Fr Billy Swan
In 2018, Pope Francis established the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church, to be observed annually on the Monday after Pentecost. This year, that day falls on Monday 29th May.
The readings for this feast recall that Mary received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost with the Apostles. The Church has traditionally portrayed Mary together with the apostles and disciples gathered at that first Pentecost, joined in prayer with the first members of the Church.
The use of the Mater Ecclesiae title to Our Lady goes back to St Ambrose of Milan in the fourth century and was revived by Pope Paul VI who, during his speech at the closing of the third session of the Second Vatican Council on November 21, 1964, said: "We declare Mary Most Holy Mother of the Church, that is, of all the Christian people”.
So why is the celebration of this feast day important for Christians today? Two reasons come to mind. The first is because just as Mary is the mother of Christ, so she is mother of his mystical body that is the Church. St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, famously uses the analogy of the Church as a body in which each member is connected to the welfare of the other. Also in Scripture, St Luke who is the author of his Gospel and also of the Acts of the Apostles, deliberately holds in close relationship the Spirit inspired works of Jesus in the Gospel and the Spirit inspired works of the Church in Acts. For Luke, the saving works of Jesus are continued in time and space through his body the Church.
There is a danger today of driving a wedge between the Church and Christ. We often hear it said in the statement: ‘Jesus yes, Church no’. To be fair, the scandalous revelations of recent decades have contributed to this. Jesus in the purity of his love, might seem far from his weak and sinful Christians in the Church. Yet, we are the group of sinful people for whom he came. He has bound himself to us irreversibly in love to save us and to take our sins on himself. We are his bride, he is the bridegroom. Therefore, despite the sinfulness of the Church, it is impossible to separate the head of the Church from the body of the Church. Both belong together or in the words of St Augustine, both Christ the head and his body of the Church are the ‘Christus Totus’ or the ‘total Christ’. It is Mary who reminds us of this. She is there at the beginning of Christ’s life with his birth and she is there at the beginning of the Church’s life at Pentecost.
The other reason why this feast day is important is because of the journey Mary has made along with the Church on the synodal pathway. Mary is with her Son all the way from his birth to his death to the coming of Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But she is also there with the Church – the community of followers of her Son. She follows him from Nazareth to Galilee to Jerusalem. She is moving with the Church and as mother of the Church she is where his disciples are.
On this new relatively new feast of Mary Mother of the Church, may we keep before us the truth that the Church community is the mystical body of her Son that He never abandons. And may our Blessed Mother be our companion on the journey that leads to the Father’s house. Amen.