200. Mary, Mother of the Church

26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 
Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. [John 19:26-27, NRSV]


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On Monday 21 May 2018, the Church shall be celebrating for the first time the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church. This is an obligatory feast added by Pope Francis to the Roman Calendar, to be celebrated this year and hereafter on the Monday following Pentecost Sunday.

Two points readily stand out concerning this new feast decreed for the Catholic Church beginning this year.

First, Christian reflection on the mystery of Christ cannot be truncated from the essential role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ and the Mother of the Church. So the “Notification” on this new feast from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments states:

  • “The joyous veneration given to the Mother of God by the contemporary Church, in light of reflection on the mystery of Christ and on his nature, cannot ignore the figure of a woman (cf. Gal 4:4), the Virgin Mary, who is both the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.”

Second, the mystery of the Cross, essential for the growth in the Christian life, assumes central importance in the Vatican “Notification”.

  • “This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.”

Briefly noted in the official notification are the contributions from early Christians. Saint Augustine, for example, saw Mary as mother of the members of Christ, for “with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church”. Saint Leo the Great, too, associated the birth of the body as a natural follow-up from the birth of Christ the Head. This was a clear and logical reflection from Mary as Mother of Christ, the Son of God, to Mary as mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church. At the Second Vatican Council, the Blessed Virgin Mary was declared as “Mother of the Church, that is to say of all Christian people, the faithful as well as the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother” and established that “the Mother of God should be further honoured and invoked by the entire Christian people by this tenderest of titles”.

For a brief reflection, we further propose that we make a quick turn to chapter 2 of the Gospel of Saint Luke who offers us ample reflection on the divine motherhood of Mary. If we fast-forward to chapter 19 of the Gospel of Saint John, to verses 26-27, we read of Jesus on the cross speaking to his Mother and his beloved disciple at the foot of the Cross, giving the one to the other. This is essential scriptural reading for essential ecclesiological reflection, for right here, the Crucified Lord on the cross set out a blueprint, as it were, for the Church he left behind. That is, all beloved disciples, symbolized by John the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross, shall take Mary to their homes and their communities where Mary, as their mother as well, shall be loved, cared for, respected and, above all, listened to. Saint John the evangelist has intimated a profound reason early in his Gospel, for in the two episodes narrated in chapter 2, at the wedding feast at Cana (2:1-12) and at the cleansing of the Temple (2:13-21), John has already put in place solid pointers to the Cross. Genuine discipleship is established at the foot of the cross.

  • First, Jesus at the wedding feast says his “hour”, referencing his death on the cross, has not yet come. Cana, therefore, already points forward to Calvary.
  • Second, Temple-cleansing being an episode on the very eve of Jesus’ passion and suffering death in Jerusalem, including it right after Cana so early in the Gospel not only points to but indeed stresses the importance of the cross.

At Cana, if one were to choose one single element for emphasis on Christian discipleship, it is to be found in the words and action of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Careful reflection of the Cana episode yields the insight that Mary, with her natural maternal concern, knows our problems and she wants to help us resolve them. At the same time, she knows that the best way to help us resolve our many problems is for her to take them straight to her Son, Jesus the Christ. That was what she did at Cana. That’s what she will do in each of our problems, if we let her. And then, here is the crucial part, Mary will always turn around and say to us, just as she did to the household help at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). In Saint John’s Gospel, Mary speaks only once. She gives a simple counsel. And yet, it is a counsel of colossal depth significance, for it contains the very gist of Christian discipleship – to do whatever Jesus tells us. If we need any biblical support for the significance of Mary’s singular counsel to all Christians, note the exact parallel of her counsel with the counsel from the voice beyond the clouds at the mountain of Transfiguration: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).

Returning to the scene at the foot of the cross, it is helpful to turn to a book titled Mary in the New Testament, which is a “collaborative assessment by Protestant and Roman Catholic Scholars”. The book states on pages 288-289:

  • “This episode in John’s crucifixion account is of central importance for the evangelist’s view of Mary. This scene which comes after the ministry points to the future, the era of the disciples who will come after Jesus …. In giving the beloved disciple to Mary as her son, and Mary to the disciple as his mother, Jesus brought into existence a new community of beloved disciples, that same “eschatological family” which appears in the Synoptic Gospels …. Mary, who in the Cana episode had been distinguished from the disciples, now becomes the mother of the disciple par excellence, and so becomes herself a model of belief and discipleship.”

The Catholic Church has all along understood all this, and now, once again acknowledging Mary’s intimate union in the work of the Redeemer, which culminated at the hour of the cross, the Vatican statement stresses Mary’s motherhood of the Church. This celebration of the feast of Mary as the Mother of the Church is thus intended to help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross.

  • “Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal. She thus became the tender Mother of the Church which Christ begot on the cross handing on the Spirit. Christ, in turn, in the beloved disciple, chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.”

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, May 2018. All rights reserved.

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