The title of Mary, “Mother of the Church,” was officially promulgated alongside Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) in 1964. It was instituted by Pope Francis as a liturgical memorial only last year. Henceforth, it is celebrated the Monday after Pentecost Sunday. Its fixed structure in the liturgical calendar signifies Mary’s continued motherly mediation from heaven; that today she still gathers with us and calls down the Holy Spirit upon the mystical body of her Son. The establishment of this memorial, this lex orandi (law of praying), specifically renews the apostolic lex credendi (law of believing).
Pope Saint Paul VI was clear that the title “Mother of the Church” is especially about Mary’s spiritual maternity over each and every Christian. It is about properly instituting the Mariology of the Second Vatican Council and deepening an understanding of the purposes of the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s perpetual virginity. Called to be the God-bearer, Mother to the Head of the Church, Mary was commissioned and called1 implicitly to be mother of every member born of the virginal womb of the Church in baptism.
She matters so much to us not only because she was objectively chosen by God in salvation history, but subjectively in our own hearts because she is truly Our Loving Mother, individually over each and every one of us. To be chosen as the Theotokos, the God-bearer, to become the Immaculata, the new “Woman” conceived without sin, were privileges to Mary. However, they were not merely for our “astonished gaze,” but rather in the words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger: “to give an account of the historical dynamism of salvation, which includes us and assigns us our place in history as both a gift and a task.”2 The title, “Mother of the Church,” realizes in salvation history the proper devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as called for at Fatima.
The Divine Motherhood and Mary’s predestination as the Immaculate Conception were special privileges to her, but they were also a calling and a task. Her commissioning at the Annunciation, her office of honor, would lead to the sword piercing her heart. Mary’s calling did not end in painlessly childbearing the God-man. In the manifestation of her true name, “Full of Grace,” she was called to the sequela Christi (following Christ) and perfection of what the divine maternity had begun in her: to be ‘Mother of the Church,’ and individually Our Loving Mother. Her first child, the head of the mystical body, was born physically and virginally without pain. The rest of us her children were born spiritually on Calvary with great anguish, tears, and labor. This title “Mother of the Church” also yearns to be properly recognized after a great labor.
‘Mother of the Church,’ A Title and a Council with a painful delivery
Understanding the Mariology of the Second Vatican Council has come with great pain. The Church had never competed with instantaneous mass media and its misrepresentations in the implementation of an ecumenical council. Many bishops and theologians were not familiar with Patristic models for understanding and explaining the relationship between Christology, Ecclesiology, and Mariology. In the shift from neo-Scholastic approaches back to Patristic approaches, some falsely understood and even portrayed Mary’s inclusion in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church as a downgrading of her status to merely a member of the Church; despite the fact that Pope Saint Paul VI simultaneously promulgated her title at the time as “Mother of the Church.” The need for such titles and transitions were no better understood than homoousios (same substance) had been at Nicaea; a Council which cost Saint Athanasius 50 years of struggle to bring to realization.
Within a decade after Lumen Gentium’s promulgation, Mariology almost “collapsed.”3 A locally Church approved apparition of Mary in Akita, Japan in 1973 spoke of the tumult of the times. It warned of diabolical attacks preventing a proper implementation of the Council: “The work of the devil will infiltrate even the Church. One will see cardinals opposing other cardinals, and bishops confronting other bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…”4 The dragon was relentless (cf. Rev 12:15). Modern media fostered more communio with New York and Hollywood studios, the sexual revolution, and false interpretations of Church debates than with Jesus Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Many Church leaders were corrupted by the new media and its foothold for the spirit of the world.
Vatican II had sought to give more communio with the Blessed Sacrament by fostering Daily Mass and reduced fast-times for more frequent Holy Communion. It sought greater devotion to the Blessed Virgin and not less. The documents of Vatican II were not the problem. A false hermeneutic fostered by the mass media, faithlessness, spiritual warfare, and compromise with the world was the obstacle.
In the mid-80’s, Cardinal Ratzinger appealed for courage:
To defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council. It is also our fault if we have at times provided a pretext (to the ‘right’ and ‘left’ alike) to view Vatican II as a ‘break’ and an abandonment of tradition. There is, instead, a continuity that allows neither return to the past or a flight forward, neither anachronistic longings nor unjustified impatience. We must remain faithful to the today of the Church, not the yesterday or tomorrow. And this today of the Church is the documents of Vatican II, without reservations that amputate them and without arbitrariness that distorts them.5
Our mission and task as faithful Catholics is to properly implement the Mariology of the Second Vatican Council and foster frequent Communion for the strength to repent from sin and restore all things in Christ. This will bring to completion the point of Fatima where Mary told the children: “Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved [to save more souls].”6
Fatima and a proper Mariology for a proper Ecclesiology
A proper understanding of the Church and ecclesiology begins in understanding the Virgin Mary, who is the archetype7 of the Church and not merely just another of the redeemed (though Christ redeemed her in a unique manner in the Immaculate Conception). Mary is the Virgin who gave birth to Christ and it is through the humanity of Christ, one in being with his eternally divine person, that the rest of the mystical body of Christ is brought into being. Without Mary’s virginal birth of the Christ, the virginal baptismal font of Mother Church would be incapable of bringing the many unto salvation. Without her virginal birth of Christ there would be no flesh and blood to offer. At the foot of the Cross, she who was already in the redeeming grace of Christ, was invited to offer uniquely with Jesus his saving sacrifice. There the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45) revealed Mary as the new “Mother” of all the living in Christ: “Behold your Mother.”
The apparitions of Mary at Fatima were (in Mary) inseparably the activity of the Holy Spirit calling forth the “deep memory” of the Church to consider again the meaning of the “Woman clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1).8 Mary is the Mother of Christ and by his dying gift from the Cross also Mother of the Church. The Church on earth is best united to Christ and protected from demonic onslaughts in maintaining true devotion to Mary (as Revelation 12:16-17 points-out). Intentional devotion to the handmaid of the Lord helps us abide in her humility, the ground of charity. Christ greatly desired to remind us not to neglect his gift of Mary’s motherhood and avail ourselves of her intercession.
Re-affirming Mary’s messages at Fatima, Christ appeared to Sister Lucia repeatedly in the late 1920s. He asked specifically for reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary by implementing First Saturday devotions. The denial of Mary’s Ever-Virginity and Immaculate Conception, fostered by Marxism and a secularist liberalism in the West (a.k.a. naturalist/masonic philosophy), not only blasphemed her Divine Maternity as Theotokos (Mother of God), but simultaneously denied her maternity over every Christian. It turned the hearts of men and children away from their truest mother and pierced her loving and Immaculate Heart anew. At the center of Mary’s and Jesus’ concerns from heaven was the loss of souls, the rejection of her motherhood, and the ingratitude of mankind.
Striving to re-establish Mary’s foothold in the new order after Marxism and Liberalism in Post-World War II Europe, the Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, re-proclaimed Mary’s Ever-Virginity and Immaculate Conception. It emphasized within a dogmatic constitution the reasons for Mary’s on-going maternity from Heaven. The Council Fathers remembered that the Virgin of Fatima had warned about WWII and didn’t wish to see it happen again or start where it ended with nuclear weapons. They wanted to open a foothold to all mankind and break through the barriers of Marxism and secularizing Liberalism. Vatican II tied the Queenship and Motherhood not only to the Annunciation, but universally taught the ties to Calvary and the order of grace:
Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace. [#61]9
Vatican II illuminated the ties of the Incarnation and Calvary: “This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect” [#62]. Vatican II shouted for Christians to proclaim Mary’s motherhood over all humanity.
It was for this reason that Paul VI officially promulgated the title “Mother of the Church.” He wanted to be clear that not only was the motherhood because of her cooperation in the Annunciation, but because of her continued cooperation at Calvary that she is Our Loving Mother. Lumen Gentium witnessed: “[Mary] faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth” [# 58]. It was at Calvary that Christ told us “Behold your Mother.” It was Calvary that makes the grace of Baptism available to us since Calvary is the source of all the sacraments with the blood and water that gushed forth from the side of Christ.
One is baptized in order to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. The priesthood exists to make present the Great Sacrament. Penance exists to restore us to Communion. At Calvary all graces and blessings flow per the image shown Sister Lucia in 1929 at the Chapel of Tuy [left]. The Sacrament of the Altar is the principal and end of all the Sacraments per Thomas Aquinas (cf. STh III, 65, 3). The Virgin Mary was inseparably present and obediently offering her consent as mother of Christ at Calvary; she who made possible his body and blood at the Annunciation continues to consent to its offering on the altars of the world with us. She is inseparably tied to Christ in all the graces that develop the mystical body of Christ in the consent that Christ asked of her at the Cross. As we are called to assist at Mass,10 so Mary already assisted in a greater way forever tied to the Calvary re-presented on our altars from which all graces flow.11
In saying, “Behold your son,” Christ was basically asking Mary’s consent to his death: “See the beloved disciple. My death makes all beloved disciples your filii in Filio, sons in the Son.” For this reason the Church calls her: “Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix” (cf. #62). In fact, careful attention to Paragraph 61 of Lumen Gentium makes it surprising the Council did not solidify the explanation of her co-operation at Calvary with the titles Pius XI repeatedly used: “Co-Redemptrix.”12 It was already an official magisterial description of the cooperation Mary gave at Calvary; one entirely dependent upon and totally subject to Christ the one mediator.
In Paul VI’s “Credo of the People of God,” he elucidated the meaning of “Mother of the Church”:
Joined by a close and indissoluble bond to the Mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption, the Blessed Virgin, the Immaculate, was at the end of her earthly life raised body and soul to heavenly glory and likened to her risen Son in anticipation of the future lot of all the just; and we believe that the Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed. [#15]
By this profession of faith, issued as a motu proprio, Mary is clearly mother, not just from a past event, but even in the growth of divine life here and now from heaven. What was theological explanation in a dogmatic constitution was now clearly being used for an official profession of faith. Paul VI infallibly taught it anew by the ordinary magisterium. The stripping of the altars and persecution of those with authentic Marian devotion – those who venerate Mary as Mother and not merely model of faith — had nothing to do with Vatican II’s dogmatic constitutions or the teaching of Saint Paul VI.
The 50th anniversary of Fatima prepared for the “Credo of the People of God.” One year earlier, in the Apostolic Exhortation, Signum Magnum, May 13, 1967, Pope Saint Paul VI is adamant that Mary’s continued motherhood and solicitude from heaven is the required faith of the Church: “must be held as faith.” He presumes the infallible ordinary magisterium:
On the occasion of the religious ceremonies which are taking place at this time in honor of the Virgin Mother of God in Fatima, Portugal, …we wish to call the attention of all sons of the Church once more to the indissoluble link between the spiritual motherhood of Mary, so amply illustrated in the (council’s) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the duties of redeemed men toward her, the Mother of the Church.
…thus the blessed Virgin Mary, after participating in the redeeming sacrifice of the Son, and in such an intimate way as to deserve to be proclaimed by Him the Mother not only of His disciple John but – may we be allowed to affirm it – of mankind which he in some way represents, now continues to fulfill from heaven her maternal function as the cooperator in the birth and development of divine life in the individual souls of redeemed men. This is a most consoling truth which…must be held as faith by all Christians.
Comforting the Immaculate Heart of Mary, ‘Mother of the Church’
Doctor of the Apostolic Faith, Saint Lawrence Brindisi teaches us that at Calvary, Mary suffered an emotional anguish and sorrow that apart from a miracle of grace would have destroyed any other grieving parent. She offered the great compassion. Since grace builds on nature and it is natural for a parent to grieve the loss of a child, especially a most virtuous and most honorable only-son, then how much more the Immaculata suffered in beholding her innocent only-child on the Cross…giving back to the Father THEIR son. By her Immaculate Conception, only she could truly suffer through Christ and with Christ WHILE Calvary was happening. Brindisi argues:
If Christ lived in Mary (“Full of Grace”), could Christ suffer any sorrow which his Mother did not suffer with him? (Answer:) Mary endured the sufferings of her Son, though she herself was weighed down with sorrow. She grieved with her Son, but she herself was burdened with intense grief. So great was her anguish that she had to be consoled by her suffering Son. Looking down upon her and then John, Christ said to her: Woman, behold your son. Yet those very words must have opened a new fountain of sorrow in Mary’s breast! For a wound of the heart pains most when it is touched. Mary could make no answer to Christ’s words, for her heart was too heavy and, so to say, knotted with grief. She could not answer at all, because her sorrow had robbed her of the power of speech. (Sermon 6 from “The Vision of Saint John” in the Mariale)
Revelation 12 symbolically gives an image of the woman “crying aloud in pangs of birth.” It is a reference to Christ’s words to his disciples that Calvary would be like the pains of a woman in birth. Mary’s birth of Christ at Bethlehem was in tranquility. At Calvary, her second birth of every member of the Church was in great spiritual pain and sorrow when she joined Christ in his greatest act of love. In this valley of tears, no privilege of God comes without great suffering before a greater glorification. Before the Theotokos could enter the fulness of her office, she had to suffer with Christ the abandonment of the Cross and the rejection of the world.
John “the beloved disciple” was trying to show us that Mary was the woman of Isaiah 54: “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not had labor pains! For the children of the desolate one (Mary at the Cross) will be more than the children of her that is married, says the LORD.” Isaiah 54 is what follows the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Mary’s motherhood flows from the Cross of the Suffering Servant. Together with Christ’s offering, she regenerates us in her unceasing prayers.
Paul VI officially promulgated the title “Mother of the Church”, with these words:
And so, for the glory of the Blessed Virgin and our own consolation, We declare Mary Most Holy to be the Mother of the Church, that is of the whole Christian people, both the faithful and the bishops, who call her a most loving Mother. We decree that from now on the whole of the Christian people should use this sweetest of names to pay more honor to the Mother of God and to pour out their prayers to her.
As Mary could not speak at the Cross because of her intense grief, desolate and beholding the broken body of her son, let us give her relief today from the similar grief of seeing sinners today tearing apart the mystical body on earth. Let us call upon her as “Our Loving Mother” and “Mother of the Church,” individually mother of each and every one of us in the gift of Christ’s divine life in souls.
(Editor’s note: This essay was originally given as a talk at Christendom College, and was first posted on CWR, in a slightly different form, on December 21, 2019.)
1 Manuel Miguens, Mary, Servant of the Lord (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul , 1978), 17-19.
3 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Thoughts on the Place of Marian Doctrine and Piety in Faith and Theology as a Whole,” in Communio 30 (2005), 151.
4 Roy A. Varghese, God-Sent: A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 2000), 123.
6 Varghese, God-Sent, 112-113.
8 Cf. Aidan Nichols, There is No Rose: The Mariology of the Catholic Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 107-109.
9 All quotes from Vatican II and papal magisteriums are from the Holy See online.
10 See: Pius XII, Encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy: Mediator Dei, November 20, 1947, #91-93.
11 Cf. Coleman O’Neill, “Our Lady in the Mass,” in Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, rev. ed. (New York: Alba House, 1991), 221-231. It inspired the thoughts of this sentence.
12 Cf. Nichols, There is No Rose, 80.
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