Mary's motherhood acquired at the foot of the Cross

Continuing his special catechesis for the Holy Year of the Redemption, the Holy Father offered the following reflections at the general audience on Wednesday, 11 May.

1. "Jesus said to his mother, 'Woman, there is your son'.  In turn he said to the disciple, 'There is your mother'" (Jn 19:26, 27).

In this Holy year we turn more ardently to Mary, because a very special sign of mankind's reconciliation with God was the role entrusted to her on Calvary to be the mother of all the redeemed.

The circumstances under which this motherhood of Mary's was proclaimed show the importance that the Redeemer attributed to it. At the very moment when he was completing his sacrifice, Jesus spoke those basic words to his mother: "Woman, there is your son"; and to the disciple: "There is your mother" (Jn 19:26?27). And the Evangelist notes that after saying these words Jesus realized that everything was now finished. The gift of his mother was the final gift that he was giving mankind as the fruit of his sacrifice.

It is a question then of a gesture intended to crown his redemptive work. Asking Mary to treat the beloved disciple as her son, Jesus invites her to accept the sacrifice of his death and, as the price of this acceptance, he invites her to take on a new motherhood. As the Saviour of all mankind, he wants to give Mary's motherhood the greatest range. He therefore chooses John as the symbol of all the disciples whom he loves, and he makes it understood that the gift of his mother is the sign of a special intention of love, with which he embraces all who want to follow him as disciples, that is, all Christians and all men. Besides giving this motherhood an individual form, Jesus manifests the intention to make Mary not merely the mother of his disciples taken as a whole, but of each one of them in particular, as though each were her only son who is taking the place of her Only Son.

Mary's cooperation

2. This universal motherhood in the spiritual order was the final consequence of Mary's cooperation in the work of her divine Son, a cooperation begun in the fearful joy of the Annunciation and carried through right to the boundless sorrow of Calvary. This is what the Second Vatican Council stressed when it showed the role that Mary was destined to fulfil in the Church: "She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ. She presented him to the Father in the temple, and was united with him in suffering as he died on the cross. In an utterly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Saviour's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace" (Lumen Gentium, 61).

Mary's motherhood in the order of grace "will last without interruption" until the end of the world, states the Council, which stresses particularly the help afforded by the Blessed Virgin to the brethren of her Son in their dangers and difficulties (Lumen Gentium, 62). Mary's mediation constitutes a singular sharing in the unique mediation of Christ, which does not become in the least overshadowed, but rather endures as the central fact in the whole work of salvation.

Devotion to Our Lady therefore is not opposed to devotion to her Son. Rather it can be said that by asking the beloved disciple to treat Mary as his mother Jesus founded Marian devotion. John was quick to carry out the will of his Master: from that hour onward the disciple took her into his care, showing her filial affection that corresponded to her motherly affection, thus beginning a relationship of spiritual intimacy that contributed to deepening his relationship with his Master, whose unmistakable traces he found on his mother's face. It was on Calvary, therefore, that Marian devotion began and subsequently has not stopped growing in the Christian community.

The Church recognizes in her a mother who keeps watch over its development and does not cease to intercede with her Son to obtain for Christians more profound dispositions of faith, of hope, of love. Mary seeks to promote the greatest possible unity of Christians, because a mother strives to ensure accord among her children. There is no ecumenical heart greater or more ardent than Mary's.

It is to this perfect mother that the Church has recourse in all its difficulties; it entrusts to her its plans, because in praying to her and loving her it can respond to the wish expressed by the Saviour on the cross, and it is certain it will not be disappointed in its prayers.

Mother of the Church

3. The words addressed by the crucified Christ to his mother and to the beloved disciple brought a new dimension to man's religious condition. The presence of a mother in the life of grace is a source of comfort and joy. On Mary's motherly face Christians recognize a most particular expression of the merciful love of God, who with the mediation of a maternal presence has us better understand the Father's own care and goodness. Mary appears as the one who attracts sinners and reveals to them, with her sympathy and her indulgence, the divine offer of reconciliation.

Mary's motherhood is not only individual. It has a collective value that is expressed in her title of Mother of the Church. On Calvary she was indeed united with the sacrifice of her Son who was looking to the formation of the Church; her motherly heart shared completely Christ's will "to gather into one all the dispersed children of God" (Jn 11:52). Having suffered for the Church, Mary deserved to become the mother of all her Son's disciples, the mother of their unity. For this reason the Council states that "the Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honours her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother" (Lumen Gentium, 53).

L'Osservatore Romano May 16, 1983
Reprinted with permission