Behold your Mother

Amid mounting tensions in the world and in the Church, today’s feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us that the bonds of fraternal union come to us as Jesus Christ did, through Mary, insofar as we are united to Him through her. St Pius X wrote in his 1904 encyclical, Ad diem illum:

“Was not Mary Christ’s Mother? Well, then she is our Mother also. … All of us, therefore, who are united to Christ and, in the words of the Apostles, are members of His Body, of his flesh and bones, have come forth from the womb of Mary, like a body united to its head. This is the spiritual and mystical reason why we are called children of Mary and she is called the Mother of us all.”

Devotion to Mary as Mother of God and our Mother is the bulwark of Catholic piety, refortified in the last century by the events of Our Lady’s appearance in Fatima. Shortly following today’s feast of the Maternity of Mary is the anniversary of the greatest theophany in recorded history outside of events of sacred scripture: the miracle of the sun in Fatima, witnessed by 70,000 people on 13 October 1917.

The generations which followed saw, on the one hand, successive declarations of the sovereign pontiffs proclaiming Mary’s maternal rights over her children and expounding her true role in the salvation of mankind, culminating in the solemn definition of the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Pius XII (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950). But they also saw shortcomings in the way the sovereign pontiffs sought to act on her urgent plea in Fatima for the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Such great fervour and also fallibility was reflected in the way she was acknowledged and then ignored at the Second Vatican Council which followed.

Among the documents carefully prepared prior to the Second Vatican Council, and unfortunately thrown out in its opening sessions, is a Draft of a dogmatic constitution on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of men. In a spirit of fraternal union and filial confidence, the document calls all the faithful “to pour out united prayers to the Patroness of Christian Union so that, at last, the mandate of Christ can be fulfilled: ‘that there be one fold and one Shepherd!’”.

As stated in its prefatory note, the draft constitution was drawn up at the urging of bishops throughout the world, on behalf of their own flocks, desiring to honour God’s rights over His creatures, and Mary’s over her children:

“The Antepreparatory Commission for Vatican II received hundreds and hundreds of proposals (around 600 of them) asking that the Ecumenical Council discuss the most Blessed Virgin Mary. Some even wished the Council to publish a treatise or an ‘encyclical’ ‘on the most venerable Mother of Christ’, particularly on the grounds that ‘the forthcoming Council would deal very imperfectly with the Church unless it were also to deal with the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially in these days of supreme conflict between believers and Satan’.”

The draft constitution also directed the Council fathers to “consider the economy of our salvation, not in terms of what it could be, but in terms of what God willed this economy to be”, and “diligently to strive to place the roles and offices of the Blessed Virgin in their true light and to link them with other dogmas, but most especially with those that relate to Christ, who is the centre of all truth, holiness, and piety.”

The spirit of filial love and confidence which animates this document is urgently needed at the present moment of ecclesial upheaval, because the Church herself, as St Augustine says, is “very like Mary”. Not only is she the supreme model proposed by Christ of intimate union with the work of Redemption, even to the point of giving up her Son “to the death of the cross”, but Our Lord Himself, in the consummation of this sacrifice, gave her up to be our Mother also. As Leo XIII, wrote in his 1895 encyclical, Adiutricem populi:

“The mystery of Christ’s great love for us is also made clear by the fact that as He was dying He willed to leave His Mother to his disciple John in that memorable testament: ‘Behold your son.’ But in John, as the Church has always understood, Christ meant to personify the human race and especially those who would unite themselves to him by faith.”

This filial commission to the human race as a whole was followed, after our Lord’s Resurrection, with that to the apostles in particular to “go into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature”. As the successors of the great commission convene in Rome, let us pray that they “consider the example of the apostles, who awaited the supreme gift of the promised Spirit Paraclete by persevering unanimously in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” (Leo XIII, Superiore anno, 1884) Let us pray also that all the faithful may render to Mary her rights as Mother of God and of men, commending to her the restoration of the Church, for which Christ died, and trusting that there is no division among her members that cannot be healed by Mary’s suppliant omnipotence.