On Monday, May 21, I celebrated the Mass of Mary, the Mother of the Church for the first time. Pope Francis recently placed this Memorial on the universal liturgical calendar of the Church. He declared that it would be an annual observation on the Monday following Pentecost Sunday.
It makes sense that Mary be honored with the title “Mother of the Church.” She was present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the lives of the followers of Jesus who became His Church by the Spirit’s power and presence. Mary was present when the Spirit brought to birth the Church of her Divine Son. The Holy Father wisely has associated Mary’s feast with the Pentecost.
It was at Pentecost that the mission of the Church was made possible. That mission is to announce the Good News; it is to evangelize; it is to preach and to teach Jesus Christ. The eighth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (Vatican II), is titled “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.” The Council Fathers taught that Mary’s role in the plan of salvation is connected to both Christ and the Church.
The Collect from the Roman Missal for the Memorial of Mary, the Mother of the Church expresses this relationship when it prays:
O God, Father of Mercies, whose Only Begotten Son, as He hung upon the Cross, chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother to be our Mother also, grant we pray that with her loving help your church may be more fruitful day by day …
When He hung on the Cross, Christ gave His Mother to us and when the Church was at prayer awaiting the promised Holy Spirit, Mary was present with Jesus’ followers. Mary, given as the Mother of the Church at the Passion of the Lord; Mary at the Pentecost mothering the Church to life.
Two other events bring together Mary and the Church: the Incarnation and Mary’s Assumption into glory. At the Incarnation of the Word of God, Mary nurtured the Church at its beginnings, in her womb; the Mother of the Church she was when the Word of God took her flesh. From her Assumption, she accompanies the Church with maternal love; the Mother of the Church in glory, the destiny of the Church’s members.
She is the Mother of us who are the Church. Through the Church she leads us to Him and encourages us to live as His disciples. In our Church, as Blessed Mother, she holds pride of place. The month of May is a time of year in which she is especially honored. “May is Mary’s month.” So begins the poem MAY MAGNIFICAT by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.
This awareness was recently brought home to me when I joined the grammar school children of Cape Trinity Catholic School in Wildwood for the traditional devotion of the Crowning of the Blessed Mother. With sweet voices the children sang out, “O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.” Meanwhile, two girls in their first Communion dresses accompanied by two boys in their first Communion suits proudly surrounded a statue of the Blessed Mother and lovingly placed flowers on her altar and a crown of spring flowers on her head. The school children from Pre-K through eighth grade watched the ceremony intently as they prayed and sang to the Mother of the Lord who was given a crown, royal vesture for our Heavenly Queen.
Pope Francis, in his recent apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exultate (Rejoice and be Glad), concludes the instruction by saying about Mary, “She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by a sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way to holiness and she walks ever at our side” (176).
As I listened to the children singing the Lourdes hymn with its familiar chorus “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria” and repeating “Pray for us” as a student read aloud the many titles of Mary from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I could not help but think that these children and myself were being led to Jesus by His Mother Mary, who is our Mother. She helps us to do what she did — offer ourselves to God — and through the Church gives us Jesus. She is the Mother of the Church.