Q. In the “Salve Regina,” the “Hail, Holy Queen,” that concludes the church’s night prayer, we address the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Mother of Mercy.” Please comment on this title of hers.
A. Pope Francis concludes his promulgation of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy by turning to the Mother of Mercy: “Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception. Let us address her in the words of the ‘Salve Regina,’ a prayer ever ancient and ever new, so that she may never tire of turning her merciful eyes upon us, and make us worthy to contemplate the face of mercy, her Son Jesus” (no. 24).
The title “Mother of Mercy” is much loved by Christ’s faithful. It is thought to have been first given to the Blessed Virgin by St. Odo (d. 942), the Benedictine abbot of Cluny in France. It is a fitting title for Our Lady because she brought forth for us Jesus Christ, the visible manifestation of the mercy of the invisible God. Jesus Christ is truly the mercy of God made flesh, and so Mary is truly the “Mother of Mercy.”
Interceding for us
Mary is also the spiritual mother of all Christ’s faithful, the “most merciful, the most compassionate mother, the most tender mother, the most loving mother,” as St. Lawrence of Brindisi called her (“Mariale,” Second Sermon on the “Salve Regina”).
From her place in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary offers merciful intercession on behalf of her children on earth, just as she interceded on behalf of the bride and groom at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). The “mercy” that we seek from God is broader than forgiveness of sins; it is really God’s abundant blessings for body, soul and spirit, and we do well to ask our Mother Mary to pray for us in every need.
The “Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary” includes a set of prayers and Scripture readings for a Mass in honor of “Holy Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy.” The commentary on this Mass formulary explains that here she is celebrated as “a prophet extolling the mercy of God.” In her “Magnificat,” Mary twice praises God’s mercy: “He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation,” and “He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy” (Luke 1:50, 54).
Mary experienced how that promise of divine mercy was fulfilled in the saving death of her son, for at the foot of the cross, she beheld the wounds of Jesus and heard the words of forgiveness and mercy that he spoke. So we do well to pray as a Way of the Cross booklet bids us to at the fourth station: “O Mother of mercy, grant that we may always realize in ourselves the death of Jesus and share with him in his saving passion.”
The Mass in honor of “Holy Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy” also venerates her as “a woman who has uniquely experienced God’s mercy.”
The preface for this Mass declares that “she is the gracious queen who has herself uniquely known [God’s] loving kindness and stretches out her arms to embrace all who take refuge in her and call upon her help in their distress.”
These words echo those of St. John Paul II: “Mary is … the one who obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person.” (encyclical letter “Dives in misericordiae,” no. 9).
Mary is the image of the church, which rejoices to receive God’s mercy in her son during this jubilee year and to praise God’s mercy in company with her. As we look to her, our Mother of Mercy, may we “show ourselves merciful to others and receive [God’s] pardon toward us” (Prayer over the Offerings for the Mass in honor of “Holy Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy”).
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.