Q: What are your thoughts on the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church?
A: Pope Francis has decreed that a new obligatory memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, be celebrated every year on the Monday after Pentecost (May 21 this year).
In doing so, the pope has exercised his oversight of the universal church’s liturgy by adding this celebration after the close of Easter Time. The chosen date for this celebration recalls Mary’s role as premier disciple among those who devoted themselves to prayer in the upper room as they awaited the promised Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Mary was the spiritual mother of this tiny “house church,” and she is the mother of all whose faith is founded on the witness of the Twelve Apostles.
On Nov. 21, 1964, at the close of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Paul VI declared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be “Mother of the Church, that is, of the entire Christian people, both the faithful and their pastors, who call her their most loving Mother.” And he decreed that “from now onward the whole Christian people should give even greater honor to the Mother of God under this most loving title” (“Acta Apostolicae Sedis” 56, 1965, p. 1015).
The sacred liturgy and popular devotions have a significant part to play in this. In a way, the new memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, complements the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, on Jan. 1. The Prayer after Communion for that solemnity notes that “we rejoice to proclaim the blessed ever-Virgin Mary Mother of your Son and Mother of the Church.”
The “Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary” includes three sets of Masses for the “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church” for use in Ordinary Time. There is also a votive Mass in honor of our Lady under this title in the Roman Missal. I think it would be fitting for “Mother of the Church” to be officially added to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary after “Mother of our Savior.”
The new memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and her votive Masses all highlight the fact that the church needs a mother, and the Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother that the church needs.
The church needs a mother because she is first of all a family, not an organization or institution. Can you imagine General Motors or the U.S. Congress having a mother? Hardly.
But God, who made us God’s adopted daughters and sons, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, has given us a most loving and caring mother, the same mother whom God gave to God’s beloved Son. Mary “draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love” (Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” no. 286).
Mary needed great faith to journey into the unknowns of motherhood and all the unknowns of human life. The church, the mother of God’s family on earth, needs Mary’s faith as she makes her journey into the unknowns of the future. So the church needs to pray:
Mary, one of us,
you who have touched
with your own hands
the Lord of the Good News,
to listen to the Word of Jesus,
and in his footsteps,
to walk on the rocky roads
of his gospel.
— Charles Singer, “Prayers for Feasts,” trans. Colette Joly Dees. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2002, p. 115.
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.