When I was on a retreat at a Franciscan monastery last fall, I was captivated by a mural in the dining area. There was a brilliant painting of our Blessed Mother, depicting her with a larger than life mantle, in which she gathered saints from every walk of life. The joy on their faces radiated the peace that they found in resting under Our Lady’s protection.
In 2018, Pope Francis decreed that a new Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, be inserted into the Roman Calendar and celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost. The text, written by Cardinal Robert Sarah, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, emphasizes that:
“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.”
The maternal role of Mary has been evident in the Church from its inception and she remains with us still. Here are five ways to grow in understanding of Our Blessed Lady’s intercession for her children today.
- “Behold your mother.” (John 19:27)
By meditating on the Sacred Scriptures themselves, we enter into the mystery of our redemption with the eyes and heart of the Virgin Mary. In his new book Icon of Trust: Mary in the Gospels of Luke and John, Fr. Slawomir Szkredka, S.S.D. reflects on the importance of understanding Our Lady’s role through a biblical view:
“How can we learn about Mary? There are many excellent writings about the Mother of Jesus. Many popes, saints, theologians, and even children – we could think here, for instance, of the young recipients of the Marian apparitions in Lourdes and Fatima – have spoken about her. There is a wealth of reflection on the Blessed Mother contained in the Church’s liturgical texts. Then there are countless anonymous hymns and poems that describe the Mother of God, not to mention the works of Christian art. Still, it is the Sacred Scripture that as the inspired Word of God deserves our primary and prayerful attention. Thus, in the pages to follow we shall converse with biblical authors, particularly with the evangelists Luke and John. We intend to hear their stories about the Mother of God. Naturally, we wish to hear them while attuned to the living tradition of the Church, within which Luke and John have been studiously read and elucidated.”
2. “They saw the Child with His mother Mary; and they fell down and worshiped Him.” (Matthew 2:11)
As the first tabernacle of the Lord, Our Lady always leads us to worship and adore her Son Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. She invites us to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion devoutly and keep watch in His Presence with her in gratitude for God’s many blessings, in reparation for sin, for the salvation of souls and the restoration of our world.
3. “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
The Blessed Mother teaches us to open our hearts to the love of the Eternal Father and receive the Holy Spirit in our lives. Like a mother who enjoys sharing photos and memories of her child with others, Our Lady invites us to enter into the mysteries of Jesus’ life and rest in His Presence, especially through contemplating on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Fr. Szkredka goes on to illuminate events in the Blessed Mother’s life, such as the Annunciation, to help us meditate on these scenes.
“Mary’s initial reaction of being greatly troubled by Gabriel’s greeting, as well as the question she posed – “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” – indicate that God’s plan was not something she had expected. In other words, God’s invitation to become the mother of his Son is absolutely surprising. In fact, it is so strange that it forces Mary to admit that she does not know how she can remain virgin and yet become a mother. There is no precedence for this sort of event. She stands in front of something totally unheard of. And even though Gabriel announces the fulfillment of some well-known prophecies – in particular, the promise made to David that his kingdom would be established forever (2 Sam 7) – the manner in which these prophecies are to come about is new. It is this surprising originality of God’s plan – a virgin becoming a mother of God’s Son through the work of the Holy Spirit – that finds in Mary neither resistance nor disbelief, neither clinging to old ways nor attachment to tried practices, but an attentive and listening heart ready to say yes.” (Icon of Trust)
4. “All these were continually devoting themselves with one mind to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Acts 1:14)
The Blessed Virgin was present at significant moments of the life of Christ and the Church. She prayed for the apostles on Pentecost and for the faith of the early Christians. In our divided world, Mother Mary reminds us to be of “one mind” in following her Son Jesus in His Church and to entrust all of our concerns to her Immaculate Heart. When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego on December 12, 1531 in Mexico, she comforted him saying:
“Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?”
So too, Mary brings the healing presence of her Son to our hearts, Church, countries, and world today.
5. “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and crying out in the pain and agony of giving birth.” (Revelation 12:1-2)
In her autobiography, Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes of her child-like devotion to Our Lady:
“She is more Mother than Queen. I have heard it said that her splendor eclipses that of all the saints as the rising sun makes all the stars disappear. It sounds so strange. That a Mother should take away the glory of her children! I think quite the reverse. I believe that she will greatly increase the splendor of the elect….Our Mother Mary….How simple her life must have been.” (208)
Our Blessed Lady’s humble “yes” bore for us so great a redeemer, whom she stood by at the foot of the Cross, when she became our Mother. Mary remains with us to guide and console us in our trials. As Cardinal Sarah continued, describing the significance of the decree,
“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.”
By imitating her devoted love of Jesus, on the Cross and in the Holy Eucharist, we become spiritual mothers of souls. United to the Blessed Virgin, we help rebuild the Church and bring about the radical transformation of the world.
Photo by Laura Allen on Unsplash