Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church
Entering the Saint John Paul II Seminary chapel, one can see a lovely mosaic of Mater Ecclesiae, Mother of the Church, based on the mosaic that Pope John Paul II had installed in 1982 on the wall overlooking Saint Peter’s Square, one year after he survived an assassination attempt. The mosaic in our seminary’s chapel, like the one in Rome, depicts Mary tenderly holding the Christ Child, and below them is the pope’s coat of arms and his motto, Totus Tuus, “Totally Yours.” Both represent his devotion to Mary, whose maternal care he relied upon as a boy after his mother died and later throughout his priesthood and papacy, and to whom he credited for preserving his life after he was shot.
Likewise, at the dedication Mass for the seminary, I encouraged the seminarians to have a special devotion to our Blessed Mother. “Just as Jesus on the cross entrusted John to His mother,” I said, “so does the Church today continue to encourage all of us to entrust our lives, our vocation, our ministry, our service to Mary, the mother of Jesus, mother of God, mother of the Church. It is under that title that we bless this chapel – dedicated to Mary, Mother of the Church.”
This title is one by which Mary has been venerated in the Church for many centuries. And in 1964 at a Mass closing the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Paul VI formally recognized her as “Mother of the Church.”
Now, on this day after Pentecost, the whole Church is celebrating for the first time as a universal feast the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. This celebration, instituted by Pope Francis in March, incorporates the Gospel reading from Saint John which recounts how as Jesus was dying, he “the disciple he loved” with Mary at the foot of the cross, and the Lord said to him, “Behold your mother” (19:25-34).
Since we regard Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, it is fitting to celebrate this next day as the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church. She was present, abiding in prayer with the Apostles in the Upper Room as they received the Holy Spirit, and it was in fact her “yes” to following God’s will that set in motion our salvation as she became Jesus’ mother, his first and greatest disciple, and our first and greatest example in faith.
On this inaugural universal feast day – which comes about a week after we celebrate Mother’s Day to honor our earthly mothers – we can, like Saint John Paul and also like the young men studying at our seminary, remember Mary’s maternal care for our Church and for each of us. Just as she prayed with the Apostles, she prays for us, that we too open our hearts and lives to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and become Jesus’ witnesses to the world.