By Cliff Garvey
Just like you and me, the Blessed Virgin Mary has a vocation, a calling, a part to play in God’s plan for the salvation of all people and for the salvation of the whole world. Indeed, Mary has a twin vocation. Mary is both Mother of God and Mother of the Church. For centuries, Christians have venerated Mary’s loving care and maternal protection of the Church. In 1964, Saint Pope Paul VI formally bestowed on Mary the title of Mother of the Church. In Argentina, Poland, and even Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Church has long celebrated the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church. And in March 2018, Pope Francis announced the creation of a new feast day for all of God’s people in commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. It is now celebrated on the First Monday after Pentecost.
Through her vocation as Mother of God, we can pray and reflect on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role as wellspring of the greatest gift, the greatest joy, and the greatest sorrow that the world has ever known. But what about Mary’s vocation as Mother of the Church? What does it mean for our lives here and now? What does it mean for God’s family all around the world?
More than two decades ago, I was blessed to participate in a small weekend retreat in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. During the opening Mass, the priest who directed the retreat displayed an icon of the crucifixion. It depicted the suffering Christ, Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, and John, the Beloved Disciple. In a dark chapel, lit only by candles, the priest spoke simply, but from the heart, about how the Church truly begins at the foot of the Cross. Despite the horror unfolding before their eyes, the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple stand together. They pray together. They weep together. They worship together. They believe together that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus entrusts his mother into the loving care of his best friend. Jesus entrusts his best friend into the loving care of his mother. And the Church is born!
Catherine Doherty (1896-1985), the great Catholic social worker, whose cause for sainthood is now under consideration by the Vatican, writes: “Pure of heart, Mary saw God; she followed him, her Son, right to the foot of the cross, and beyond to the grave.” Such timeless insights about the origin of the Church are rooted in the scriptures and inscribed on the hearts of the faithful. Despite long years, they continue to inspire us to grow closer to Christ and closer to each other as faithful disciples at the foot of the Cross.
Mary is Mother of the Church because she is the Mother of God. Mary is Mother of the Church because the disciples were entrusted into her maternal care. Mary is Mother of the Church because she loves, she nurtures, and she prays for all of God’s children beyond all borders, across all ages, for all time and in all places.
In announcing the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, Pope Francis writes: “Mary became the tender Mother of the Church, which Christ brought about on the Cross. Christ, in turn, in the Beloved Disciple, called all disciples to be ministers of his love for his Blessed Mother; entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with devoted affection.” In this way, Pope Francis reminds us that just as Mary loves each one of us as a mother loves her own child, we are called to love her with the same love that a child feels for his or her own mother.
As if all of this mystical theology about our relationship with Jesus and his Blessed Mother is not enough to consider and pray about, the Holy Father schedules the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the day after Pentecost. It comes right after the miraculous moment when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples to affirm, inspire, strengthen, and motivate their faith in the Risen Christ and their ministry to share that faith with the world. With this new feast, Pope Francis reminds us that Mary is present at Pentecost. She prays with the disciples as the Holy Spirit confirms their faith and causes the rapid growth of Christian belief and practice. From this moment, the Pope Francis writes: “[The Blessed Mother] has never ceased to take motherly care of the pilgrim church on earth.”
What does all of this mean for us, here and now, in our homes and parishes during these uncertain times? In the Manual of Marian Devotion, we read: “Mary’s place is at the center of God’s plan. Christ’s story is her story; she is the mother to God’s people.” Mary as Mother of God and Mother of the Church is an indispensable actor in the great drama of salvation history.
What if Mary had said no to the Angel Gabriel? What if Mary had said no to her annunciation? Reflect on it. Pray about it. Weep over it. What if Mary had said no to her vocations? But she didn’t. By accepting her annunciation and her vocation as Mother of God, Mary brings God into the world. Mary brings God into our lives. By fulfilling her vocation, in all of its joy and suffering, Mary becomes Mother of the Church.
Now think about what might happen if we say yes to our own vocations. Think about how our small corner of the world, during this brief moment in time, could be made better, truly better, if we all became the disciples that we are called to be. Now think about what happens when we say no to God? Think about what happens when we say no to our vocations. Think about what happens when we say no to being the person that we are called to be. Think about what happens when we say no to the unique good that we are called to do in this life. Reflect on it. Pray about it. Weep over it.
Whatever our vocations might be — marriage, parenthood, priesthood, or the single life; lives of labor or scholarship; active ministry or prayerful silence — Mary as Mother of God and Mother of the Church is our model for becoming the person that we are truly called to be. She is our guide and mentor for doing the things that we are truly called to do. Saint John Paul II writes: “Mary’s exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals, and for communities, peoples, and nations, and in a sense, for all of humanity.” Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Mother of All Disciples. This is who Mary is for us.
In the Manual for Marian Devotion, we also read: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who is here?” If you are blessed, like me, to have a good and heroic mother, then you already know what this means. Mary is always here for us: always present, ever present, always praying, forever praying — for you, for me, for our community, for our divided country, for our wounded church, and for our sick and suffering world.
Mary is present at the very beginning. Mary is present every step of the way: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, and Jerusalem. Mary is the first to believe in Christ and his mission. Mary is present at the end — along the Way of the Cross and at the foot of the Cross. Mary is present at the new beginning. She is among the first to believe in the resurrection. She is present as the disciples preach and practice the Gospel of Christ among God’s people. She is present as the first Christians are persecuted. She is present as the early church blossoms and spreads around the world. When so many others give in, give up, and run away, she remains in joy and glory and sorrow; patient, steadfast, and never wavering.
Mary is here now — with us. She is always present, ever present; always praying, forever praying; always encouraging, always consoling; always bringing us together, and always bringing us closer to Jesus. Venerable Edel Mary Quinn (1907-1944) writes: “We have only one life and perhaps only a short one, during which to prove our love…If we make the effort, Jesus and Mary will help us to carry it through.” Mother of God. Mother of the Church. Mother of All Disciples. Comfort of the Afflicted. Help of Christians. This is who Mary is for us.
At the end of every meeting of the Legion of Mary in our parish, we pray these words: “Grant us a lively faith, animated by charity, which will enable us to perform all of our actions from the motive of pure love of you, and ever to see you and serve you in our neighbor; a faith firm and immovable as a rock, through which we shall rest tranquil and steadfast amid the crosses, toils, and disappointments of life; a courageous faith which will inspire us to undertake and carry out without hesitation great things for your glory and for the salvation of souls.” This is the prayer of ordinary people who visit the sick, pray with the forgotten, and reach out to those left behind. This is the prayer of everyday saints who long to do the Lord’s work. This is the prayer of God’s children who need a mother’s help, the Blessed Mother’s help, to get the job done. This is who Mary is for us.
Now and always, we ask Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church to pray for us; to pray that each one of us has the courage to be who we are called to be and to do what we are called to do in this one life that we are so blessed to live. We ask Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church to help us come together again as a community of believers united in prayer, fellowship, and service. We ask Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church to help us live the Gospel, share God’s love, and rebuild the Church. Amen.
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us! Our Lady of the Annunciation, pray for us! Mary, Mother of God, pray for us! Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Mary, Mother of the Church. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at email@example.com. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
The Assisi Project Podcast
Marian Podcast Series
- Listen: Mary, Mother of God
- Listen: Mary, Mother of the Church
- Listen: Mary, Mother of All Peoples (Parts 1 & 2)
- Listen: The School of Mary
- Listen: The Living Rosary – Day 1: A Journey Begins
- Listen: The Living Rosary – Day 2: A Journey Continues
- Listen: The Living Rosary – Day 3: A Prayer for Hope
- Listen: The Living Rosary – Day 4: A Prayer for Tomorrow
- Listen: The Living Rosary – Day 5: A Prayer for Joy
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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