In Catholic circles Mary Mother of the Church is the newest of the Marian Feast Days first celebrated in the universal Church in 2018. The image presented is from John 19:25-31, which recounts how from the cross Jesus entrusted Mary to his disciples as their mother and entrusted his disciples to Mary as her children. Mary introduced her son to the world. He is known by a string of names, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and his name has spread throughout the world.
Paul VI in 1964 formally bestowed the title of “Mother of the Church” on Mary, but that recognition of her maternal care for the church and for believers had already spanned centuries. It can be traced back to fourth-century origins with St. Ambrose. The title “Mother of the Church” evokes Mary’s spiritual motherhood, which is tied up with the nature of the Church.
Honouring Mary as mother of the church on the day after Pentecost also highlights for Catholics that Mary was present with the disciples on Pentecost, praying with them as the Holy Spirit descended. Sarah said that Mary, “from the awaiting of the Spirit at Pentecost, has never ceased to take motherly care of the pilgrim church on earth.”
Mary and Vatican 2
The Second Vatican Council originally planned to issue a separate document on Mary. Instead it decided to add a chapter to Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). In this chapter the Council emphasised that although Mary held a particular and important role in the Church honour given to her must be “so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness (ability) of Christ the one Mediator”(#62).
In 1975 Paul VI picked up this emphasis in Marialis Cultus (To Honour Mary). The Pope expressed concern that devotion to Mary was both falling away and problematic. He considered that this was because Mary was often presented in ways that were unappealing to modern people. The images were those of the Middle Ages, Mary as timid and submissive, and therefore not reflecting the reality of the 1970s and the developing understanding of women’s place in society. He goes on to point out that the Church was not stuck with these images of Mary “some of which are showing the ravages of time.” (#24) He encouraged the creation of new and appealing views of Mary suitable for current times following five important guidelines.
These guidelines were that devotion to Mary be:
- Biblical – based on Scripture
- Liturgical – in tune with the seasons of the Church
- Ecumenical – should not divide the Christian churches
- Anthropological – aware of the changing role of woman
- Theological – with Christ at the centre
Over time many new images of Mary have arisen. Often they reveal the very human side of Mary, a side that ordinary people can identify with. This statue in Chester Cathedral, England shows Mary teaching the young Jesus how to walk.
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