The Church celebrates two Marian feast days in August: Assumption and The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is an inextricable link between the Church and Our Heavenly Mother, Mary. In fact, much of what has been said about the Church can also be applied to Our Lady. One of the closest connections between Our Lady and the Church is in the sanctifying maternity of both.
Mary carried Christ for the salvation of the world, just as the Church carries Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Mary has always been an example to the Church that is only superseded by Christ Himself. Lumen Gentium 53 states:
The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is “the mother of the members of Christ . . . having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head.” Wherefore she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity. The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.
Mary is our mother because she freely chose to cooperate in God’s plan of salvation. In her fiat, she agreed to bring the world to Christ. Mary is the Church in the sense that Christ Himself dwelled within her, as He now dwells in the Church. Mary is the Church because she brings the world to her Son, as the Church brings the world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity.
Just as the maternal function of Mary is to give the God-Man to the world, so the maternal function of the Church, which culminates, as we have seen, in the celebration of the Eucharist, is to give us Christ, the Head, Sacrifice and Food of his mystical body.
Henri de Lubac, The Splendor of the Church, 329
De Lubac goes on to quote from Carl Feckes’ “Maria als Vorbild, Mutter Und Herz der Kirche” in which he explains the connection between the Eucharist and Mary in more detail:
As Mary bore the earthly Christ, so the Church bears the Eucharistic Christ. As the whole life of Mary is centered upon the bringing up and protecting of Christ, so again the deep life and solicitude of the Church are centered on the Eucharist. As Mary gives the earthly Christ to the world…and from this gift are born the children of God, so also the Eucharistic flesh and blood produced by the Church should form living children of God. As Mary offered up Christ together with him at the foot of the Cross, so the whole Church, at each Mass, offers the sacrifice with him.
Everything that Mary did in her earthly life is being continued and mirrored by the Church. Both carry Christ in order to sanctify the world. Both offer the sacrifice of the Cross together with the High Priest, Jesus Christ. The mission of the Church is to bring the world to Christ through Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. The Church works for the conversion and salvation of souls. That is her purpose as the Bride of Christ. Mary’s entire life was centered on Christ and living the mission she was called to at the Annunciation. Her great love for her Son, who was God, translated into all of her actions. Christ gave us the Church and He loves His Church in the truest sense in that He laid down His life for her. Mary loves what Christ loves. To love Mary is to love the Church and to love the Church is to love Mary. Mary shows the Church the way to Christ by her life and by her intercession in Heaven. All that she does points to Him, just as all the Church does points to Christ.
This connection is deepened in the maternal function of the Church. The Church is our mother. She is our guide to the fullness of Truth. She loves with the heart of a mother and desires that all souls be saved. Mary too loves all souls with the heart of her Son. Here is Henri de Lubac again:
She bore One according to the flesh, but spiritually she bore the whole human race—while the spiritual maternity of the Church with regard to all includes that power over the Eucharist by the exercise of which the Church, we may say, carries out a sort of maternal function with regard to Christ himself.
The maternal function of the Church is an important one to understand. It helps us to trust and love the Church as the mother she is, rather than viewing her as an opponent to our freedom. The Church does not exist to limit us, but rather, to bring us into the fullness that we are called to in being made in the image and likeness of God. We do not view Mary as in competition with ourselves, instead we view her as the example par excellence on the journey to holiness. That which applies to Our Lady also applies to the Church. It is through Our Lady that we can grow in our understanding of the Church and lovingly submit in trust and obedience.
In this precisely we see the superior and more fundamental character of Mary’s maternity when compared with that of the Church, together with the organic union that connects the one and the other. The maternity of the Church acts on the basis and by the virtue of that of Mary, and that of Mary continues to act in and by that of the Church.
Dogmatik, Book 5
In the truest theological sense, it is impossible to understand the Church without Our Lady. In fact this connection was thought of in the Middle Ages as, “Mary and the Church, the one and manifold Mother.” That means that if we already have a great love of Our Lady, we must also have a great love of the Church. They cannot be separated. As Catholics, we must come to loving obedience of the Church, even on matters that are counter to our culture or our own desires. Mary and the Church as our Mother show us the true way to follow Christ. We are still on the path to overcoming sin and Christ left us in the arms of the maternal love of the Church.
But while in the most holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle, the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin. And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues. Piously meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church with reverence enters more intimately into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her Spouse. For Mary, who since her entry into salvation history unites in herself and re-echoes the greatest teachings of the faith as she is proclaimed and venerated, calls the faithful to her Son and His sacrifice and to the love of the Father. Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her exalted Type, and continually progresses in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things. Hence the Church, in her apostolic work also, justly looks to her, who, conceived of the Holy Spirit, brought forth Christ, who was born of the Virgin that through the Church He may be born and may increase in the hearts of the faithful also. The Virgin in her own life lived an example of that maternal love, by which it behooves that all should be animated who cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church for the regeneration of men.
Lumen Gentium 65
Christ did not leave us to wander alone in order to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. On the Cross he left us His mother and the Church. Just has the Holy Spirit impregnated Our Lady that very same Spirit impregnates the Church and gives her life. Our Lady is that image the Church mirrors and it is within the Church where Our Lord dwells in the Holy Eucharist and in the preservation of the Deposit of Faith. What a tremendous gift God has given us in the maternal love of Our Lady and His Church.