Yesterday’s solemnity, Pentecost Sunday, is celebrated as the “birthday of the Church.” Where there is a birth, there must be a mother. Today’s memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church was officially added to the liturgical calendar in 2018, so that the day after the birthday of the Church we honor the Mother of the Church.
Today’s Gospel is the scriptural basis for this title of Mary. From the Cross, Jesus gives his own mother to be the mother of the beloved disciple, who represents us all. Giving Mary a new kind of motherhood, the Lord tells her, “Woman, behold your son.” It is surely strange for a son to address his mother with the generic word “woman.” Jesus did this deliberately, as he did much earlier when he spoke to Mary at Cana, after she told him there was no more wine (cf. Jn 2:4). By addressing her as “woman” and by declaring that she has a “son,” Jesus draws our attention to the essential identity of Mary as both woman and mother. Despite the aggressive promotion of gender ideology nowadays, only a woman can be a mother; womanhood is the ground from which motherhood flourishes.
Scholars consider Jesus’ unusual way of addressing Mary as an allusion to the first woman, Eve, whose story we find in one of the optional readings for today’s memorial. Whereas the first woman Eve was disobedient to God, the new woman Mary was perfectly obedient. Whereas Eve did not trust God, Mary fully trusted him. She believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled (cf. Lk 1:45). Eve is the natural mother of all human persons; Mary is the spiritual mother of all the redeemed. Grace has reversed Eva to Ave. As members of the Church, children of Mary, we are to imitate our Mother’s total obedience and trust in the Lord.
Mary is described by the evangelist as “standing by the cross.” How can a mother stand to witness the gruesome punishment that her innocent Son is going through? Her courage and strength can only be understood as the fruit of persevering prayer and absolute reliance on God. Mary does not fully understand what is going on. She knows that her Son can break free if he wants to, but she sees that instead he sacrifices himself; he embraces the Cross. Mary unites herself with him, fully participating in his sacrifice. She prays for strength to endure and to love.
Persevering prayer is also revealed as part of Mary’s secret in the reading from Acts. She is described as united with the Church in prayer, gathered with the disciples in the Upper Room. Her Son has already ascended into Heaven, and the disciples are awaiting the fulfillment of his promise to send the Holy Spirit. Mary our Mother joins us in prayer as well, teaching us how to wait in faith, how to persevere in confident prayer, despite overwhelming odds or incomprehensible events.
Toward the end of the Gospel, the evangelist recounts that the side of Christ was pierced with a lance, “and immediately Blood and water flowed out.” The Church has always interpreted these enigmatic details as sacramental signs: water represents Baptism, and Blood represents the Holy Eucharist. Mary was there, as eyewitness and as recipient of the flood of grace – and as Mother of all who will receive new life from the Cross. She reminds us that Baptism has made us members of the Church and that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life. She enjoins us to live a life worthy of our Baptism, and to be constantly sustained and conformed to her Son through the Eucharist.
As we celebrate today’s memorial, Mary our Mother, Mother of the Church, exhorts us to live as children of obedience and trust in the Lord, to grow in persevering prayer, to strive to live by our baptismal promises, and to be sustained by the Most Holy Eucharist. If we follow her guidance, we will be like the truly beloved disciple who took Mary into his own home, that is, into his heart. From within our hearts, fully cooperating with the Holy Spirit, she continues to make our hearts like her own, in likeness to the Heart of her Son.
Is my faith nourished by Mary who trusted completely in God or on Eve who did not? As I follow the Lord, do I pray for strength to endure and to love as Mary did? Do I often ponder on the truth that the Eucharist is the source and summit of my life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.