By Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #975.)
While I have such a deep respect for the faith of my many Protestant friends, I have to say that their approach to Mary generally has a huge blind spot. They may admit that Mary had a special privilege in being called to bear the Messiah, they may even admit that she is “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42) as the Gospel notes, but they are unable to see that Mary is more than just a simple disciple, that she was chosen from all eternity to have a continuous intercessory role in the life of all believers. Essentially, they under-appreciate the role of Mary as “Mother of the Church” as Catholics believe.
Let’s look at a few of the close associations between Mary and the Church. Mary was entrusted to the Apostle John while she was standing at the foot of the Cross (cf. Jn 19:26-27). We know that Mary gave birth to the physical Body of Christ, but she also was present in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14) at the very “birthday” of the Church when the Holy Spirit came. Mary has been celebrated and venerated by “all generations” (Lk 1:48) of the Church with honor and blessing. The Church is always very clear on this fundamental point: the Mother of Christ is the Mother of all believers.
I am convinced that each Christian must “discover” for himself the truth that Mary is “Mother of the Church.” For some it is easy but for others it is not immediately apparent and takes some tangible experience of her role on a wider level of the Church. While I have always had a strong belief in Mary’s care for the Church, what solidified it for me was a most amazing story I once heard about Mary’s personal “preservation” of the Faith among Japanese Catholics during two long centuries of persecution.
When Admiral Perry opened Japan to western influences in 1854 after being closed for more than two hundred years, a French Catholic missionary went there and built a small chapel in the outskirts of Nagasaki to evangelize the native population. Soon after that he had a number of curious Japanese watching him pray in the church and asking if they could see the Shrine to Mother Mary that he had built on the property. So he welcomed them and invited them to pray with him one afternoon. After their prayer they began to ask him questions about his religion.
They first wanted to know if his religion had just one man who lived in Europe and was the head over the whole church. He nodded and said that was the Pope, and that seemed to make them very happy. Next they asked him if the men who were leaders in the church were married, and he told them that no, the priests freely chose not to be married so that they could serve the people better; and when they heard that they smiled with great joy. Finally, they asked if his religion honored the “Pure Lady in White,” and he said that, of course, she was known as Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Upon hearing this, they were utterly ecstatic!
What joy for them to finally meet a true representative of the Faith that had been handed on to them from time immemorial. As it turned out, these Catholics were descendants of the “Urukami” people who had known martyrdom for their faith before Japan was shut to outside influences and had kept the true faith without the benefit of clergy for over two hundred years! Amazingly, their “tests” for the authenticity of the Catholic faith were found in their three questions: fidelity to the Pope, clerical celibacy, and belief in the Immaculate Virgin Mary! If you’re like me, you will recognize a truly miraculous occurrence in this event.
Truly, Mary preserves the Church’s faith in a way that no one else can. She is the Mother of Christ before she is Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, and her care, concern, and protection of the faithful is as diligent as the care she gave to Jesus in His earthly life. Perhaps we can pray for all other Christians who do not believe in Mary’s essential role as mother of the faithful and “Mother of the Church” so that they may not experience, shall we say, an “awkward moment” when they finally meet her face to face with us in the eternal Church of heaven!
Blessed “Mother of the Church” and Mother of every devoted follower of Jesus, fortify our faith in times of trouble, unite us more deeply to the Mystical Body of Christ, and bring to fruition within us all the blessings of heaven. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]