Image: Our Lady of Victory, Inuvik
Today, on the first Monday after the Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. This memorial is a very recent introduction to the liturgical calendar, being added by Pope Francis in 2018, on the 160th anniversary of the apparition of Mary at Lourdes. The title, “Mother of the Church” is also relatively new, having been declared by Pope Paul VI at the second Vatican Council. He did so to honor Mary with the, “tenderest of titles” and said that she should be, “further honored and invoked” by that name.
With such a title, Mother of the Church, the connection to Pentecost seems clear. With Pentecost we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church and so it makes sense that today we celebrate the Church’s Mother. But why do we attribute that role to Mary. She was after all the mother of Jesus. It was Jesus who gave the keys of the Church to Saint Peter so, in a way, Mary could be considered the grandmother if we were to follow the lineage. But we should not get too caught up in the superficial details, instead let us focus on what is being revealed to us about our relationship with God through this feast.
Our readings bring us to two pivotal moments in the life of Jesus. The Gospel depicts the crucifixion of Christ and the reading from Acts brings us to the moments after the Ascension, the day when Jesus was taken up and returned to heaven. Both of these moments were turning points and in both moments Mary was present.
The crucifixion was a time of great sorrow and anguish but also fear. Most of the disciples had fled and, at the cross, only a few remained. Of these, Jesus singled out two. He asked his Mother, Mary, and the disciple that he loved to look after one another, to make a home together once Jesus was gone. So, Mary became a new mother. Not in the biological sense but in a practical sense as she and the disciple would care for and look after one another.
The moments after the ascension of Jesus were a time of confusion and doubt about what to do next. Mary was there to guide, to comfort and to encourage the apostles and, in a sense, became a surrogate mother to them all as they discerned the future of the movement that Jesus had begun. It was Mary who held them together and kept them from scattering until the Holy Spirit would bind them and fortify them with courage and wisdom.
As I think about the role of Mary in the birth and early life of the Church, I cannot help but think about the grandmothers in our families. They are there constantly to support, to teach and to care for the new generations of their family that need so much help as they welcome their own children. When there is a need, they even take their grandchildren under their roof and raise them, but always they are there to love and encourage them. We honor our Grandmothers and we know how important they are to the life of the family.
Today, in a similar way we honor Mary who gave herself to us so selflessly. We thank God who chose her and, who through her, allowed all of us to be active participants in his plan of salvation for the world. And we praise Jesus who gave us his mother, Mary, as our mother and the mother of the Church which nurtures us and guides us.