MARY IS PATTERN OF CHURCH’S HOLINESS
Pope John Paul II
In every age Mary is the loving ‘Mother of the Church’, who prays for the outpouring of the Spirit’s gifts and leads the disciples closer to Jesus
"The Blessed Virgin is the perfect realization of the Church's holiness and its model", the Holy Father said as he began a series of reflections on Mary's role in the Church at the General Audience of Wednesday, 6 September. Here is a translation of his address, which was the first in the new series and was given in Italian.
1. After pausing in the previous catecheses to reflect more deeply on the identity and mission of the Church, I now feel the need to turn our gaze to the Blessed Virgin, she who is the perfect realization of the Church's holiness and its model.
This is exactly what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council did: after explaining the doctrine on the reality of the People of God in salvation history, they wanted to complete it with an illustration of Mary's role in the work of salvation. In fact, the purpose of chapter eight of the conciliar Constitution Lumen gentium, isto emphasize the ecclesiological significance of Marian doctrine, but likewise to shed light on the contribution that the figure of the Blessed Virgin offers to our understanding of the Church's mystery.
2. Before explaining the Council's Marian itinerary, I would like to take a reflective look at Mary just as, at the Church's beginning, she is described in the Acts of the Apostles.At the beginning of this New Testament text, which describes the life of the first Christian community, and after recording the names of the Apostles one by one (1: 13), Luke states: "All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (1:14).
The person of Mary stands out clearly in this picture; she is the only one, with the Apostles, mentioned by name. She represents one face of the Church, different from and complementary to the ministerial or hierarchical aspect.
3. In fact, Luke's statement mentions the presence in the Upper Room of some women, thus showing the importance of the feminine contribution to the Church's life from the very beginning. This presence is closely linked to the perseverance of the community in prayer and harmony. These traits perfectly express two basic aspects of women's specific contribution to ecclesial life. Better suited to outward activity, men need women's help to be brought back into personal relationships in order to progress towards the union of hearts.
Mary's role had notable importance
"Blessed among women" (Lk 1:42), Mary eminently fulfils this feminine mission. Who better than Mary can encourage all believers to persevere in prayer? Who better than she can promote harmony and love?
Recognizing the pastoral mission entrusted by Jesus to the Eleven, the women in the Upper Room, with Mary in their midst, joined in their prayer and at the same time witnessed to the presence in the Church of people who, although they have not received that mission, are likewise fully-fledged members of the community gathered in faith in Christ.
4. Mary's presence in the community, which was waiting in prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1: 14), calls to mind her part in the Incarnation of the Son of God by the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35). The Virgin's role in that initial stage and the role she plays now, in the manifestation of the Church at Pentecost, are closely linked.
Mary's presence at the first moments of the Church's life is remarkably highlighted by comparison with her previous, very discreet participation during Jesus' public ministry. When the Son began his mission, Mary remained in Nazareth, even though this separation did not exclude significant contacts such as the one at Cana. Above all, it did not prevent her from taking part in the sacrifice of Calvary.
In the first community, however, Mary's role assumes notable importance. After the Ascension and in expectation of Pentecost, Jesus' Mother is personally present at the first stages of the work begun by her Son.
5. The Acts of the Apostles stress that Mary was in the Upper Room "with his [Jesus'] brethren" (Acts 1:14),that is, with his relatives, as has always been the Church's interpretation. It was not so much a family gathering as the fact that under Mary's guidance, Jesus' natural family came to be part of Christ's spiritual family: "Whoever does the will of God", Jesus had said, "is my brother and sister, and mother" (Mk 3:35).
On the same occasion, Luke explicitly described Mary as "the mother of Jesus"(Acts 1:14), almost as if he wished to suggest that something of the presence of the Son ascended into heaven has remained in the presence of the mother. She reminded his disciples of Jesus' face and, with her presence in the community, is the symbol of the Church's fidelity to Christ the Lord.
The title of "Mother", in this context, proclaims the attitude of thoughtful closeness with which Our Lady followed the Church's life. Mary was to open her heart to the Church to show the marvels done in her by the almighty and merciful God.
Mary is a teacher of prayer for Christians
From the very beginning, Mary carried out her role as "Mother of the Church": her action encouraged understanding between the Apostles, whom Luke describes as being of "one accord", far from the disputes that had occasionally arisen among them.
Lastly, Mary expressed her motherhood towards the community of believers not only by praying to obtain for the Church the gifts of the Holy Spirit necessary for her formation and her future, but also by teaching the Lord's disciples about constant communion with God.
She thus became the Christian people's teacher of prayer, of encounter with God, a central and indispensable element, so that the work of the Pastors and the faithful would always have its beginning and its inner motivation in the Lord.
6. From these brief remarks it can clearly be seen how the relationship between Mary and the Church is a fascinating comparison between two mothers. It clearly reveals Mary's maternal mission and the Church's commitment ever to seek her true identity in contemplation of the face of the Theotókos.
Weekly Edition in English
13 September 1995, page 7
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