1908, Pope Pius X said –

“But his services to the Church received a vast increase when, burning with a singular love for the most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, he was the first to think, not without some divine inspiration, of offering to Them liturgical worship.”

During the course of his life, Father Eudes wrote widely on devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary and his view was always that these two devotions were essentially one, and should always be together. His book, ‘The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God’, was the first work to address this. Hias written works gained some prominence during his life and much more afterwards, leading Cardinal Vives to note –

“I was acquainted with the Doctors of the Order of Saint Francis; I was acquainted with Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, the mystical writers of my own country, Spain; but I was completely ignorant of the writings of Father Eudes. As a member of the Sacred Congregation of Rites it was my duty to study his life and his works, and I am in admiration. Blessed John Eudes must be ranked with the great lights of the Church. His spiritual doctrine is profound and of wonderful exactitude. He is one of the writers who has best propounded the doctrine of the Gospel.”

In 1930, an anonymous Oblate of Mary Immacualte wrote a short book entitled ‘Devotion to the Immculate Heart of Mary’, in which there is this –

“It was reserved for Saint John Eudes to be the apostle and chief organiser of this special devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We must remark here, however, that in this holy man’s mind, the two Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary were ever inseparable. For almost thirty years before the revelations of Saint Margaret Mary took place, Saint John had been an apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By word and work, he had laboured to spread that devotion throughout the Church of France..

As, in the divine plan, Mary prepares the way for Jesus, so also in the Church of God, devotion to the Heart of Mary prepared the way for devotion to the Sacred Heart. In Saint John’s view, the ultimate object of all devotion and love is the adorable Heart of our Saviour, but, the best means of attaining that object is the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. Wherefore, he first set to work to preach and organise devotion to the Heart of Mary. And of that devotion he is the apostle par excellence, for when he began in 1641 it was scarcely known, but when he died (1680), it existed in a flourishing condition in most of the dioceses of France.”

The feast of Saint John Eudes is celebrated today, 19th August.

Saint John Eudes, apostle of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, pray for us.

The Light From Her Hands

The Light From Her Hands

Tell everybody that God grants graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask Her for them.”

– Saint Jacinta Marto

The story of Fatima is a broad catechesis of the Catholic Faith.

The Angelic appearances in 1916 taught the children the reality of the True Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; of His desire for reparation for the sins committed against Him; of the value of penance and what it can achieve; and of the intense need for prayer.

The appearances of the Blessed Virgin emphasised the need for prayer, especially that of the Rosary; the revelation of the devotion to Her Immaculate Heart as a refuge for sinners, as expressly willed by God; of the effects of sin, in the order of nature as well as in the order of grace; and the reality of Hell with the subsequent the loss of many souls.

One of the details of Fatima, which we can easily overlook, reveals something else – another aspect of the Catholic Faith which, although not yet proclaimed dogmatically, nonetheless is a belief held by a great many of the faithful and also taught from time to time in the ordinary Magisterium of the Church. And it is this – that Mary, the Mother of God, is the Mediatrix of Grace. But how is this evidenced in the Fatima appearances?

The Blessed Virgin appeared to the three children in the Cova d’Iria on six different occasions, once each month.

Lucia tells us that She –

“was more brilliant than the sun and radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it”.

Lucia wrote that she and her two little cousins –

“were so close, just a few feet from Her, that we were bathed in that light which surrounded Her, or rather, which radiated from Her“.

During four of those monthly appearances, the beautiful Lady did something which – by nature of it’s repetition – was clearly important and held great meaning – She opened Her hands and transmitted a heavenly light.

On Her first appearance, on 13 May 1917, She told the children She was ‘from Heaven’, asked them to return monthly, and then asked if they would willingly suffer in reparation for sins and for the conversion of sinners; the children gave their consent and the Lady said they would have much to suffer but would be comforted by the grace of God.

Lucia tells us the Lady then opened Her hands and, for the first time, She communicated an intense light which penetrated the children to their very souls, allowing them to see themselves in God, Who was that light. The experience was overwhelming and they fell to their knees and began to pray in praise of the Most Holy Trinity. The Lady then asked them to pray the Rosary every day and She disappeared.

At the second appearance, on 13 June 1917, the Lady promised to take Jacinta and Francisco to Heaven soon but added that Jesus wanted Lucia to remain on earth a while longer, to establish in the world the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Saddened to think she would have to remain alone, without her little cousins, the Lady told Lucia –

“Do not lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”

As She said this, She again opened Her hands and communicated the heavenly light for a second time. In this moment, the children saw themselves ‘immersed in God’- Jacinta and Francisco in the portion of light which rose toward Heaven, whilst Lucia was in the portain that was poured out upon the earth. Lucia noted afterwards that as this was taking place, they saw a Heart encircled by thorns which pierced it, and they understood this to be the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged terribly and seeking reparation.

On the third appearance, on 13 July 1917, Lucia asked the Lady to cure some people; She then said this –

“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice, ‘O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary’.”

And then, for a third time, She opened Her hands and communicated the heavenly light. This time, it penetrated the earth, revealing a sea of fire which is Hell, in which there were both demons and human souls, the latter shrieking in pain and despair. The children looked to the Lady, who said –

“You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace..”

She went on to predict the end of the War but also the arrival of a second one if people did not listen to Her, and She then promised that in the end –

“My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

Finally, on the sixth appearance, on 13 October 1917, the Lady revealed Herself to be the ‘Lady of the Rosary’ before speaking one last time –

“Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already too much offended.”

 She then opened Her hands a fourth time, the light streaming from them and onto the Sun. And in the minutes which followed, the great Miracle of the Sun took place.

The entire message of Fatima is an echo for our times of the message of the Gospel – it is a call to believe in God and to adore Him; to see our sins and their effects; to do penance and to make reparation for them – not only for our own sins, but for the sins of others; and to this end, to pray – especially the Rosary – and to offer sacrifices; and all of this to be done as a mark and a means of interior conversion and of our turning back to God.

This Lady brighter than the sun who came to Fatima in 1917 radiated and transmitted a heavenly light, each time communicating graces to the three children. The Lady was not the sourceof the light, for the light is the Light of Christ, Her Son – He alone is the Light of the World (cf. John 8:12). But She is the purest Mirror of Divine Grace and so She reflects this heavenly light without blemish or spot, for She is entirely immaculate. This heavenly light is the grace of God and She is it’s Mediatrix.

As noted, this role of Mary as ‘Mediatrix of All Grace’ has not (yet) been declared a dogma of the Catholic Faith; however – and this is very important – it does already feature as part of the Ordinary Magisteriumof the Church. There have been calls since at least 1896 for this title to be declared dogmatically, and in 1921 the Holy See approved an annual feast to be celebrated in Belgium honouring the Blessed Virgin as ‘Mediatrix Of All Graces’. At the Second Vatican Council, the proposal was discussed but the decision was made not to proceed at that time and the Fathers noted clearly – and rightly – that “This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator”, which is perfectly correct. Calls for a dogmatic definition continue to this day.

It is worth noting, too, that when She appeared in 1830 to Saint Catherine Labouré to give the world the Miraculous Medal, the Blessed Virgin explained the streams of light radiating from Her hands and down upon the globe representing the world –

‘This is the symbol of the graces which will be poured out upon the persons who ask them of Me.’

Clearly, then, Heaven desires that graces be distributed by the Blessed Virgin according to Her good will and She has the freedom to dispense them as She wishes. If we ask Her for graces, She will obtain them for us.

Saint Jacinta Marto continued to see the Blessed Virgin after the public appearances at Fatima and she later said to Lucia –

“tell everybody that God grants graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask Her for them”.

 This very young – and deeply holy – child had grasped clearly the meaning of the light radiating from the Blessed Virgin.

Other Saints before Jacinta also grasped this role of the Mother of God, including Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote –

“Jesus is the Mediator of justice; Mary obtains for us grace; for, as St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Germanus, St. Antoninus, and others say, it is the will of God to dispense through the hands of Mary whatever Graces He is pleased to bestow upon us. With God, the prayers of the saints are the prayers of His friends, but the prayers of Mary are the prayers of His Mother.”

 Pope Leo XIII had this to say in his 1891 encyclical on the Rosary, entitled ‘Octobri Mense’

“With equal truth may it also be affirmed that, by the will of God, Mary is the intermediary through whom is distributed unto us this immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for mercy and truth were created by Jesus Christ.”

 And Pope Paul VI, writing in April 1965 in his encyclical letter ‘Mense Maio’, said this –

“He (God) has appointed Mary most holy as the generous steward of His merciful gifts”.

Pope John Paul II spoke at some length on the subject of the mediation of Mary in his General Audience given on 1st October 1997 –

“Among the titles attributed to Mary in the Church’s devotion, chapter eight of Lumen Gentium recalls that of “Mediatrix”. Although some Council Fathers did not fully agree with this choice of title (cf. Acta Synodalia III, 8, 163-164), it was nevertheless inserted into the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church as confirmation of the value of the truth it expresses. Care was therefore taken not to associate it with any particular theology of mediation, but merely to list it among Mary’s other recognized titles. 

 Moreover the conciliar text had already described the meaning of the title “Mediatrix” when it said that Mary ‘by Her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation’ (Lumen gentium, n. 62). As I recalled in my Encyclical Redemptoris Mater: ‘Mary’s mediation is intimately linked with Her motherhood. It possesses a specifically maternal character, which distinguishes it from the mediation of the other creatures’ (n. 38). From this point of view it is unique in its kind and singularly effective.”

And so at Fatima, the Blessed Virgin used the imagery of the light streaming from Her hands as a reminder to us of Her particular role in God’s plan of Salvation; She mediates His divine graces to us as She chooses, for the Lord has willed that this be so. Her Immaculate Heart is moved with love for us and in this way reflects the love of the Sacred Heart of Her Son, with which Her own Immaculate Heart is singularly and intimately acquainted. And in doing all this, She reveals something of the desires of Heaven, and echoes the thinking and mind of the Church upon earth, which does indeed consider Her to be the Mediatrix of grace, even if that role has not – so far, at least – been dogmatically proclaimed.

Knowing all this, let us ask the intercession of this Immaculate Heart in obtaining for us all the graces we need.

 

 

Assumed Into Heaven

Assumed Into Heaven

“And a great sign appeared in the Heavens, a Woman clothed with the sun”

– Rev.12

Each year on 15th August, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven. In fact, the Church declared the Assumption to be a Dogma of the Catholic Church only fairly recently, with the proclamation of the Apostolic Constitution ‘Munificentissimus Deus’ by Pope Pius XII on 1st November of the Great Jubilee Year of 1950.

But what is the meaning of this feast and what does it say to us?

The preparatory work before the proclamation of the Dogma included a letter, Deiparae Virginis Mariae’, sent by the Pope to all the Bishops of the world in 1946. He sought their opinion on whether or not this event was truly worthy of being proclaimed dogmatically and whether it was indeed contained in the Deposit of Faith. He noted the calls from the Fathers of the First Vatican Council, and of many others in the years since then, and commented on the almost unanimous affirmative response” from the Bishops – and the faithful – that the Dogma should be proclaimed. And so he wrote –

“Thus, from the universal agreement of the Church’s ordinary teaching authority we have a certain and firm proof, demonstrating that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven – which surely no faculty of the human mind could know by its own natural powers, as far as the heavenly glorification of the virginal body of the loving Mother of God is concerned – is a truth that has been revealed by God and consequently something that must be firmly and faithfully believed by all children of the Church.”

Pope Pius wrote his Apostolic Constitution just five years after the end of the Second World War, referring to this period as one weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue”; and yet despite this, he notes that the Faith was strong and devotion to the Blessed Virgin was flourishing.

He referred to the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854 – just four years before the Blessed Virgin would appear at Lourdes and declare Herself to be ‘the Immaculate Conception’. In this way, Pope Pius XII linked the one to the other, speaking about how “all the privileges and prerogatives (God) had granted to Her in His sovereign generosity were to shine forth in Her in a kind of perfect harmony”. And so, in the mind of the Church, there is indeed a clear link between the two events – the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. As Pius writes – “these two privileges are most closely bound to one another”. He speaks about the ‘general rule’ that in death, our bodies suffer the corruption of the tomb, but with the expectation of the resurrection of the body at the end of time. However –

“God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by Her Immaculate Conception, and as a result She was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and She did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of Her body.”

Later in his document, the Holy Father quoted the words of Saint John Damascene on why it was fitting that such a privilege should be accorded to the Blessed Virgin –

“It was fitting that She, who had kept Her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep Her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that She, who had carried the Creator as a child at Her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the Spouse, whom the Father had taken to Himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that She, who had seen Her Son upon the Cross and who had thereby received into Her Heart the sword of sorrow which She had escaped in the act of giving birth to Him, should look upon Him as He sits with the Father. It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to Her Son, and that She should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.”

He also added that –

“the scholastic Doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as something signified, not only in various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that Woman clothed with the sun whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos.”

Adding the thoughts and arguments of many great and illustrious Saints and Doctors of the Church across the centuries (among them, St Anthony of Padua, St Bernadine of Sienna, St Peter Canisius and St Francis de Sales) the Holy Father wrote –

“Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination,(47) immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages.”

Pope Pius concluded with his solemn proclamation –

“After we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished His special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of Her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of Her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”

As Catholics, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary body and soul into Heaven represents one thing further – it is a sign of hope for the Church generally and for each member individually.

Mary is often referred to as the ‘typus’ or ‘model’ of the Church, so that as the pre-eminent member of this Church, what is accorded to Her own person is reflected in some way in what is accorded to the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, in the future if not at the present moment. And so if Mary enjoys the glory of Heaven in both body and soul, then one day, at the end of time, so shall the Church live fully and completely in the Presence of God. And so shall we, as the members of that Church; for in the Creed, we profess our belief that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. In other words, what the Blessed Virgin Mary enjoys presently, we hope to enjoy also, one day.

And so, in summary, this great feast of the Assumption tells us three things –

Firstly, that this is a unique privilege accorded to the Blessed Virgin by Almighty God; it is closely linked to – and flows from – Her Immaculate Conception and so can be thought of as the last fruit of that divine privilege.

Secondly, it is a truth acclaimed not only by the Pope and the Bishops, but also by the faithful of the Church – this unity is itself a testament to the workings of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

And thirdly, it is a sign of hope for each of us – that one day we, too, will enjoy the beatific vision and that at the end of time, God will reunite our souls and bodies and we will live in His Presence forever.

Our Lady, Queen assumed into Heaven, pray for us.

The Protection of Mary

The Protection of Mary

“Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.963

The deep devotion of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to the Mother of God has been very clear for a long time now. Of note, before and after every trip, he recommends himself to Her protection at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, before the holy image of Our Lady as ‘Salus Populi Romanii’. Consequently, it was of no real surprise that, at the beginning of this month, he asked all the faithful to join him in recommending the entire Church to Her motherly intercession and protection.

The Marian devotion of many Popes through the years has been evident – perhaps we might think especially here of Saint John Paul II, who was greatly devoted to the Blessed Virgin.

The place of Mary in the Church is also clearly detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which tells us –

“After Her Son’s Ascension, Mary ‘aided the beginnings of the Church by Her prayers’ .. By Her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to His Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus She is a ‘preeminent and .. wholly unique member of the Church’; indeed, She is the ‘exemplary realisation’ (typus) of the Church.. Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. ‘In a wholly singular way She cooperated by Her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Saviour’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason She is a mother to us in the order of grace’.” (Catechism, parae.965-968)

And so for all these reasons, Mary is deeply concerned with the mission of the Church and the salvation of souls. It was precisely for this that Her Son came into the world and gave His life for us.

What is interesting is that the Pope made a point of asking the faithful to place the Church under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, and so uniting with an intention which is dear to his heart and which he obviously feels is deeply important in these days. And it does seem that the faithful have, for the most part, done as the Holy Father requested. Such a treasury of prayerful petition arising to Heaven like incense will certainly bring about what it requests, for the Blessed Virgin will surely obtain grace and protection for the Mystical Body of Her Son.

What would be really lovely now, of course, would be for the faithful to continue this salutary practice long after this month is over; it is always a good thing to ask the help and protection of the Mother of God. Perhaps in these days, we will all have benefitted from the Pope’s gentle but insistent reminder to ask Her help.

 

 

Mary, Mother of the Church

Mary, Mother of the Church

“O blessed Mother of the Church,You warm our hearts with the Spirit of Your Son, Jesus Christ

(Gospel acclamation, Mass of Mary, Mother of the Church)

“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.”

Beginning with these words, Pope Francis announced a new feast day for the universal Church – that of Mary, Mother of the Church. The decree was published on 11th February 2018, the 160th Anniversary of the first Appearance of the Blessed Virgin at the Grotto of Lourdes.

The announcement was made by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, stating that from this year onwards, the entire Church will celebrate this new and universal feast day on the Monday after Pentecost. Previously, some congregations and some areas had celebrated such a feast locally, and the Vatican had even introduced a votive Mass in 1975, in honour of ‘Blessed Mary, Mother of the Church’. But the decree of Pope Francis makes the new feast universal, to be celebrated throughout the entire Church, on the Monday after Pentecost, and taking precedence over any other feast which may fall on that day. Expressing clearly the reason for the new feast, it said this –

“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 feast itself may be new, but the title itself is an ancient and venerable one.

An icon of ‘Mary, Mother of the Church’.

“For the glory of the Virgin and our consolation, we proclaim Mary the Most Holy Mother of the Church, that is, the Mother of the whole People of God, both the faithful and the pastors.”

With these words, bestowing upon the Blessed Virgin Mary the official title of ‘Mother of the Church’, Blessed Pope Paul VI closed the third phase of the Second Vatican Council, on 21st November 1964. That same day, the Holy Father had promulgated ‘Lumen Gentium‘, the ‘Dogmatic Constitution On The Church’; the eighth chapter of this beautiful document speaks of the proper place of the Blessed Virgin in the life of the Church and of the people of God.

The title of ‘Mother of the Church’ had, however, been used much, much earlier than this – it’s first known use was in the 4th Century, by the great Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. In fact, this preaching of St Ambrose influenced Pope Paul in bestowing the title officially. Twelve hundred years after St Ambrose, it was used by Pope Benedict XIV, in 1748 (cf. Bullarium Romanum, series 2, t.2, n.61, p.428).

In 1980, the Holy See gave permission for the insertion of the invocation ‘Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us’, into the Litany of Loretto.

Twenty three years after the promulgation by Pope Paul, on the feast of the Annunciation, 25th March 1984, Pope John Paul II consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and also published his encyclical ‘Redemptoris Mater’, ‘On The Blessed Virgin Mary In The Life Of The Pilgrim Church’. In this, he announced his intention to call a Marian Year; and he took up – and expanded upon – some of the themes of his predecessor, Pope Paul.

Mosaic of ‘Mater Ecclesiae’ on the walls of the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City, seen from Saint Peter’s Square

He begins by noting that the Church makes it’s pilgrim journey in the company of the Mother of God, who has already made this same journey; Paul had noted that Mary is the preeminent ‘type’ or ‘model’ of the Church. Pope John Paul then refers back to the Second Vatican Council, which he had attended –

“The Second Vatican Council prepares us for this by presenting in its teaching the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and of the Church. If it is true, as the Council itself proclaims, that ‘only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light,’ then this principle must be applied in a very particular way to that exceptional ‘daughter of the human race,’ that extraordinary ‘Woman’ who became the Mother of Christ. Only in the mystery of Christ is Her mystery fully made clear. Thus has the Church sought to interpret it from the very beginning: the mystery of the Incarnation has enabled her to penetrate and to make ever clearer the mystery of the Mother of the Incarnate Word.” (Redemptoris Mater, #4)

Pope John Paul later adds this reminder of the words from the Council, repeating and emphasising this title give by Pope Paul –

“At the Council Paul VI solemnly proclaimed that Mary is the Mother of the Church, ‘that is, Mother of the entire Christian people, both faithful and pastors.’ Later, in 1968, in the Profession of Faith known as the ‘Credo of the People of God’ he restated this truth in an even more forceful way in these words: ‘We believe that the Most Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, the Mother of the Church, carries on in heaven Her maternal role with regard to the members of Christ, cooperating in the birth and development of divine life in the souls of the redeemed’.” (Redemptoris Mater, #47)

There is great joy in contemplating the role of Mary as Mother of the Church – it applies to all of us as the People of God, as well as to each one of us individually and personally. How fortunate we are to have such a sublime Mother! May we never fail to seek the maternal intercession of this heavenly Mother, who unfailingly comes to our assistance. And as She brings Her Son to each of us, so may She take each of us to Him.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.


O God, Father of mercies,
whose Only Begotten Son, as He hung upon the Cross,
chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, His Mother,
to be our Mother also,
grant, we pray, that with Her loving help
Your Church may be more fruitful day by day
and, exulting in the holiness of her children,
may draw to her embrace all the families of the peoples.
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Concluding Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours
for the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church)

The Most Important Title

The Most Important Title

“Mary kept all these things,
pondering them in Her Heart”

(Lk 2:19)

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
1st January 2018

“The year opens in the name of the Mother.  Mother of God is the most important title of Our Lady.  But we might ask why we say Mother of God, and not Mother of Jesus.  In the past some wanted to be content simply with the latter, but the Church has declared that Mary is the Mother of God.  We should be grateful, because these words contain a magnificent truth about God and about ourselves.  From the moment that Our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, He took on our humanity.  There is no longer God without man; the flesh Jesus took from His Mother is our own, now and for all eternity.  To call Mary the Mother of God reminds us of this: God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the mother who bears him in her womb.

The word mother (mater) is related to the word matter.  In His Mother, the God of Heaven, the infinite God, made Himself small, He became matter, not only to be with us but also to be like us.  This is the miracle, the great novelty!  Man is no longer alone; no more an orphan, but forever a child.  The year opens with this novelty.  And we proclaim it by saying: Mother of God!  Ours is the joy of knowing that our solitude has ended.  It is the beauty of knowing that we are beloved children, of knowing that this childhood of ours can never be taken away from us.  It is to see a reflection of ourselves in the frail and infant God resting in His Mother’s arms, and to realize that humanity is precious and sacred to the Lord.  Henceforth, to serve human life is to serve God.  All life, from life in the mother’s womb to that of the elderly, the suffering and the sick, and to that of the troublesome and even repellent, is to be welcomed, loved and helped.

Let us now be guided by today’s Gospel.  Only one thing is said about the Mother of God: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in Her Heart” (Lk 2:19).  She kept them.  She simply kept; Mary does not speak.  The Gospel does not report a single word of Hers in the entire account of Christmas.  Here too, the Mother is one with Her Son: Jesus is an “infant”, a child “unable to speak”.  The Word of God, who “long ago spoke in many and various ways” (Heb 1:1), now, in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), is silent.  The God before whom all fall silent is himself a speechless child.  His Majesty is without words; His mystery of love is revealed in lowliness. This silence and lowliness is the language of His kingship.  His Mother joins Her Son and keeps these things in silence.

That silence tells us that, if we would “keep” ourselves, we need silence.  We need to remain silent as we gaze upon the crib.  Pondering the crib, we discover anew that we are loved; we savour the real meaning of life.  As we look on in silence, we let Jesus speak to our heart.  His lowliness lays low our pride; His poverty challenges our outward display; His tender love touches our hardened hearts.  To set aside a moment of silence each day to be with God is to “keep” our soul; it is to “keep” our freedom from being corroded by the banality of consumerism, the blare of commercials, the stream of empty words and the overpowering waves of empty chatter and loud shouting.

The Gospel goes on to say that Mary kept all these things, pondering them in Her Heart.  What were these things?  They were joys and sorrows.  On the one hand, the birth of Jesus, the love of Joseph, the visit of the shepherds, that radiant night.  But on the other, an uncertain future, homelessness “because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7), the desolation of rejection, the disappointment of having to give birth to Jesus in a stable.  Hopes and worries, light and darkness: all these things dwelt in the Heart of Mary.  What did She do?  She pondered them, that is to say She dwelt on them, with God, in Her Heart.  She held nothing back; She locked nothing within out of self-pity or resentment.  Instead, She gave everything over to God.  That is how She “kept” those things.  We “keep” things when we hand them over: by not letting our lives become prey to fear, distress or superstition, by not closing our hearts or trying to forget, but by turning everything into a dialogue with God.  God, who keeps us in His Heart, then comes to dwell in our lives.

These, then, are the secrets of the Mother of God: silently treasuring all things and bringing them to God.  And this took place, the Gospel concludes, in Her Heart.  The heart makes us look to the core of the person, his or her affections and life.  At the beginning of the year, we too, as Christians on our pilgrim way, feel the need to set out anew from the centre, to leave behind the burdens of the past and to start over from the things that really matter.  Today, we have before us the point of departure: the Mother of God.  For Mary is exactly what God wants us to be, what He wants His Church to be: a Mother who is tender and lowly, poor in material goods and rich in love, free of sin and united to Jesus, keeping God in our hearts and our neighbour in our lives.  To set out anew, let us look to our Mother.  In Her Heart beats the heart of the Church.  Today’s feast tells us that if we want to go forward, we need to turn back: to begin anew from the crib, from the Mother who holds God in Her arms.

Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life.  Looking to the Mother, we are asked to leave behind all sorts of useless baggage and to rediscover what really matters. The gift of the Mother, the gift of every mother and every woman, is most precious for the Church, for she too is mother and woman.  While a man often abstracts, affirms and imposes ideas, a woman, a mother, knows how to “keep”, to put things together in her heart, to give life.  If our faith is not to be reduced merely to an idea or a doctrine, all of us need a mother’s heart, one which knows how to keep the tender love of God and to feel the heartbeat of all around us.  May the Mother, God’s finest human creation, guard and keep this year, and bring the peace of Her Son to our hearts and to our world.”