Mother of the Church
Everyone has a mother. Yes, the mother who gave them birth in the physical order of life. But Christian believers have another mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the spiritual order of grace. Jesus willed to give Mary as a mother to the early Church, when, from the cross, he looked at his mother and said, “Woman, behold, your son” (John 19:26). And to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother” (John 19:27).
Throughout the centuries, Christians have called upon and honored Mary as their mother. People like St. John Paul II have asked Mary to be a mother in a very personal way, especially in times of grief. Another title emphasizing Mary’s motherhood has been used throughout the ages, dating back to St. Augustine and St. Leo the Great. St. Isaac of Stella (died 1169), a Cistercian monk, wrote about the inseparability of Mary and the Church.
And Bl. Paul VI declared Mary as Mother of the Church. Pope Francis recently reinvigorated the title by proclaiming the Monday after Pentecost as the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Church. Through Scripture and tradition, we clearly see how Mary has been “Mother of the Church.”
Mother of the eschatological family
The Synoptic Gospels provide an account in Jesus’ ministry when the mother of Jesus and his brothers and sisters approach the house where Jesus was teaching (Matthew 12:46–50, Mark 3:31–35, Luke 8:19–21). When word reaches Jesus that his mother is outside, he says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it” (Luke 8:21).
Some people might raise an eyebrow at this statement, thinking that Jesus is distancing from his mother. But if we listen closely to the words of Jesus with the life of Mary in mind, we see that she is the first of Jesus’ disciples to live this teaching.
At the Annunciation, Mary heard the word of God and she immediately put it into practice in her life. She lived her entire life in complete obedience to God’s will. The teaching of Jesus wishes to exalt the spiritual over the physical.
In another sense, Jesus’ teaching focuses on the formation of a new family, an eschatological family. This family will be together forever in the kingdom of heaven. This family is the Church. Mary is a member of that family, and because of her role in salvation history, she is also its mother. Mary becomes our mother, the Mother of the Church, in virtue of our membership and part of Christ’s eschatological family.
Mother of the early Church
The Scriptures provide a brief glimpse into Mary’s maternity of the nascent Church. The apostles and Mary gathered in prayer during those first days after Jesus’ ascension. Together, they prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Mary’s presence in the upper room emphasizes her role in those first days of Christianity. And with Jesus’ entrustment of Mary to John, she has a closeness to the workings of the Church.
I’m always moved by one scene in the film Full of Grace. As Mary’s final days on earth draw close, the disciples return from their missionary work to be near Mary, whom they affectionately call mother. The film also portrays the disciples as seeking Mary’s counsel and prayers. Is this a far stretch to imagine? I think not. The work of the apostles was the extension of her son’s work. It’s only natural to think she would love them with a mother’s heart; listening to them and praying for them.
Mother of the Church yesterday and today
Mary continues to show herself a mother to the Church throughout the ages. It is evident by the fact so many Christians call upon her in their time of need. They might pray the rosary or visit one of her many Marian shrines to pray. They go before her image or statue and allow her maternal gaze to fall upon them. They feel her motherly embrace.
Many who call upon her intercession, receive an answer to their prayer. Countless stories of graces received from Mary’s intercession could be told. The Miracle of Lepanto, commemorated with the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary, is just one example. As a mother, Mary cares about the Church at-large and also for each individual member.
Mary’s example of faith continues to inspire the Church to this very day. She is a model for all believers and from her we learn how to live a life of virtue. We can only learn from Mary if we allow her to be our mother, doing as St. John did, and taking Mary into our homes. Ask her to be your mother. Talk to her as your mother. Because that is who she is — she is our mother, and the Mother of the Church.