is Pattern OF Church’s Holiness
H.H. Pope John Paul II
September 6, 1995
In every age Mary is the loving ‘Mother of the Church’, who
prays for the outpouring of the Spirit’s gifts and leads the
disciples closer to Jesus
"The Blessed Virgin is the perfect realization of the Church's
holiness and its model", the Holy Father said as he began a
series of reflections on Mary's role in the Church at the
General Audience of Wednesday, 6 September. Here is a
translation of his address, which was the first in the new
series and was given in Italian.
1. After pausing in the previous catecheses to reflect more
deeply on the identity and mission of the Church, I now feel the
need to turn our gaze to the Blessed Virgin, she who is the
perfect realization of the Church's holiness and its model.
This is exactly what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council
did: after explaining the doctrine on the reality of the People
of God in salvation history, they wanted to complete it with an
illustration of Mary's role in the work of salvation. In fact,
the purpose of chapter eight of the conciliar Constitution Lumen
gentium, is to emphasize the ecclesiological significance of
Marian doctrine, but likewise to shed light on the contribution
that the figure of the Blessed Virgin offers to our
understanding of the Church's mystery.
2. Before explaining the Council's Marian itinerary, I would
like to take a reflective look at Mary just as, at the Church's
beginning, she is described in the Acts of the Apostles. At the
beginning of this New Testament text, which describes the life
of the first Christian community, and after recording the names
of the Apostles one by one (1: 13), Luke states: "All these with
one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women
and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (1:14).
The person of Mary stands out clearly in this picture; she is
the only one, with the Apostles, mentioned by name. She
represents one face of the Church, different from and
complementary to the ministerial or hierarchical aspect.
3. In fact, Luke's statement mentions the presence in the Upper
Room of some women, thus showing the importance of the feminine
contribution to the Church's life from the very beginning. This
presence is closely linked to the perseverance of the community
in prayer and harmony. These traits perfectly express two basic
aspects of women's specific contribution to ecclesial life.
Better suited to outward activity, men need women's help to be
brought back into personal relationships in order to progress
towards the union of hearts.
Mary's role had notable importance
"Blessed among women" (Lk 1:42), Mary eminently fulfils this
feminine mission. Who better than Mary can encourage all
believers to persevere in prayer? Who better than she can
promote harmony and love?
Recognizing the pastoral mission entrusted by Jesus to the
Eleven, the women in the Upper Room, with Mary in their midst,
joined in their prayer and at the same time witnessed to the
presence in the Church of people who, although they have not
received that mission, are likewise fully-fledged members of the
community gathered in faith in Christ.
4. Mary's presence in the community, which was waiting in prayer
for the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1: 14), calls to mind
her part in the Incarnation of the Son of God by the work of the
Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35). The Virgin's role in that initial
stage and the role she plays now, in the manifestation of the
Church at Pentecost, are closely linked.
Mary's presence at the first moments of the Church's life is
remarkably highlighted by comparison with her previous, very
discreet participation during Jesus' public ministry. When the
Son began his mission, Mary remained in Nazareth, even though
this separation did not exclude significant contacts such as the
one at Cana. Above all, it did not prevent her from taking part
in the sacrifice of Calvary.
In the first community, however, Mary's role assumes notable
importance. After the Ascension and in expectation of Pentecost,
Jesus' Mother is personally present at the first stages of the
work begun by her Son.
5. The Acts of the Apostles stress that Mary was in the Upper
Room "with his [Jesus'] brethren" (Acts 1:14), that is, with his
relatives, as has always been the Church's interpretation. It
was not so much a family gathering as the fact that under Mary's
guidance, Jesus' natural family came to be part of Christ's
spiritual family: "Whoever does the will of God", Jesus had
said, "is my brother and sister, and mother" (Mk 3:35).
On the same occasion, Luke explicitly described Mary as "the
mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14), almost as if he wished to suggest
that something of the presence of the Son ascended into heaven
has remained in the presence of the mother. She reminded his
disciples of Jesus' face and, with her presence in the
community, is the symbol of the Church's fidelity to Christ the
The title of "Mother", in this context, proclaims the attitude
of thoughtful closeness with which Our Lady followed the
Church's life. Mary was to open her heart to the Church to show
the marvels done in her by the almighty and merciful God.
Mary is a teacher of prayer for Christians
From the very beginning, Mary carried out her role as "Mother of
the Church": her action encouraged understanding between the
Apostles, whom Luke describes as being of "one accord", far from
the disputes that had occasionally arisen among them.
Lastly, Mary expressed her motherhood towards the community of
believers not only by praying to obtain for the Church the gifts
of the Holy Spirit necessary for her formation and her future,
but also by teaching the Lord's disciples about constant
communion with God.
She thus became the Christian people's teacher of prayer, of
encounter with God, a central and indispensable element, so that
the work of the Pastors and the faithful would always have its
beginning and its inner motivation in the Lord.
6. From these brief remarks it can clearly be seen how the
relationship between Mary and the Church is a fascinating
comparison between two mothers. It clearly reveals Mary's
maternal mission and the Church's commitment ever to seek her
true identity in contemplation of the face of the Theotókos.
Weekly Edition in English
13 September 1995
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