Mary, the Mother of the Church

A statue of Mary is seen at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church in the Greektown neighborhood of Detroit in this 2015 file photo. The Detroit Archdiocese is celebrating the new feast day for Mary, Mother of the Church with a May 21 Mass at Old St. Mary's followed by a May Crowning and procession. (Detroit Catholic file photo))

We don’t often consider when the Gospels were written, but one should know that John’s Gospel appeared last, likely in the mid-to-late 90s A.D. He had the other three Gospel accounts in front of him, and his intention was to elaborate on, clarify and spiritualize incidents found in them.

For instance, regarding the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17), only John informs his readers that Jesus conversed with Philip and Andrew, the latter of whom informed Christ that the loaves were made of barley flour and that they and the fish belonged to “a young boy” (John 6, 5-9). John uses these homely touches to prove his reliability as an eyewitness.

It appears odd, therefore, that while the Synoptic Evangelists mention Mary by name as the mother of Jesus, John does not. The other three present Mary before and during Jesus’ ministry. John brings Mary into his Gospel precisely twice: at the wedding feast in Cana, and at the foot of the cross on Calvary. Each time, John tells us, Jesus called His mother “Woman” — and for good reason.

It was considered bad form to speak familiarly to one’s mother or wife by name or by their titles in public. “Woman” was a term of respect, similar to our “My Lady” or “Madam,” though less formal.

Ah, but John has yet a deeper purpose in citing these two incidents. At Cana, Jesus seems reluctant to act because “My hour has not yet come." In every other instance, when Jesus speaks of “My hour” it always refers to His passion and death. It is the same here. As soon as He begins to work public miracles — “signs” as John calls them — Jesus recognizes that He is taking His first steps to agonizing death.

From the cross, Jesus again addresses His mother, “Woman behold your son,” and then to the Beloved Disciple, “Behold your mother” (John 19:26-27). It is imperative to John to let his readers know Mary, present at the beginning and at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, has a special role.

From the moment the Blessed Virgin replied to Gabriel, “Be it done unto me,” all the devils in hell were on a collision course with her. Ever since Eden they had awaited her appearance. For as soon as Adam and Eve surrendered themselves to the lure of becoming their own gods, the Most High Creator pledged to redeem humanity from the effects of their grievous sin. Addressing the Evil One embodied as a serpent, the Sovereign Lord promised: "I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, between thy seed and her Seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel" (Genesis 3:15).

Enmity encompasses deep-seated animosity, contempt, disgust, hatred, hostility, loathing and malignancy. Look at those words: there’s not a weak sister in the bunch.

Eve, the “Mother of all the living,” was the only woman alive on earth at this time, yet the passage cannot apply to her. Eve had already succumbed to the blandishments of evil. The Woman promised by God would never give in to sin.

God’s prophecy, therefore, applies to a future Woman, another Mother, whose Child will share the same overwhelming aversion she has for the Evil One. God placed that enmity in His creation of that Woman. It is the same enmity found in the Seed, the Child she would bear.

The Woman of Promise is Mary, The Seed is Jesus. Neither will have any sympathy for the Evil One nor partake in any evil found in him.

The feeling is mutual. The Prince of Darkness and Father of Lies, along with all his hellish host, found it galling to learn that his undoing would come by the hand of God through Mary, chosen from all eternity to be the human mother of the God-made-Man. She was kept free from falling into any satanic evil. At the Annunciation, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the Word was made flesh in Mary’s womb.

At the wedding feast of Cana (John 2), with His mother present, Jesus turned water into wine, and the Evangelist sees this as emblematic of baptism and the Holy Eucharist. On Calvary, Jesus presented Mary to His Beloved Disciple as his mother. John uses this guise, not only for himself, but to show that Christ has given Mary to be the mother of all His beloved disciples.

As Eve was taken from the side of Adam, so, too, does the Church come forth from the side of Christ, the new Adam, who undid the sin of the first Adam. The water and blood seen gushing from the heart of Christ John, again, regards as a sign of baptism and Eucharist.

We thus see the Providence of God at both Cana, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and on Calvary, at the end. Eve, the virgin who fell into the snares of the Evil One, is undone by Mary, the incorruptible Woman of Promise, the new Eve, still refusing the cajoleries of the Evil One.

Yet Mary’s role in salvation history does not end at the Cross. After her Son’s ascension into heaven, Luke records what the disciples did next:

"And when they had entered the city, they mounted to the upper room where were staying Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon the Zealot, and Jude the brother of James. All these with one mind continued steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren" (Acts of the Apostles 1:13-14).

Mary takes part in the first novena. On Pentecost, following the nine days of prayer, the Holy Spirit descended on 120 disciples gathered in the upper room. For Mary this was the second time such a thing had occurred.

God the Holy Spirit had overshadowed Mary as soon as she agreed to carry within her womb, the body of Jesus, the God-Man. Now, Mary was overshadowed once again by the same Holy Spirit to become the Virgin Mother at the birth of the Church, the Mystical Body of her Divine Son.

It was only right and just, proper and helpful toward salvation, that Mary the Virgin would gather around her the followers of Jesus her Son, risen from the grave, now seated at the right hand of the Father, to become their mother as well.

“She is the mother of the Light of the World. Who follows her does not walk in darkness but in the full effulgence of light which leads to sanctity.”

Sean M. Wright, award-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated television writer, is a Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Santa Clarita, He replies to comments sent him at [email protected].


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