By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
The greater part of the discussion on Facebook focused on the question of devotion to Mary detracting from the worship of Christ and the Trinity. Archbishop Roche’s reply is that Mary, chosen by the Trinity to be the Mother of God, is a gift to us from the Trinity. Devotion to Mary “would hardly detract from a gift that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have given to the Church. In fact, it enhances the role that Mary has within the Church.”
Mary helped Jesus give birth to the Church
Regarding the positioning of the doctrine of Mary, Mother of the Church, within Catholic tradition, Archbishop Roche tells us that this memorial is linked to the end of Vatican II. “Pope Paul VI declared that Mary was to be known as the Mother of the Church, because her relationship with the Church is so close” due to the relationship that she had with her own Son, Jesus. Members of the Church are members of Christ’s Body. Mary gave birth to that Body.
The Gospel chosen for the celebration of this Memorial provides the focus for us. Mary stood by Jesus at the very moment when “he was giving birth to the Church by the outpouring of blood and water from his side, which was the sign of the birth of the Church.” The Archbishop says that St John continues to reflect on this experience in the Book of Revelation, chapter 12. John writes of a woman giving birth to a son and a dragon is waiting to consume him. There “our lady was helping give Jesus to give birth to the Church.”
Going further back into the tradition of the Church, both St Augustine and St Leo the Great, “both of whom in their writings refer to the role of Our Lady as being the mother of the members of Christ because of her special, inseparable relationship with Jesus her Son, the Son of God.” Down through the ages, Popes have used the image as well: Pope Leo XIII, Benedict XV, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
Devotion to Mary is an expression that we are part of Jesus’ family
The Decree instituting the Memorial also highlights the role of the “beloved disciple” and says that Christ “chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother.” Archbishop Roche comments on this saying that the Memorial creates “a very special relationship between the disciples and the Mother of Jesus herself.” When Jesus asked John to care for his Mother, “Jesus was telling him, and telling us, that we are part of the family of Jesus.” Marian devotion can thus be interpreted from this angle—it is a natural expression of this familial relationship that all members of the Church have with her. “It’s actually Jesus saying, ‘I want my human love for my mother to be enacted in all of you.’ ”
Why the day after Pentecost?
Archbishop Roche says that many of the other feasts of Our Lady are optional memorials. The significance of the addition of this Memorial is that it will now be celebrated by Roman Catholics throughout the universal the day after Pentecost Sunday. Why? “Because of the very special relationship following the death and the resurrection of Jesus between Our Lady and the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord,” the Archbishop explains.
After the Ascension, the Apostles felt their weakness and vulnerability. They were afraid. “They felt the anger of the people around them.” The Angel Gabriel had told Mary that she was “full of grace,” which means that “she had received the Holy Spirit in an enormous way.” Mary was with the Apostles in this most critical moment and “she who knew more about the Holy Spirit was helping them to persevere, and to pray, and to make a space for the coming of the Holy Spirit in their own minds and hearts.”
Her role was very important here as the Church begins their missionary activity. This is the reason why Pope Francis “thought it was most appropriate to put this feast on the day following Pentecost to remind Christians throughout the world of the special relationship with the Mother of God who helps us prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who helps us to prepare for the mission that the Holy Spirit gives to us to go out and to bear fruit and to bear witness to the Lord wherever we are and whatever we are doing.”