In the year 2018, Pope Francis decreed that the ancient devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Mother of the Church, be inserted into the Roman calendar. He raised the celebration of Mary Mother of the Church from the rank of a votive mass to an obligatory memorial to be celebrated a day after Pentecost. The Holy Father wished 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”.
The Church has several ranks of celebrations; there are Solemnities, Feasts, Memorials and Votive masses. Votive masses are celebrated for special intentions and are optional but by raising this feast to an obligatory memorial the Holy Father has highlighted this title of Our Blessed Mother as a 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.
History of this celebration
The veneration of Mary as Mother of the Church goes back to St Augustine (354 – 430) and St Leo the Great (440-461). St. Augustine 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 St. Leo the Great 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.”
On 21 November 1964, at the conclusion of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Council Pope (Saint) Paul VI declared Our Blessed Mother as the ‘ Mother of the Church’, that is to say of all Christian people, the faithful as well as the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother” and established that “the Mother of God should be further honoured and invoked by the entire Christian people by this tenderest of titles”.
In 1975 during the Holy Year of reconciliation, the Church inserted the votive mass of Mary the Mother of the Church into the Roman Missal. In 2018 this votive mass (or mass for a special intention) was raised to a obligatory memorial by Pope Francis.
What do we mean by the Church as a Mystical Body?
When we speak of the Church we speak of her as the Mystical Body of Christ. The Church is the union of all Christians into one spiritual body of Jesus Christ. Therefore Jesus does not live apart from his Church. By Baptism we become a part of this mystical body. When people speak of the Church as sinful they are woefully wrong because the Church may have members who are sinful but the Church is Christ’s body and that cannot and never be sinful. To this Church, Mary is now honoured as mother.
The Church is also called Mother
We are born by the Church; we receive new life in and through her at Baptism. It is this Church that embraces us like a mother does via the sacraments; outward signs of inward grace. Like we do with our earthly mother, we run to the Church in need.
At a very practical level what does this mean for us?
We need to deal with Mary in the way she wants to be treated, as mother. In the Indian context we see several deities worshipped as goddesses in other religions. The presentations of these deities are seen in their personification of strength and beauty or bringers of wealth. Mary is no goddess! She is simply given to us as mother and it is this attribute that draws so many in India to her. She is approachable and like any mother loving and simple.
As mother she is totally as the service of the Church. It is to her that we run as we would with our earthly mothers to find comfort and she is always there for us. She is available to those most in need of the mercy of her son. As mother, she leads us in the right direction; to her son. In John 2 at the wedding at Cana she does not draw attention to herself even though it was she who was sensitive to the needs of the couple. She tells the stewards to do whatever HE asks you. It is she who holds us by the hand in order to lead us to her son and to the Church. At Cana, John calls her by her title, “the mother of Jesus was there”. Why does he do that? Because she is not the source of divine power, Jesus is! She simply takes us to the source of all blessing and grace.
Mary becomes the mother of the Church at the foot of the cross. It is here that she accepts her sons last will and testament when he says to her “woman, behold your son.” In the acceptance of St John who is also at the foot of the cross, she embraces the whole Church. Her mission as Mother of the Church begins in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. She is at prayer with the twelve. She has not abandoned the Church; she is with them in their hour of fear. She is praying with them and for them. It is for this reason that the memorial has been so thoughtfully situated a day after Pentecost.
References from the Vatican Site. – Could you be so kind as to share your comments and thoughts