The biographies of saintly
priests always document the great role they attributed in their
spiritual life to Mary. To the "written live" corresponds the
experience of the "lived lifes" true ministers of divine grace among
the people entrusted to their pastoral care, or as preachers,
chaplains, confessors, professors, writers. Spiritual directors and
masters insist on the importance of devotion to our Lady in the
priest's life, as an effective support on the path of
sanctification, a constant comfort during personal trials and a
powerful strength in the apostolate.
The 1971 Synod of Bishops also
passed on these expressions of Christian Tradition to priests today
when it recommended: "With his mind raised to heaven and sharing in
the communion of saints, the priest should very often turn to Mary,
the Mother of God, who received the Word of God with perfect faith,
and daily ask her for the grace of conforming himself to her Son" (Ench.
Vat., IV, 1202). The profound reason for the presbyter's devotion to
Mary most holy is based on the essential relationship established in
the divine plan between the Mother of Jesus and the priesthood of
her Son's ministers. We want to reflect on this important aspect of
priestly spirituality and draw practical conclusions from it.
Mary's relationship to the
priesthood derives primarily from the fact of her motherhood.
Becoming the Mother of Christ by her consent to the angel's message,
Mary became the Mother of the high priest. This is an objective
reality: by assuming a human nature in the Incarnation, the eternal
Son of God fulfilled the necessary condition for becoming the one
priest of humanity through his death and resurrection (cf. Heb 5:1).
We can marvel at the perfect correspondence between Mary and her Son
at the Incarnation. Indeed, the Letter of the Hebrews reveals to us
that when he "came into the world," Jesus gave a priestly
orientation to his personal sacrifice and said to God: "Sacrifice
and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me....
Then I said, 'Behold, I come to do your will, O God'" (Heb 10:5-7).
The Gospel tells us that at the same moment the Virgin Mary
expressed the same attitude, saying: "Behold, I am the handmaid of
the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).
This perfect correspondence
shows us that a close relationship has been established between
Mary's motherhood and Christ's priesthood. By that very fact a
special bond exists between the priestly ministry and Mary most
As we know, the Blessed Virgin
fulfilled her role as mother not only in physically begetting Jesus
but also in his moral formation. In virtue of her motherhood, she
was responsible for raising the child Jesus in a way appropriate to
his priestly mission, the meaning of which she learned from the
message of the Incarnation.
In Mary's consent we can
recognize n assent to the substantial truth of Christ's priesthood
and the willingness to cooperate in fulfilling it in the world. This
lays the objective basis for the role Mary was called to play also
in the formation of Christ's ministers, sharers in his priesthood. I
called attention to this in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Pastores Dabo Vobis: every aspect of priestly formation can
be referred to Mary (cf. n. 82).
We know further that our Lady
fully lived the mystery of Christ, which she discovered ever more
deeply through her personal reflection on the events of her Son's
birth and childhood (cf. Lk 2:19; 2:51). With mind and heart she
strove to fathom the divine plan in order consciously and
effectively to cooperate in it. Who today better than she could
enlighten the ministers of her Son, leading them to fathom the
"unspeakable riches" of his mystery in order to act in conformity
with his priestly mission?
Mary was uniquely associated
with Christ's priestly sacrifice, sharing his will to save the world
by the cross. She was the first to share spiritually in his offering
as sacerdos et hostia, and did so most perfectly. As such,
she can obtain grace to those who share in her Son's priesthood on
the ministerial level, the grace moving them to respond ever more
fully to the demands of spiritual oblation that the priesthood
entails: in particular, the grace of faith, hope and perseverance in
trials, recognized as a challenge to share more generously in the
On Calvary Jesus entrusted a
new motherhood to Mary when he said to her: "Woman, behold your
son!" (Jn 19:26). We cannot overlook the fact that when this
motherhood was proclaimed, it was in regard to a "priest," the
beloved disciple. In fact, according to the Synoptic Gospels, John
too received from the Master at the supper on the previous night the
power to renew the sacrifice of the cross in his memory. With the
other apostles he belonged to the group of the first "priests"; now
at Mary's side he replaced the one, supreme priest who was leaving
the world. Certainly, Jesus' intention at that moment was to
establish Mary's universal motherhood in the life of grace for every
disciple, both then and for all ages. But we cannot ignore the fact
that this motherhood took on a concrete, immediate form in relation
to an apostle-priest. And we can think that Jesus' gaze extended
beyond John to the long series of his priests in every age until the
end of the world. As he did for the beloved disciple, he made that
entrustment to Mary's motherhood for them in particular, taken one
Jesus also said to John:
"Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19:27). To the beloved disciple he
entrusted the task of caring for Mary as his own mother, of loving
her, venerating her and protecting her for the remaining years of
her life on earth. But his was in the light of what was written for
her in heaven, where she would be assumed and glorified. These words
are the origin of Marian devotion; the fact that they were addressed
to a priest is significant. Can we not then draw the conclusion that
the priest is charged with promoting and developing this devotion
and that he is the one primarily responsible for it?
In his Gospel John thought it
important to stress that "from that hour the disciple took her into
his home" (Jn 19:27). Thus he responded immediately to Christ's
invitation and took Mary with him, with a reverence appropriate to
the circumstances. I would like to say that in this respect too he
appeared as a true priest, certainly a faithful disciple of Jesus.
For every priest, taking Mary
into his own home means finding a place for her in his own life,
remaining in habitual union with her in his thoughts, feelings, zeal
for the kingdom of God and for devotion to her (cf. CCC 2673-2679).
What should we ask of Mary as
"Mother of priests"? Today, perhaps more than at any other time, the
priest must ask Mary especially for the grace of knowing how to
accept God's gift with grateful love, fully appreciating it as she
did in the Magnificat--- the grace of generosity in
self-giving, in order to imitate her example as a "generous Mother";
the grace of purity and fidelity in the obligation of celibacy,
following her example as the "faithful Virgin"; the grace of
burning, merciful love, in the light of her witness as the "Mother
The presbyter must always
remember that in the difficulties he will meet he can count on
Mary's help. In her and to her he confides and entrusts himself and
his pastoral ministry, asking her to make it yield abundant fruit.
Finally, he looks to her as the perfect model of his life and
ministry, because she is the one, as the Council says, who "was led
by the Holy Spirit to dedicate herself totally to the mystery of
man's redemption. Let priests love and venerate with filial devotion
and veneration this mother of the eternal high priest, Queen of
Apostles and protector of their own ministry" (PO 18).