Pope Benedict XVI has begun a new series of general audiences, which will, he states, focus on “prayer in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Letters of St. Paul.” As he did so beautifully in Daughter Zion, his brief but incisive series of Marian reflections written the last 1970s, Benedict situates Mary firmly within the lived, historical reality of the early Church and at the key moments of salvation history:
Mary quietly followed her Son’s entire journey during His public life, even to the foot of the Cross; and now she continues in silent prayer to follow along the Church’s path. At the Annunciation in the home of Nazareth, Mary welcomes the angel of God; she is attentive to his words; she welcomes them and responds to the divine plan, thereby revealing her complete availability: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (cf. Luke 1:38). Because of her inner attitude of listening, Mary is able to interpret her own history, and to humbly acknowledge that it is the Lord who is acting.
This theme of inner listening and receptive humility has marked Benedict’s entire catechesis on prayer. He now focuses on prayer as a bond of unity and as an essential mark of the Church, both then and now:
If the Church does not exist without Pentecost, neither does Pentecost exist without the Mother of Jesus, since she lived in a wholly unique way what the Church experiences each day under the action of the Holy Spirit. St. Chromatius of Aquilea comments on the annotation found in the Acts of the Apostles in this way: “The Church was united in the upper room with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with His brethren. One, therefore, cannot speak of the Church unless Mary, the Mother of the Lord, is present … The Church of Christ is there where the Incarnation of Christ from the Virgin is preached, and where the Apostles who are the brothers of the Lord preach, there one hears the Gospel” (Sermon 30, 1: SC 164, 135).
The Second Vatican Council wished to emphasize in a particular way the bond that is visibly manifest in Mary and the Apostles praying together, in the same place, in expectation of the Holy Spirit. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium affirms: “since it has pleased God not to manifest solemnly the mystery of the salvation of the human race before He would pour forth the Spirit promised by Christ, we see the apostles before the day of Pentecost ‘persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with His brethren’ (Acts 1:14) and Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation” (n. 59). The privileged place of Mary is the Church, where “she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity” (Ibid, n. 53).
Venerating the Mother of Jesus in the Church therefore means learning from her to become a community that prays: this is one of the essential marks in the first description of the Christian community as delineated in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42). Often, prayer is dictated by difficult situations, by personal problems that lead us to turn to the Lord for light, comfort and help. Mary invites us to expand the dimensions of prayer, to turn to God not only in times of need and not only for ourselves, but also in an undivided, persevering, faithful way, with “one heart and soul” (cf. Acts 4:32).
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