St John's Catholic Church & Cemetery


The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Us All
The Role of the Mother of the Son of God and of the Church in the World

The Church, from its very beginning as always held the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Son of God, in loving, maternal as the mother of both Christ and his Church devotion. Exclaiming devotion to Mary must first begin with the Holy Spirit, for according to Paul VI, "We must have as our first 'devotion' that to the Holy Spirit (and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary leads us to it, as it leads us to Christ)."[1] Paul VI states very few times the role of the Holy Spirit in Mary, one in which he remarks this way, "Let us hold fast in thought, in heart, to this most certain and ineffable truth about Our Lord Jesus Christ, one in the divine Person of the only-begotten Son of God; eternal in the nature of the Word, incarnate in human nature in Mary by the operation of the Holy Spirit."[2] Paul VI would not only mention the Holy Spirit's role in the incarnation of Christ within Mary, but the Immaculate Conception, "The first of the redeemed, immaculate from the moment of her conception, the incomparable dwelling-place of the Spirit, the pure abode of the Redeemer of mankind, she is at the same time the beloved Daughter of God and, in Christ, the Mother of all."[3]

To focus the Holy Year of 1975 to Mary and the resulting Marian Congress that marked this celebration, Paul VI concludes the valuable importance this Congress was to have on the Church in its understanding of the nature of relationships of Mary and the Holy Spirit, commenting:

It is the path of beauty, to which the mysterious, marvelous and stupendous teaching which forms the theme of the Marian Congress finally leads us: Mary and the Holy Spirit. In fact, Mary is the 'creature all beautiful'; she is the mirror without spot and the supreme ideal of perfection which the artists of every period have endeavored to reproduce in their works. She is the 'woman clothes with the sun, in whom the purest rays of human beauty mingle with those sovereign inaccessible rays of supernatural beauty. And what is the reason for all this? Because Mary is he one 'full of grace', that is, we can say, full of the Holy Spirit, whose light shown forth in her with incomparable splendor, Yes, we need to look to Mary, to fix our gaze on her unsullied beauty, for our eyes are too often offended and almost blinded by the deceiving images of beauty in the world. How many noble sentiments, how great a desire for purity, what renewing spirituality can be evoked by the contemplation of such sublime beauty.[4]

More recently, as the role of woman and her status in the world have changed in modern times, so too, has the dignity and respect that has been given to her. The plethora of society’s new and increasing roles given to women, the opportunities created through the changing economic, governmental, and social structures in which they live, and the new philosophical and theological understandings of women have all contributed to realizing the common respect and equal dignity that is uniquely hers because of her femininity. Pope John Paul II drew his attention to this ever-increasing topic of discussion in the world in his 1988 apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, a focus on the integral human dignity that is owing of all women and the exemplar of all women, the Virgin Mary.

The document identifies the woman as having an expressly inherent dignity that was given to the first woman at the beginning of creation, Eve. It couples this same dignity that every woman after shares with the new-founded dignity afforded to women in the new Eve, Mary. This woman, Mary, as the chosen mother of God, would raise the dignity of not only women, but all humankind, by her cooperation with the will of the Father in becoming the mother of the redeemer, Jesus the Christ, who as both God and man would restore the image of man, giving us life and freedom from sin. Mary, for us, becomes a model by which we realize our vocation, to be the true sons and daughters of God the Father by our living out inimitation of her love for Him and His Son, Jesus. For women, this is both a vocation they are called as are men, but one they share in uniquely by their relationship to Mary as a woman. The Holy Father calls women to this kind of charity that the Blessed Mother has for her Son, by giving their lives to Christ in love by those whom they serve.

In a second relationship, Pope John Paul II speaks of the dignity and role of women not only in our mother, Mary, but also drawing us to the model of the Church, who is also the mother of us all because she collectively includes all of the spiritual sons and daughters of God. The Church herself is a virgin, mother and a spouse; virgin by her sanctity and purity she pledges to Christ her spouse, mother by her maternal love she gives as Mary in her care and love for her spiritual children in the immortal life that she imparts in faith through Christ, and spouse by her fidelity and obedience in safeguarding the faith just as Mary fulfilled the will of the Father. As women can find in Mary a perfect model by which to live their dignity and vocation, they can also follow the example of the Church for which Mary is the figure and exemplar, as the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church from Vatican Council II states precisely, “Mary is the ‘figure’ of the Church, For in the mystery of the Church, herself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin came first as an eminent and singular exemplar of both virginity and motherhood . . . . The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren (cf. Rom 8: 29), namely, among the faithful. In their birth and development she cooperates with a maternal love."[5]

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the mother and model of the Church.[6] In Mary, Christian families see an example of complete surrender to the Father and of love for Jesus. Devotion to her example and life of faith is a most salutatory model and school for Christians because in Mary, “faith is at the root of her vocation and is the constant background of all the events of her life.”[7] By daily persevering in their vocation and life of faith, like Mary whose faith “brings her to perfect union with her Son,” families will find strength in their vocations and will aid each member to overcome challenges and to unite himself or herself with the will of her Son, Jesus.[8] Mary “stands out as the perfect personal model of faith and charity, the first and most perfect disciple who fervently receives the words of her Son.”[9] Her perfect “obedience of faith” is rooted in her conscious relationship of faith in God, in her privilege of being conceived immaculately, and in her life of cooperation with the divine will of her Son.[10]

In the same way, the authentic Christian vocation is always rooted in an open, conscious awareness of God’s grace and in a faithful obedience to his divine will. With the intercession of Mary, the Church is a sign of Christ’s presence directing the family of God and directing individual members of domestic churches closer to their heavenly home.

by Rev. William W. Hennecke

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[1] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), The Teachings of Pope Paul VI: 1972 (Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 1973), 177.
[2] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), The Teachings of Pope Paul VI: 1975 (Liberia Editrice Vaticana: Vatican, 1976), 102.
[3] 490.
[4] 277.
[5] Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women Mulieris Dignitatem, 22.
[6] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964) 11, in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, ed. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1999), 63.
[7] Antoine E. Nachef, The Faith of Mary: Vatican II Insights on the Humanity of Mary (New York: Alba House, Society of St. Paul, 2002), 64.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., 62-63.
[10] Ibid., 110.

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