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Mother of the Church

Mary, Mother of the Church

– Reverend Matthew R. Mauriello

After fifty days of joyous celebration, the Easter Season solemnly closes each year with the great feast of Pentecost Sunday. This has been traditionally called the "birthday" of the Church, that day when "all were filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:4) Pentecost occurs ten days after the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Acts of the Apostles tells us that during this time the "apostles were constantly at prayer together, and with them a group of women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus." (Acts 1:14) The Church has traditionally portrayed the Blessed Virgin Mary together with the apostles and disciples who were gathered at that first Pentecost. She is the model of persevering prayer joined in oneness of mind and heart with the first members of the Church.

Mary had been present at the very beginnings of the Church. She was there at the Annunciation when her humble consent in purity of heart allowed the Son of God to take flesh in her virginal womb.

She was also present standing at the foot of the cross as her Son and our Savior redeemed the world as part of God's plan. (Catechism 599-600) There she was appointed to be mother of all those who were brought to life through the death of her only Son. (St. John 19:26-27)

Now, at Pentecost, when the apostolic mission of the Church begins, Mary is present as well. She is the perfect pattern of the church at prayer. "She is invoked as Mother of the Church and the teacher and Queen of the Apostles" wrote Pope Leo XIII (d. 1903) in his September 1895 encyclical, Helper of the People (Adjutricem Populi). Pope John XXIII (d.1963) in an allocution in the Basilica of St. Mary Major on December 6, 1960 spoke of Mary as "Mother of the Church and our most loving Mother." (AAS 53, 1961, 35)

The title, Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesiae) was first used by Berengaud, bishop of Treves (d. 1125) in his writings. Later authors such as St. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence (d.1458) and St. Lawrence Justiniani (d.1455) also invited the church to venerate Mary as her Mother.

On November 21, 1964, during the celebration of Mass at the conclusion of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI (d. 1978) stated, "For the glory of the Blessed Virgin and our own consolation, we proclaim the Most Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church, of the whole people of God, faithful and pastors, and we call her most loving Mother." The Holy Father expressed the hope that this title of Mary, Mother of the church would "lead Christians to honor Mary even more and to call upon her with still greater confidence." He decreed that "from now onward the whole Christian people should give even greater honor to the Mother of God under this most loving title." (AAS 56, 1965, 1015)

Pope John Paul II has frequently used this title from the beginning of his pontificate in 1978 looking toward Mary in the Upper Room praying with the Apostles at Pentecost. "In the birth of the Church, the one to whom we owe the birth of Christ participates in a particular way." (Oss. Rom. June 19, 1979).

Jesus has given us Mary as our mother. She is the mother of Jesus, Who is the head of the Mystical body. We, the members of His Body, look to the Blessed Virgin Mary who cares for the pilgrim church with a mother's love and follows its progress homeward to the eternal splendor of heaven.

The above article appeared in the Fairfield County Catholic January 1996. Reprinted with permission of the author and publisher.

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