“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.
“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.
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)