Mary and Her Unifying Role in Church 

For the Wounded

In today’s society we see those who are wounded all around us. Whether we go out on the street, in the mall or even in our own homes they are there. Yes, they are even in our Churches. Often we even see ourselves as the ones who are suffering in our own brokenness. No matter where we look we see the wounded. At the same time Christ has promised peace to the broken hearted and has called all to become one with Him- to become the Body of Christ. What does this mean? Why don’t more people experience this peace or feel like they do not belong anywhere or to anyone? No doubt many would say they have no sense of belonging to the body of Christ. In other words they feel abandoned and alone. Even fewer people seem to ask why this is and what is it that we can do to remedy this. The thesis of my paper is that the role of Mary, as mother of the Church, is a gift that God has bestowed on us in our weakness to bring healing to those who are broken in the Church and as well as those all around us.

The Importance of Communion and Relationships

In a certain sense becoming part of the body of Christ means that we enter the family of God. That is we enter into a relationship with each other and with God. To be in the family of God implies a unique relationship with God and each other. To be in relation to God as a son or daughter means to be part of His Church.  As the church is the sacrament of communion with God it means that when we enter into relationship with God in such a unique way that our relationships are both a sign of what grace effects in us and also accomplish the fulfillment of that grace. When we say we are part of the family of God it means that the natural family relationship is analogical to our relationship with God and each other. In a world where broken family relationships seem to becoming more frequent it appears increasingly difficult for many to enter into the fullness of the relationship that God has called all to enter into. After all if many no longer understand the roles of members in a natural family and often bear wounds from those who are called father, mother, brother or sister. If this is the case then how can they give themselves over to relationships based upon the supernatural fully? After all, the natural in many in ways lays the foundational building blocks of how we perceive the supernatural. If a person has no conception of loving father then often it is only with the greatest of difficulty that they will ever be able to perceive God as a loving Father. 

In a family one of the first and strongest bonds is that between the children and their mother. The mother is always there in some way throughout the pregnancy and normally is one of the first people to greet the newborn child into the world. Mothers nurture their children.  There are even biological factors (i.e. hormones, etc.) that contribute to the forging of the relationship between in addition to other early bonds. In short if all follows according to the nature of the mother and child relationship, in both biological and emotional aspects, the result is that a deep bond between the two that naturally develops. On the other end of life it is frequently noted that on battle fields when a soldier is dying the person they often call for is not a wife, girlfriend or father. Rather it is their mother whom they call upon in their last extremities.

            There is a deep almost primeval desire to experience the love of our mother when we are suffering. Sometimes it seems that all else pales beside this desire and the rest of the world is tuned out. This development follows according to God’s natural plan and is meant to lead to greater things. It is this natural relationship that often forms the foundation of our future relationships in life. Sadly, due to the fact that we live in a fallen world this often does not occur. In fact it could be said that in spite of all our advances in technology and knowledge our various degrees of familial relationships are being greatly wounded in the process of trying to “transcend” our nature. Such are the tragic effects of man’s pride as exhibited in his attempt to be entirely “self-sufficient.” 

Mary as Mother of God and our Mother

There are many factors that contribute to this brokenness. Whether it is actual abortion, the use of contraception, abuse, neglect, divorce, and so on there are many things which injure this foundational relationship of mother and child. It would seem that one of the most effective ways to solve this dilemma would be to heal this relationship at its root. In fact God chose to do just that. While Eve’s disobedience brought death, Mary’s obedience results in life. Due to Mary’s cooperation in the salvific work of Christ she is said to be the mother of all living. While Eve, the mother of all according to human nature, bestowed death upon her children Mary brings Christ, who was formed in the womb of a virgin, to us and thus brings to us the fruit of salvation. It is Mary’s claim to Divine maternity which is the reason she is called to be our mother. It is through the Divine Maternity we receive all graces from Christ and it is in this sense that Mary is Mediatrix.

Mary as Mother of the Church

Even though God willed from before time that Mary would become our mother it was not until Calvary that that decision was “confirmed in time” and fully actualized. It was at the cross that Mary was given to the Church when Jesus said to the apostle John behold your mother and to Mary behold your son. The Scripture says it was from that moment that the disciple took her into his home. We are all called to be disciples of Christ and to bring Mary into our homes. If we are to have Christ as our brother then Mary must be our Mother. If Mary is the Mother of all the redeemed then she is the Mother of the Church. In fact Paul VI proclaimed this title to belong properly to the Virgin Mary during the closing of the third session of the Vatican council. While this title was used by previous popes this statement by Paul VI was an official proclamation in the context of the council of Vatican II. It indicates that Mary is simultaneously the mother of each believer and the Church as a whole. There is no attempt to reconcile this to Mary’s status as a member of the Body of Christ but neither is it disputed. 

As the natural realm is analogical of the supernatural order so is Mary’s role as our mother. At the same time what good mother would love her children and yet not feed or heal them when she has the ability to do so? Mary’s role as our mother pertains not just to our souls but also to our bodies for we are an intrinsic union of body and soul. Our mother Mary’s role is to bring God’s healing and salvation to our entire being. While this does not necessarily occur in an immediate manner nevertheless it is an intrinsic part of God’s redemptive plan. While the fullness of this healing of every member of the Church will be consummated at the end of time it also incrementally takes place in a certain sense through the sacraments. The sacraments are part of the dispensation of grace with which Mary cooperates, in a limited sense with their distribution, in this way she brings souls to Christ.

As mother of the church Mary’s role as mother unites each and every member of the Body of Christ. This singular privilege and role was given to her in light of God’s gift of the Divine Maternity to her and through her to us.  Not only does she unite us to the head Christ through her obedience to the Divine plan of salvation but in her role as mother she unites us as sons and daughters of God. In a sense we were conceived in Mary’s agony at the Cross when she willingly gave her heart to be pierced in beholding her Divine Son being treated so despicably. In this travail of spirit the Church which was predestined in Christ came to birth through Mary. Mary’s love for her children is supernatural because they are truly her children in the supernatural order. As we each receive natural life through our mothers so in an analogous way we each receive the supernatural life through Mary. 

Along these lines Fr James Mctavish makes the claim that God chose in Mary to reveal true unconditional love to us. He states that “the Hebrew word for mercy, rahamim, comes from rehem, a mother’s womb.” All that is good comes from God. The unconditional love that God bestows on those He receives is dispensed through the Virgin Mary. It is only fitting that we receive this “maternal love” of God through the blessed Virgin. This is not to say God could not have done otherwise but that before creation itself He freely chose Mary to fulfill this role. It is not accidental but eminently fitting according to our natural capacity for such a relationship. Mary was created to be our Mother and we were created to be her children. God could have redeemed us without Mary since His power is unlimited but it was not the plan of salvation that He had in mind. It is an amazing thing that He chose the natural to mirror His salvific work and vice versa. It is beautiful to think that in the earliest relationships we partake of in this life God is already communicating His salvific love to us.  

As Mary is the most perfect mother she is the most tender and merciful to her children. Those who are broken and in pain should be encouraged to pray to Mary asking for her intercession. No doubt this is why our Lord granted to Mary the title our Lady of Perpetual Help. Mary is the loving mother who earnestly seeks out her wounded children seeking to bathe them in her tears and to bring them back to health. No matter how desperate one is recourse to Mary is to always be encouraged.

Mary’s Motherhood and its Relation to the Motherhood of the Church

Like God Mary also has mercy upon us. In fact Mary is the exemplar of the Church and of each single believer. We often observe little children imitating their parents from an early age. As we have received of the mercy of God through the Virgin Mary so we are called to distribute mercy to others. Through our participation in the mercy we have received through Mary’s motherhood we also can become vessels of healing and grace to those around us. In fact it is in the imitating of Mary that the Lumen Gentium likens the Church to a mother. In a sense it is in imitating Mary that the Church becomes a mother.

Just as Mary has mercy upon others the Church is also. The motherhood of the Church is lived out also by its distribution of the sacraments and its extension of charity lived out in hope through faith. Each believer is called to bonds of fervent charity with each other. If believers were to imitate the Virgin Mary then that would be an immense step to bringing healing to so many people in our parishes, families, and homes.

Mary’s Role of Fostering Unity in the Church

As we are all children of one mother there should be accord and harmony among all those who belong to Christ. Mary directly participates in the fostering of unity through her intercession and distribution of the graces won by Christ. Indirectly she participates in the actions of all who belong to the Church for they are called to imitate her acts of virtue. Whether it is through docility and obedience to legitimate authority or serving each other with humility the Church’s imitation of Mary fosters unity in the body of Christ. This aspect of Mary’s motherhood also has serious connections to ecumenism. If others are outside the Body of Christ we are called to intercede for them as Mary does and to offer ourselves for their salvation. This includes acts of loving kindness and gentle consideration. As the telos of love is communion so are the acts done in imitation of the Blessed Virgin’s works. In doing the work of our mother we do the work of Christ and participate in building up the Body of Christ- the Church.

Means of Fostering Devotion to Mary

While the theoretical aspects of Mary’s Role as mother have been discussed at length it does remain to discuss the practical side of this. How do we make the teachings of the Church regarding Mary widely known and applied in the life of the Church today? The first way of doing this is sound homilies that address the beauty of Mary’s role and of her as God’s gift to us. Fostering Marian devotions also aid believers in knowing and experiencing the beautiful role of Mary in salvation history and her relationship to us. Devotions place her image before our hearts and minds in a very tangible and concrete manner. Another way is to for each person to strive to imitate the virtues of the Blessed Virgin in obedience to the exhortations of Lumen Gentium. Furthermore, examples of individuals in the Body of Christ living out an authentic relationship with filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin are another powerful witness of love and holiness of life. Such people inevitably share the gifts the Blessed Virgin gives them with the multitudes who enter their lives.  When someone is receiving the love of any member of the Body of Christ they are also experiencing the motherly love of Mary and of God Himself. In a certain sense this concretizes/ makes present a love that was not previously so tangible to the individual beholding it. In reality in as much as such love participates in the Divine life according to the order of charity there is no distinction for properly speaking it is the love of the Triune God which by grace we participate in and through our giving and receiving of it. In a certain sense, albeit limited God love becomes ours when it is lived out in devotion to the blessed Virgin and those she loves. After all the love that Mary exhibits is from the plentitude of grace she receives from her Master.

There is a natural desire to have a mother that is always there for us. While the wounds of many are deep from broken relationships and abandonment by others Mary is God’s solution for those who desperately want a good mother. There is a natural capacity in the human heart for someone to fill this God created role and Mary as the perfect mother to fill it. Obviously one cannot be naïve in thinking fulfillment will occur right away or even be observable in a quantifiable way during this life in any particular person. It may be that the suffering a person endures continues right up until the end of this life. In fact this often is the case. Yet at the same time a person can experience comfort in knowing that they are not abandoned in their suffering. One of the most basic fears of each human person is the fear of being utterly alone. Many fear that there is no purpose to this life and suffering. Often it seems to many that when they are failing or have died they will be forgotten and abandoned… forever. In a certain sense Mary is God’s loving remedy for us to experience His divine love in a very tangible and concrete manner. Through the blessed Virgin God lets us know that we are never alone. She is His promise to us that we will never be abandoned if we cry out to our Mother.

Conclusion

The blessed Virgin Mary is God’s answer to a broken world. Mary provides us with a tangible way to relate to our natural capacity and need for maternal love. In this sense Mary is God’s gift to mankind. Her maternal gift of love unites the Body of Christ by example and ontologically under the headship of Christ. Therefore the more legitimate love of Mary flourishes in the body of Christ the more unified the Body of Christ is. The more unified the Body is the deeper the level of communion is in the body of Christ and the greater the depth of communion with the Trinity that the members of the Church experience. Each individual believer participates in this unity in as much as it participates in the communion of the Body of Christ. 

As Mary is Mother of the Church and the Church is the sacrament of unity then in a certain limited Mary can also be considered in a certain sense to be the sacrament of unity as well. As love of each member of the natural family unites the natural family so analogously the love of each member of the Body of Christ for each other and for their mother unifies the Body of Christ in ever unfolding levels of ever deepening communion. The end of this communion is not merely love of each other but that the members of the Body of Christ experience an ever deepening love of each other as seen in light of the love God has for each person He created out of and for love.

Bibliography

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LUMEN GENTIUM. n.d. Vatican.va. (2018). Lumen gentium. [online] Available at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018]. (accessed December 4, 2018).

MCTAVISH, JAMES. Mary, Mother of Mercy. Christ the Power of Merciful Love. March 21, 2012. https://www.hprweb.com/2012/03/mary-mother-of-mercy-christ-the-power-of-merciful-love/ (accessed December 4, 2018).

Palyo, Robert. “The Church as Sacrament.” Ecclesiology Lecture. Yonkers, September 11, 2018. 1.

Pope Paul VI. On November 21, 1964, at the close of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father dedicated the following words to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the end renewing the Consecration first made by Pope Pius XII in 1952. November 21, 1964. https://www.ewtn.com/fatima/papal-documents/pope-paul-VI/1964Paul6.htm (accessed December 4, 2018).

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