This is the first year we are celebrating the Memorial of Mary Mother of the Church. Before the Second Vatican Council Pentecost was celebrated as an octave, and following the Council Monday was kept as a secular holiday. It was called Whit Monday because those who were recently baptised would show off their white garments. Mary as Mother and Model of the Church is a relatively recent Theological development in response to the question posed by the modern world of the Church’s identity. What or who is the Church? The modern separation of the person of Jesus from the reality of the Church has led many to see the Church as irrelevant or unnecessary. The Church – understanding the mystery of her union with Christ – must now understand who she is for the world. Lumen Gentium – the dogmatic constitution on the Church – introduced some of the strong themes of the identity of the Church. The Virgin Mary, in this context, becomes the strongest model for our faith of who and what the Church is.
The Church Fathers have traditionally said that the Church is born at Pentecost. Since the way we celebrate the liturgical feasts have changed since Vatican II, it would make sense that we introduce some of the important doctrinal points of the Council into the way we continue celebrating them. In this context, it makes perfect sense to celebrate the Mother of the Church on the day following Pentecost, just as we celebrate the Mother of God on the day following the Octave of Christmas. It is an indication that if we want our Church to be more Evangelical – if we want it to give birth to Jesus in the hearts and lives of people in today’s world – both the Church and ourselves as its members must imitate the Mother of the Church. If the imitation of Christ is essential for our personal growth in holiness, the imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is essential for the fruitfulness of our holiness. If we want to imitate them, “in Spirit and in truth,” we must discover and imitate how they cooperated with the Holy Spirit. We must not ask ourselves, “what did Mary do,” or “what would Jesus do,” but rather, “how did Mary respond to the Spirit,” and “how was Jesus moved by the Spirit?”
They sought by a swift path, with which it was possible to go a mile on their sabbath, the well-known walls where Mary, the gateway of God, the virgin mother of her Creator, formed by her own son, was sitting at a religious gathering. The second virgin put to flight the woes of Eve’s crime; there is no harm done to the sex; she restored what the first took away. Let grief not raise up complaints or vex mourning hearts with groaning over the old law; these very forms of wickedness and crime rather cause delight at this bargain, and a better lot comes to the redeemed world from the fall. The person, not the nature [of a woman], caused ruin; in those days [of Eve] a pregnant woman [brought forth] peril. In these [of Mary] one grew great to bring forth God, the one begetting mortal things and the other bearing divine—she through whom the Mediator came forth into the world and carried actual flesh to the heavens.1
John tells us what the others have not told, how the Lord while fixed on the cross called to his mother. He thought it was more important that, victorious over his sufferings, Jesus gave her the offices of piety than that he gave her a heavenly kingdom. For if it is the mark of religion to grant pardon to the thief, it is a mark of much greater piety that a mother is honored with such affection by her Son. “Behold,” he says, “your son.” … “Behold your mother.” Christ testified from the cross and divided the offices of piety between the mother and the disciple.…2
The lamb, Mary, beholding her lamb advancing to the slaughter,
Followed him wearily with the other women, saying, “Where are you going, O my son?…
Is there another wedding again in Cana,
And are you hurrying there now
In order that you may make wine from water for them?
Shall I go with you, my child, or should I wait for you instead?
Give me some word, O Word,
And do not pass me by in silence,
You who have kept me pure,
My son and my God.…3
Again, John modestly conceals himself. If he had wanted to boast, he would have also told us why he was loved since it was most likely some great and wonderful thing he had done. But why doesn’t Jesus mention anything else or try to comfort him in his despondency? Because this was no time for comforting words. Besides, it was no small thing for him to be honored in such a way.… And what an honor it was that Jesus gave to the disciple!4
The Gospels are the firstfruits of all the Scriptures. But the firstfruits of the Gospels is the Gospel according to John whose meaning no one can understand who has not leaned on Jesus’ breast or received Mary from Jesus to be his mother also. But whoever wants to become another “John” must also become such as John was. In other words, he must be shown to be Jesus, so to speak. For Mary had no son except Jesus (in accordance with those who hold a sound opinion of her). But Jesus says to his mother, “Behold your son,” and not, “Behold, this man also is your son.” If this is so, then Jesus has in effect said, “Behold, this is Jesus whom you bore” [when he presents John to her]. For indeed, everyone who has been perfected “no longer lives, but Christ lives in him.” And, since “Christ lives” in him [i.e., John], it is said of him to Mary, “Behold your son,” the Christ.5
- ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 1. Martin, F., & Smith, E. (Eds.). (2006). Acts (pp. 13–14). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Letter 63.109-11. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 316). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Kontakion on Mary at the Cross 35.1, 3, 13-14. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 317). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Homilies on the Gospel of John 85.2-3. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 318). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 1.23. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (pp. 318–319). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.