Mary, Mother of the Church: A New Marian Memorial for Post-Pentecost
The idea of Mary being the Mother of the Church is ancient in pedigree. It is as old arguably as St. Irenaeus and St. Augustine. It follows a certain logic: Mary is the physical Mother of Jesus, who is the mystical head of the Church. So in a sense, she has a special place as both Mother and Member of the Church. Some even have compared her to the “neck” of the Church, like St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Especially when we consider her Biblical roles, she plays, even apart from her literal motherhood of Christ, a “midwife” sort of role at key parts of Christ’s ministry. She does this first when, at her request, she beseeches Christ to perform his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. We see this again as she lovingly accompanies her Son to Golgotha in his Passion and Death.
In the birth of the Apostolic Church, she is noted by St. Luke specifically as being with the Disciples in prayer after the Ascension. St. Luke loves parallelisms, and there is a clear connection between the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary at the Annunciation, and upon the Church at Pentecost. In both situations, she has a mediating role. She is the most fitting vessel of the Holy Spirit, and as she gives birth to Christ the head in the body, so too in the spiritual order she gives birth, so to speak, to the body of Christ in the Church. The depth of this teaching is marvelous.
Mary with the Apostles at Pentecost, Icon
Last week the Congregation for Divine Worship promulgated a Decree establishing the day after Pentecost as a Memorial dedicated to Mary, Mother of the Church.
For my whole Priesthood I have long been a fan of celebrating Votive Masses to the Holy Spirit on the Ferial Days following Solemnity of Pentecost. Indeed, I greatly yearn for a return to the Old Pentecost Octave, (Liturgical Eight Day celebration) as it was celebrated in the Old Rite. I think the Church has been greatly impoverished by the removal of that Octave.
Much like the post-Christmas feasts within the Octave illuminate the mystery of the Word made Flesh, so too a Feast like this can help illuminate what actually took place at Pentecost. While we wait and labor for the restoration of that Octave to its rightful place in our Calendar and Devotional Life, we may rejoice at the institution of this new Feast. This Feast will help us understand even more why meditation is all the necessary following the Great Feast of Pentecost. Indeed, may it be the spark that lights the flame that pushes for its complete restoration.
A final point: Mary was present at the birth of the Church. I also believe she has always been present at her most pivotal “rebirths”. May the fire of the Holy Spirit which abides in the heart of the Blessed Virgin be for each of us a source of renewal and strength as we go forth to proclaim Christ to the world.