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Catholic Social Teaching

Mary's Role in Catholic Social Teaching

– Stephen Mackell

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – Papal Encyclical, John Paul II (1987)

Overview of the Document:

Pope John Paul II aims to reassert the teachings of Paul VI through a presentation and recollection of the social principles presented in Populorum Progressio (1967). By announcing once again the ongoing commitment of the Church to practice social justice in the way Christ Jesus revealed it through his teachings, Pope John Paul II expounds upon the work done by his predecessors since Leo XIII published Rerum Novarum in 1891. Through an analysis of the economic and societal development in the two decades since the publication of Populorum Progressio, the Holy Father comments on the role Catholics and responsible global citizens should play as builders of the earthly society.

Mary in the Document:

At the end of this encyclical, Pope John Paul II spends several paragraphs discussing what he views as Mary’s role in the Church’s pursuit of social justice. Pope John Paul II calls upon the Mother of our Savior in order to entrust to her intercession the present difficult social situation. The struggle for the true development of people suffering and disadvantaged in society is a troubling social ill that John Paul II believes can be aided by Mary’s intercession. John Paul II notes that throughout the ages pious people have presented difficult situations to Mary in order that she may place them before her Son. John Paul II states that presenting to Mary the difficult social situations of the time, including poverty, unemployment, shortage of food, the arms race, contempt for human rights, and conflict situations is a way in which we can all echo the ancient antiphon: “Holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.” Ultimately, it is the Pope’s message that Mary’s maternal concern, which extends to the personal and social aspects of all human life on earth, will deliver hope and remedy in the face of any social woe. John Paul II closes the Encyclical with a prayer that expresses his hopes for the future, namely “justice and equality for every human being, an end to all division and a human society built on love and peace.”

Mary section full text:

49. I have called the current Marian Year in order that the Catholic faithful may look more and more to Mary, who goes before us on the pilgrimage of faith90 and with maternal care intercedes for us before her Son, our Redeemer. I wish to entrust to her and to her intercession this difficult moment of the modern world, and the efforts that are being made and will be made, often with great suffering, in order to contribute to the true development of peoples proposed and proclaimed by my predecessor Paul VI.

In keeping with Christian piety through the ages, we present to the Blessed Virgin difficult individual situations, so that she may place them before her Son, asking that he alleviate and change them. But we also present to her social situations and the international crisis itself, in their worrying aspects of poverty, unemployment, shortage of food, the arms race, contempt for human rights, and situations or dangers of conflict, partial or total. In a filial spirit we wish to place all this before her "eyes of mercy," repeating once more with faith and hope the ancient antiphon: "Holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin."

Mary most holy, our Mother and Queen, is the one who turns to her Son and says: "They have no more wine" (Jn 2:3). She is also the one who praises God the Father, because "he has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away" (Lk 1:52-53). Her maternal concern extends to the personal and social aspects of people's life on earth.91

Before the Most Blessed Trinity, I entrust to Mary all that I have written in this encyclical, and I invite all to reflect and actively commit themselves to promoting the true development of peoples, as the prayer of the Mass for this intention states so well: "Father, you have given all peoples one common origin, and your will is to gather them as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of all with the fire of your love, and the desire to ensure justice for all their brothers and sisters. By sharing the good things you give us, may we secure justice and equality for every human being, an end to all division and a human society built on love and peace."92 This, in conclusion, is what I ask in the name of all my brothers and sisters, to whom I send a special blessing as a sign of greeting and good wishes.

[90]. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, n. 58; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Mater (March 25, 1987) nn. 5-6: AAS 79 (1987), pp. 365-367.
[91] . Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (February 2, 1974), n. 37: AAS 66 (1974), pp. 148f.; John Paul II, Homily at the Shrine of Our Lady of Zapopan, Mexico (January 30, 1979), n. 4: AAS 71 (1979), p. 230.
[92] . Collect of the Mass "For the Development of Peoples": Missale Romanum, ed. typ. altera, 1975, p. 820.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church – Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (2004)

Overview of the Document:

The quoted text below from the document’s introduction tells of the general goals of the document. This document serves as a teaching tool and reference point for all those seeking to understand more fully the implications of Jesus’ teachings and the Church’s traditions when it comes to appropriately dealing with the social issues of our day.

8. This document intends to present in a complete and systematic manner, even if by means of an overview, the Church's social teaching, which is the fruit of careful magisterial reflection and an expression of the Church's constant commitment in fidelity to the grace of salvation wrought in Christ and in loving concern for humanity's destiny. Herein the most relevant theological, philosophical, moral, cultural and pastoral considerations of this teaching are systematically presented as they relate to social questions. In this way, witness is borne to the fruitfulness of the encounter between the Gospel and the problems that mankind encounters on its journey through history. In studying this Compendium, it is good to keep in mind that the citations of Magisterial texts are taken from documents of differing authority. Alongside council documents and encyclicals there are also papal addresses and documents drafted by offices of the Holy See. As one knows, but it seems to bear repeating, the reader should be aware that different levels of teaching authority are involved. The document limits itself to putting forth the fundamental elements of the Church's social doctrine, leaving to Episcopal Conferences the task of making the appropriate applications as required by the different local situations.7

9. This document offers a complete overview of the fundamental framework of the doctrinal corpus of Catholic social teaching. This overview allows us to address appropriately the social issues of our day, which must be considered as a whole, since they are characterized by an ever greater interconnectedness, influencing one another mutually and becoming increasingly a matter of concern for the entire human family. The exposition of the Church's social doctrine is meant to suggest a systematic approach for finding solutions to problems, so that discernment, judgment and decisions will correspond to reality, and so that solidarity and hope will have a greater impact on the complexities of current situations. These principles, in fact, are interrelated and shed light on one another mutually, insofar as they are an expression of Christian anthropology,8 fruits of the revelation of God's love for the human person. However, it must not be forgotten that the passing of time and the changing of social circumstances will require a constant updating of the reflections on the various issues raised here, in order to interpret the new signs of the times.

10. The document is presented as an instrument for the moral and pastoral discernment of the complex events that mark our time; as a guide to inspire, at the individual and collective levels, attitudes and choices that will permit all people to look to the future with greater trust and hope; as an aid for the faithful concerning the Church's teaching in the area of social morality.

From this there can spring new strategies suited to the demands of our time and in keeping with human needs and resources. But above all there can arise the motivation to rediscover the vocation proper to the different charisms within the Church that are destined to the evangelization of the social order, because “all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension.”9 In short, the text is proposed as an incentive for dialogue with all who sincerely desire the good of mankind.

11. This document is intended first of all for Bishops, who will determine the most suitable methods for making it known and for interpreting it correctly. It is in fact part of the Bishops' “munus docendi” to teach that “worldly things and human institutions are ordered, according to the plan of God the Creator, towards people's salvation, and that they can therefore make no small contribution to the building up of the Body of Christ.”10 Priests, men and women religious, and, in general, those responsible for formation will find herein a guide for their teaching and a tool for their pastoral service. The lay faithful, who seek the Kingdom of God “by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will,” will find in it enlightenment for their own specific mission. Christian communities will be able to look to this document for assistance in analyzing situations objectively, in clarifying them in the light of the unchanging words of the Gospel, in drawing principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and guidelines for action.12

12. This document is proposed also to the brethren of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, to the followers of other religions, as well as to all people of good will who are committed to serving the common good: may they receive it as the fruit of a universal human experience marked by countless signs of the presence of God's Spirit. It is a treasury of things old and new (cf. Mt 13:52), which the Church wishes to share, in thanksgiving to God, from whom comes “every good endowment and ever perfect gift” (Jas 1:17). It is a sign of hope in the fact that religions and cultures today show openness to dialogue and sense the urgent need to join forces in promoting justice, fraternity, peace and the growth of the human person.

[7] Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, 54: AAS 91 (1999), 790; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 24.
[8] Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 55: AAS 83 (1991), 860.
[9] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, 15: AAS 81 (1989), 414.
[10] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree Christus Dominus, 12: AAS 58 (1966), 678.
[11] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 31: AAS 57 (1965), 37.
[12] Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, 4: AAS 63 (1971), 403.

Mary in the Document:

The document offers only a small amount on the role of Mary in Catholic Social Teaching. The quoted words below focus mostly on the fact that Mary, as our most perfect example of humble acceptance of God’s will, reminds all disciples of Christ of the manifestation of God’s love of preference for the poor and humble.

d. Mary and her “fiat” in God's plan of love
59. Heir to the hope of the righteous in Israel and first among the disciples of Jesus Christ is Mary, his Mother. By her “fiat” to the plan of God's love (cf. Lk 1:38), in the name of all humanity, she accepts in history the One sent by the Father, the Saviour of mankind. In her Magnificat she proclaims the advent of the Mystery of Salvation, the coming of the “Messiah of the poor” (cf. Is 11:4; 61:1). The God of the Covenant, whom the Virgin of Nazareth praises in song as her spirit rejoices, is the One who casts down the mighty from their thrones and raises up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty, scatters the proud and shows mercy to those who fear him (cf. Lk 1:50-53).
Looking to the heart of Mary, to the depth of her faith expressed in the words of the Magnificat, Christ's disciples are called to renew ever more fully in themselves “the awareness that the truth about God who saves, the truth about God who is the source of every gift, cannot be separated from the manifestation of his love of preference for the poor and humble, that love which, celebrated in the Magnificat, is later expressed in the words and works of Jesus.”71 Mary is totally dependent upon God and completely directed towards him by the impetus of her faith. She is “the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe.”72

[71] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Mater, 37: AAS 79 (1987), 410.
[72] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Libertatis Conscientia, 97: AAS 79 (1987), 597.

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