Memorial of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Church
Two years ago, Pope Francis inserted the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church into the church’s liturgical calendar, to be celebrated on the Monday after the feast of Pentecost. He was acknowledging that devotion to Mary as mother of the church is a very ancient tradition. Coming on the day after the feast of Pentecost reminds us that Mary was present with the disciples at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down upon them. According to today’s second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, she joined with the twelve apostles and several women in continuous prayer as they all prepared to receive the Holy Spirit who had been promised by the risen Lord. This moment of the coming of the Holy Spirit is often celebrated as the birth of the church. Men and women were joined together in prayer at the birth of the church and Mary was in the midst of them in a motherly role. She was the mother of Jesus, but now she was also the mother of Jesus’ male and female disciples, the mother of the church. This is the role that Jesus gives her from the cross in today’s gospel reading. At the foot of the cross there is again a little community of men and women, rather, of one man, the beloved disciple, and several women. This beloved disciple who has no name stands in for us all, male and female disciples, and what Jesus says to him he says to us all, ‘this is your mother’, having just said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son’. Mary becomes mother of all disciples, mother of the church, at the foot of the cross, and at Pentecost she shows herself a mother by praying with other disciples in preparation for the coming of the Spirit. In the first reading Eve is spoken of as ‘the mother of all those who live’. Mary was understood early in the church as the new Eve, mother of all those who live with the life of her Son, a life received in baptism and nourished at the Eucharist. Mothers tend to pray for their children, and Mary prays for us all, just as she was praying with the disciples in our second reading. In the Hail Mary we recognize this motherly role of Mary when we say to her, ‘Pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death’. We all need people to pray for us, and it is reassuring to know that Mary, mother of the church, our spiritual mother, is always praying for us.
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