Pope Francis: ‘Mater Ecclesiae’ — go to Mary in times of trouble
I still remember the day when our aging German pontiff removed the ring of the fisherman forever and abdicated the holy office of the Maximus Pontifex in February 2013, the first pope to retire since Gregory XII in 1415.
And Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI chose a charming place to retire, once known as the Monastery of Mater Ecclesiae (Latin for “Mother of the Church”).
Perched on the Vatican hill inside the Vatican Gardens near the Aquilone Fountain, the peaceful residence was set up in 1990 by Pope Saint John Paul II as a monastery for cloistered nuns.
The Polish pontiff was dearly in love with the title of Mary, Mother of the Church, that he scribbled salient paragraphs on this in his 1987 Encyclical Redemptoris Mater.
During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), when the world was expecting radical changes, when some bamboozled intellectuals were waiting for the Supreme Pontiff to reduce the number of Marian titles, which they thought were too many, Pope Blessed Paul VI instead added another one, Mater Ecclesiae.
At the end of the Council’s third session on November 21, 1964, the Vicar of Christ announced that he would like the Second Vatican Council itself to proclaim “Mary Mother of the Church, that is, of the whole People of God, of the faithful and their Pastors.” And Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, incorporated such glorious title in Chapter VIII:
“THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, MOTHER OF GOD, IN THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.”
The good news sounded like a trumpet blast that heralded the tidings of comfort and joy. The more than two thousand bishops, priests, and the lay periti attending the historical Council didn’t contain their sentiments and applauded the announcement without end.
Argument of reason
From Annunciation March 25 to Christmas December 25 – nine full months in the womb of Mary – Jesus, the Son of the Living God, is getting ready to be sacrificed for the salvation of humankind. Hence, the title theotokos.
Caro Jesu caro Mariae est was a deduction made by Saint Alphonsus de Liguori in his book The Glories of Mary (New York: Kennedy and Sons, 1888). It means “the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary” one hundred percent because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary, who “knew no man.”
As theotokos, Mary gave us the Victim, The Lamb of God, to be slaughtered using a human body, with her own DNA/46 chromosomes, shedding human blood to “wash away our sins.”
The universal devotion progressed from Mary as theotokos to “Mother of the faithful” and “Our Mother,” that is, to emphasize her personal relationship with each of her children. Now paying greater attention to the mystery of the Church, we call her Mater Ecclesiae, Mother of the Church.
If Mary is the Mother of the Head (theotokos), then Mary ought to be the Mother of the Body (ekklesiatokos, my own). If she is the Mother of the Redeemer, she ought to be the Mother of the Redeemed. If she is the Mother of the Founder, she is the Mother of the Church that Jesus founded.
When Pope Francis decreed this year that the universal FEASTDAY/Memorial of Mary, Mater Ecclesiae, be inserted into the Liturgical Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost, the Vicar of Christ was just putting the Sacred Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Magisterium into motion and inviting us: “Let us celebrate!”
ON CALVARY, in addressing the words “Woman, behold your son” to Mary, the Crucified One proclaims her motherhood not only in relation to the Apostle John, but also to every member of His Church (John 19:26).
Saint Luke mentions the presence of Mother of God in the first community of Jerusalem (Acts 1:14). In this way, he stresses Mary’s maternal role in the newborn Church, comparing it to her role in the Redeemer’s birth.
Marian titles reflect the multiple roles and duties of Mary in Salvation History. Hence, the title Mater Ecclesiae focuses on the maternal dimension, which is a fundamental element of Mary’s relationship with the FAITHFUL, the new People of God.
Significance of Pope Francis’ declaration
It’s telling the Christian believers, the People of God, the Church, that when you are shamed by the scandals, sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement; when your places of worship in Syria, Lebanon, China, and Vietnam are vandalized and you are persecuted – go to Mary, Mater Ecclesiae.
When your pews and altars are empty in North America, the Netherlands, Germany, and your cathedrals are turned into museums; and when your president calls you “hypocrites” and belittle you in public – go to Mary, Mother of the Church.
When the Devil argues in French: Verre est fait pour briser or “It’s the fate of the glass to break” and therefore it’s the fate of the Church to disappear; and when the Evil One has exerted all bad-breathed efforts to see to it that only the bald shepherds of the flock in walking canes and wheel chairs (meaning, the old and worn-out bishops and priests) are left in space and time – go to Mary, ekklesiatokos.
And as Our Loving Mother, Mary will waste no time to tell her Son and remind Him: Dear Son, keep Your promise: “Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I shalt build my Church… and the gates of Hell shalt not prevail!” (Matthew 16:18).