MARY THE MOTHER OF THE CHURCH
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 1:12-14; JUDITH 13:18BCDE, 19; JOHN 19:25-27]
Yesterday, the Church concluded the celebration of the Easter season with the Feast of Pentecost. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled when God pours out His Spirit on all flesh. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28f) This was what Ezekiel also prophesied. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” (Ez 36:26f)
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit was but the culmination of the paschal mystery that the Church celebrates. For it was Jesus who, when hanging on the cross, poured out His Spirit upon His death. “After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, ‘It is finished’; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (Jn 19:28f) At His passion, in principle, the Lord Jesus fulfilled His mission, which was His thirst to give us the Spirit of God. (cf Jn 7:37-39) By His blood, He brought about the forgiveness of sins. Just as the hyssop was used by the Israelites to paint the blood of the lamb on the doorposts so that the angel of death would pass them by, so too the hyssop that held the sponge of vinegar delivered us from sin and from eternal death. (cf Ex 12:22f)
With the Spirit poured out on His disciples, the Church was born in principle. This Spirit would be given to the disciples of Jesus through the sacrament of baptism and continue to be nurtured by the Eucharist. This explains why when the Lord died, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (Jn 19:34) Water is a symbol of baptism and blood a symbol of the Eucharist. Through the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, the Church is constituted. The piercing of the side of Jesus is reminiscent of Moses striking the rock and from the rock, living water flowed. (cf Num 20:11) The Lord said through the prophet, Zechariah, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him. (cf Zech 12:10)
All these became a reality on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit given to the Church in principle was felt and experienced dramatically in the tongues of fire that descended on the apostles. As a consequence, three thousand coming from all parts of the world, on hearing Peter preach in their own language, were baptized. This gathering of peoples from all nations is the fulfillment of what the Church wants to be, Catholic and universal, open to all men and women, regardless of age, race, language or culture, and united in love, in the one Spirit.
However, the story is incomplete without Mary! This is why immediately after the Feast of Pentecost, Pope Francis instituted the memorial of Mary, the Mother of the Church. How could there be new children without a mother? How could there be a Church without a mother? In fact, theologians have often lamented that the icon of the Church is too masculine, lacking the feminine dimension when we are all created in the image of God, which is male and female. The Church needs a feminine dimension to make her complete so that we have God as our Father, Jesus as our eldest brother, and Mary as our mother.
This explains why our Lord right from the start of His ministry had in mind to make Mary, the mother of the Church. This was anticipated at the beginning of His ministry at Cana in Galilee when Mary interceded with Jesus to help the Wedding Couple who had no wine. The response of Jesus was, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (Jn 2:4) Then, when Jesus was at the end of His ministry, when the hour had come, He said, to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” Two words, “Woman” and “Hour” are symbolic words pointing to something deeper.
Mary was called “Woman” on both occasions because the word, “Woman” refers to Mary as the Mother of Christ and that of the Church. We see this usage again in the Book of Revelation when we have St John’s vision of the Woman with child, “clothed with the sun, with the moon on her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev 12:1) This woman represents not only Mary with the child but the Church, the New People of God seen in the Twelve stars representing the Twelve tribes of Israel. By not calling Mary by name or as His mother, Jesus was making Mary to be the mother of all men, just as Eve was called the mother of all the living (cf Gen 3:20) John, who was not addressed by name as well, was representative of all disciples whom Jesus loved.
This is why, following John, the perfect disciple of our Lord, we read, “And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” We too must bring Mary into our home, our Church, and our spiritual life. Our Lord wants Mary to exercise her spiritual motherhood when His hour came, which was His passion, death, and resurrection. Before then Mary was preparing herself to be the mother of the Church. And so, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, immediately after the ascension of our Lord, Mary gathered with the apostles and disciples of our Lord in prayer, waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit. “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
Indeed, this role of Mary as our mother has been anticipated, not just by our Lord at Cana but it was already prophesied long before the incarnation. Immediately after the fall, God already foretold how both Mary and our Lord would redeem humanity and win victory over Satan. The Lord God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15) It is significant that this enmity is not between Satan and his offsprings versus Adam and his offspring but the Woman and her offspring. Even though the man was considered the head of the family who would rule over the woman (cf Gn 3:16), it was the woman who would fight the battle with Satan with her child. And indeed, this prophecy came true with Satan being crushed on his head, that is destroyed, and Jesus, the offspring of Mary suffered a temporary defeat at death but rose again.
Truly, Mary is the mother of the Church because the Church would not have come into being if not for the cooperation of Mary at the incarnation. If she had not given her “yes” to the angel, there would not have been a savior. But Mary’s “yes” was not just a one-off “yes”. It included all the “yeses” to God’s will for the rest of her life, accompanying her Son in His ministry in the background, and when all abandoned her Son at His passion, Mary stood faithfully with Him, standing underneath His cross. Without Mary’s love for God and for all whom God loves, there would have been no redeemer. So we thank Jesus for giving Mary to be our mother, the one who nurtures us in faith, brings us closer to her Son, helps us to be faithful to her Son even until death, walking in His way by giving our lives in service to others.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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