Skip to main content

Magisterial Documents: Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 1988

Magisterial Documents: Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 1988

Mary in the Life of the Priests Pope John Paul II
25 March 1988

The full document is available on the internet.

Brief History

Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 1988 was published in connection with the Marian Year proclaimed by Pope John Paul II in 1987/88. The Marian Year was to be a time for priests to gather with Mary in the Upper Room and there to celebrate the eucharist in persona Christi in the light of the whole mystery of the Incarnation.

The priest is to recall that Mary "was present on Calvary, at the foot of the cross."

"When, acting in persona Christi, we celebrate the sacrament of the one same sacrifice of which Christ is and remains the only priest and victim, we must not forget this suffering of his Mother..." [# 2]

Like John who took the suffering Mary to his own home, the priest is to imitate this pilgrimage of faith and "strive to be close to that Mother in whose heart is inscribed...the mystery of the world's redemption." [# 3]

Echoing Lumen Gentium from Vatican II, the document describes Mary as a 'type' of the Church, the Church who is herself spouse of the Lord and a mother. [# 4] The "Church's motherhood, founded on the example of the Mother of God, may become more and more a part of our priestly consciousness. If each of us lives the equivalent of this spiritual motherhood in a manly way, name, as a 'spiritual fatherhood,', then Mary, as a 'figure' of the Church, has a part to play in this experience of ours." [# 4]

The Holy Father asks priests to "discover in a new way the question of the dignity and vocation of women both in the Church and in today's world." [# 5] Taking Mary into the interior home of the priesthood is to lead to that understanding through her maternal love which cooperates in the mystery of the Upper Room.

Mary knows of the friendship that is to exist between the priest and Christ. The Mother of God, who...cooperates, with a mother's love, in the rebirth and the training of all those who become brothers of her Son-who become his friends-will do everything in hr power so that they may not betray this holy friendship. So that they may be worthy of it. [# 6]


The letter is divided into eight sections
1. Gathered at the altar in the Upper Room

In persona Christi
Keep alive in mind and heart the whole mystery of the Incarnation
The Father's will
Recall the reality of the Incarnation as it relates to the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood

2. Mary's presence on Calvary
Divine plan: maternal heart united to his sacrifice
Lovingly consenting to the immolation
Do not forget the suffering of his Mother
It is the high point of Mary's presence in the mystery of Christ and of the Church on earth

3. Behold, your mother! (Jn 19:26-27)
John "took her to his own home"
He made his own all that was within her on Golgotha
John represents every man and woman for whom the motherhood of the Mother of God is spiritually extended
Strive to be close to that Mother in whose heart is inscribed the mystery of redemption

4. Mary is a 'type' of the Church
Mary as exemplar of the Church as mother and virgin
The teaching of the Council on Mary in the mystery of Christ and the Church
The Church's motherhood
Spiritual motherhood understood in a manly way as a spiritual fatherhood
Apostolic maturity and spiritual fruitfulness

5. Mary, the Virgin Mother - the Church is virgin
She guards whole and pure the faith given to the Spouse
Christ is the Spouse of the Church
Priestly vocation to celibacy
Priestly choice of celibacy should be placed within her heart
Proper relationship with women
The dignity and vocation of women
Church's mission taken up in different ways by men and by women

6. Take Mary as Mother into the interior "home" of the priesthood
Mary cooperates with maternal love in the rebirth and development of the faithful
In consideration of the Upper Room priests have a special right to this love
Friendship with and in Christ
Mary knows that the priest feels unworthy of Christ's friendship
Mary will do everything in her power so that priests do not betray this friendship

7. Mary, the woman clothed with the sun on the eschatological horizon of the Church and world
Takes part in the spiritual battle for the victory of good over evil
Man has lost the awareness of being the priest of the whole visible world. Turning the latter exclusively towards himself
The Son of the woman is the Redeemer of the world
Christ's sacrifice means a new orientation of man's spiritual history toward God
The priesthood enables the priest to share in this essential transformation of man's spiritual history
As pastors share in Mary's pilgrimage of faith

8. Give thanks for the Sacrament of the Priesthood
Give thanks to Mary for the gift of the priesthood whereby the priest is able to serve in the Church every human being
The Magnificat and the cross
Give thanks together with Mary, the Mother of priests


AAS 79 (1987): 361-433;
St Paul Editions, 1987
Vatican Translation

© This material has been compiled by M. Jean Frisk.
Copyright is reserved for The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute.
Most recently updated in 2005.

All About Mary includes a variety of content, much of which reflects the expertise, interpretations and opinions of the individual authors and not necessarily of the Marian Library or the University of Dayton. Please share feedback or suggestions with


Marian Library

Roesch Library
300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 1390

Study Mary

Study the theology and history of Mary at the University of Dayton.

Learn More

Keyword Search

Would you like to begin a new keyword search?

Get Started