Fr Paul Keane, Vice Rector of Oscott College, Offers some timely reflections on the new feast day for the Monday after Pentecost added to the Church’s calendar by Pope Francis, Mary Mother of the Church
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been given many titles by the Church and, throughout the year, there are many days dedicated to her. So why has Pope Francis honoured her with yet another day – the Monday following Pentecost Sunday – under the title, Mother of the Church? What good does it do?
Perhaps the most significant reason is that Francis really loves Mary and when you love someone you want everyone else to love them. However, the pope did not invent this title. In November 1964, Pope Bl. Paul VI declared Mary to be ‘the Mother of the Church’ and wished that Christians would honour her so. Because of her ‘Yes’ to the Archangel Gabriel, Jesus was conceived and born. This makes her his first disciple. That is an extraordinary thought! But even more extraordinary it makes Mary our mother, for without her ‘Yes’ we could not be born into eternal life. Mary was not an instrument of God’s will; she was an active player. Through her ‘Yes’, we have received salvation and continue to receive grace.
As the Mother of the Church, Mary is not an optional extra to our faith. She may be a mere human being but God chose her and she accepted. You and I are only members of the Church – there is only a Church – because she was chosen and said ‘Yes.’ Again, that may seem a stark or dramatic statement. It is, however, the logic of our faith. Having lost eternal life through the action of one woman, God decided to save us through the action of another. We are all Mary’s children. Therefore, Christians have long understood that Jesus’ words from the cross to his beloved disciple regarding Mary are addressed to us all: ‘Behold your mother’ (John 19.27).
The new time that Pope Francis has chosen to honour Mary is not random. It is, literally, the first day after Pentecost Sunday. He wants to remind us how Mary became Jesus’ mother and so ours: Gabriel told her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ (Luke 1.35). Mary is the first charismatic of the New Testament. And she remains open to the Spirit. When the apostles gathered to pray after Jesus’ ascension they would be joined by ‘Mary, the mother of Jesus’ (Acts 1.14). Therefore, when the tongues of fire came down on the apostles at Pentecost, they came down on her. For how could its mother be absent on the day of the birth of the Church?
My own love for Mary has grown. When I was younger, I thought of her as a distraction, an unnecessary addition. I would question the use of her when we already had Jesus. But, slowly, I awoke to her significance: Jesus’ first disciple; the mother of my salvation. I began to turn to her more and more in prayer. To do so is another logic of our faith: knowing how powerful are the loving prayers of mothers, what could be more powerful than the loving prayers of the Mother of us all? This year, for the first time, we shall celebrate a day to Mary, the Mother of the Church. And about time too!