Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Ecclesial Documents
APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION SIGNUM MAGNUM
His Holiness Paul VI
May 13, 1967
To the Catholic Bishops of the World
Venerable brothers, health and apostolic
The great sign which the Apostle John saw in
heaven, "a woman clothed with the sun," is interpreted by the
sacred Liturgy, not without foundation, as referring to the
most blessed Mary, the mother of all men by the grace of Christ
The memory, venerable brothers, is still vivid
in our mind of the great emotion we felt in proclaiming the
august Mother of God as the spiritual Mother of the Church, that
is to say, of all the faithful and of the sacred pastors, as the
crowning of the third session of the Second Vatican Council,
after having solemnly promulgated the Dogmatic Constitution on
the Church. Great also was the happiness of numerous Council
Fathers, as well as of the faithful, who were present at the
sacred rite in St. Peter's basilica and of the entire Christian
people scattered throughout the world.
The memory came spontaneously to many minds of
the first grandiose triumph achieved by the humble "handmaid of
the Lord" when the Fathers from East and West, gathered in an
ecumenical council at Ephesus in the year 431 greeted Mary as "Theotokos"
-- genitrix of God. The Christian population of the illustrious
city associated themselves with a jubilant impulse of faith with
the exultance of the Fathers and accompanied them with
torchlights to their dwellings.
Oh! with how much maternal satisfaction the
Virgin Mary must have looked on the pastors and the faithful in
that glorious hour of the history of the Church, recognizing in
the hymns of praise, raised in honor principally of the Son and
then in her own, the echo of the prophetic canticle which she
herself on the impulse of the Holy Spirit had raised to the Most
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit
rejoices in God my Savior, because He has regarded the lowliness
of His handmaid;
for, behold, henceforth all generations shall
call me blessed;
because He who is mighty has done great things
for me and holy is His name."
On the occasion of the religious ceremonies
which are taking place at this time in honor of the Virgin
Mother of God in Fatima, Portugal, where she is venerated by
countless numbers of the faithful for her motherly and
compassionate heart, we wish to call the attention of all
sons of the Church once more to the indissoluble link between
the spiritual motherhood of Mary, so amply illustrated in the
(council's) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the
duties of redeemed men toward her, the Mother of the Church.
Once it is acknowledged, by virtue of the
numerous testimonies offered by the sacred texts and by the holy
Fathers and remembered in the constitution mentioned above, that
"Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer" has been
"united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie" and that she
has a most singular role in "the mystery of the Incarnate Word
and of the Mystical Body," that is to say, in "the economy
of salvation,"l it appears evident that the Virgin is
"rightly honored by the Church with a special veneration,
particularly liturgical," not only as "the most holy Mother
of God, who took part in the mysteries of Christ," but also
"as the Mother of the Church."
Nor is it to be feared that liturgical reform,
if put into practice according to the formula "the law of faith
must establish the law of prayer" may be detrimental to the
"wholly singular" veneration due to the Virgin Mary for her
prerogatives, first among these being the dignity of the Mother
of God. Nor is it to be feared that the greater veneration,
liturgical as well as private, given to her may obscure or
diminish "the adoration which is offered to the Incarnate Word,
as well as the Father and to the Holy Spirit."
Accordingly, without wishing to restate here,
venerable brothers, the traditional doctrine of the Church
regarding the function of the Mother of God on the plane of
salvation and her relations with the Church, we believe that, if
we dwell on the consideration of two truths which are very
important for the renewal of Christian life, we would be doing
something of great utility for the souls of the faithful.
The first truth is this: Mary is the Mother of
the Church not only because she is the Mother of Christ and His
most intimate associate in "the new economy when the Son of God
took a human nature from her, that He might in the mysteries of
His flesh free man from sin," but also because "she shines
forth to the whole community of the elect as a model of the
virtues." Indeed, just as no human mother can limit her task
to the generation of a new man but must extend it to the
function of nourishing and educating her offspring, thus the
blessed Virgin Mary, after participating in the redeeming
sacrifice of the Son, and in such an intimate way as to deserve
to be proclaimed by Him the Mother not only of His disciple John
but -- may we be allowed to affirm it -- of mankind which he in
some way represents, now continues to fulfill from heaven
her maternal function as the cooperator in the birth and
development of divine life in the individual souls of redeemed
men. This is a most consoling truth which, by the free consent
of God the All-Wise, is an integrating part of the mystery of
human salvation; therefore it must be held as faith by all
But in what way does Mary cooperate in the
growth of the members of the Mystical Body in the life of grace?
First of all, by her unceasing prayers inspired by a most ardent
charity. The Holy Virgin, in fact, though rejoicing in the
vision of the august Trinity, does not forget her Son's
advancing, as she herself did in the "pilgrimage of the
faith". Indeed, contemplating them in God and clearly seeing
their necessities, in communion with Jesus Christ, "who
continues forever and is therefore able at all times to
intercede for them," she makes herself their Advocate,
Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix and Mediatrix. Of this intercession of
hers for the People of God with the Son, the Church has been
persuaded, ever since the first centuries, as testified to by
this most ancient antiphon which, with some slight difference,
forms part of the liturgical prayer in the East as well as in
the West: "We seek refuge under the protection of your mercies,
oh Mother of God; do not reject our supplication in need but
save us from perdition, O you who alone are blessed." Nor
should anyone believe that the maternal intervention of Mary
would prejudice the predominant and irreplaceable efficacy of
Christ, our Savior. On the contrary, it draws its strength from
the mediation of Christ of which it is the luminous proof.
But the cooperation of the Mother of the Church
in the development of the divine life of the souls does not come
to an end with the appeal to the Son. She exercises on redeemed
men another influence: that of example. An influence which is
indeed most important, according to the well-known axiom: "Verba
movent, exempla trahunt" (Words move, examples attract). In
fact, just as the teachings of the parents become far more
efficacious if they are strengthened by the example of a life
conforming with the norms of human and Christian prudence, so
the sweetness and the enchantment emanating from the sublime
virtues of the immaculate Mother of God attract souls in an
irresistible way to imitation of the divine model, Jesus Christ,
of whom she was the most faithful image. Therefore the council
declared: "The Church, devotedly meditating on her and
contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, enters more
intimately into the supreme mystery of the Incarnation and
becomes ever increasingly like her Spouse."
Furthermore, it is well to bear in mind that
Mary's eminent sanctity was not only a singular gift of divine
liberality. It was also the fruit of the continuous and generous
cooperation of her free will in the inner motions of the Holy
Spirit. It is because of the perfect harmony between divine
grace and the activity of her human nature that the Virgin
rendered supreme glory to the Most Holy Trinity and became the
illustrious ornament of the Church, which thus greets her in
sacred Liturgy: "You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of
Israel, the honor of our people."
Let us then admire in the pages of the Gospel
the testimonies of such sublime harmony. Mary, as soon as she
was reassured by the voice of the Angel Gabriel that God had
chosen her as the unblemished mother of His only-begotten Son,
unhesitatingly gave her consent to a work which would have
engaged all the energies of her fragile nature and declared:
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to
thy word." From that moment, she consecrated all of herself
to the service not only of the heavenly Father and of the Word
Incarnate who had become her Son, but also to all mankind,
having clearly understood that Jesus, in addition to saving his
people from the slavery of sin, would become the King of a
messianic Kingdom, universal and eternal.
Therefore, the life of Joseph's pure spouse, who
remained a virgin "during childbirth and after childbirth" -- as
the Catholic Church has always believed and professed and as
was fitting for her who was raised to the incomparable dignity
of divine motherhood -- was a life of such perfect union
with the Son that she shared in His joys, sorrows and triumphs.
And even after Christ had ascended to heaven she remained united
to Him by a most ardent love while she faithfully fulfilled the
new mission of spiritual Mother of the most beloved of the
disciples and of the nascent Church. It can be asserted that the
whole life of the humble handmaid of the Lord, from the moment
when she was greeted by the Angel, until her assumption in body
and soul to heavenly glory, was a life of loving service.
We, therefore, associating ourselves with the
Evangelists, with the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church,
recalled in the dogmatic constitution "Lumen gentium" (Chap.
VIII), full of admiration, contemplate Mary, firm in her faith,
ready in her obedience, simple in humility, exulting in praising
the Lord, ardent in charity, strong and constant in the
fulfillment of her mission to the point of sacrificing herself,
in full communion of sentiments with her Son who immolated
Himself on the Cross to give men a new life.
Before such splendor of virtue, the first duty
of all those who recognize in the Mother of Christ the model of
the Church, is to unite themselves to her in giving thanks to
the Most High for working great things in Mary for the benefit
of all mankind. But this is not enough. It is also the duty of
all the faithful to pay as tribute to the most faithful handmaid
of the Lord, a veneration of praise, of gratitude and of love
because, by a wise and mild divine provision, her free consent
and her generous cooperation in the designs of God had, and
still have, a great influence in the attainment of human
salvation. Therefore every Christian must make St. Anselm's
prayer his own: "Oh, glorious Lady, grant that through you we
may deserve to ascend to Jesus, your Son, who through you
deigned to descend among us."
Neither the grace of the divine Redeemer, nor
the powerful intercession of His Mother and our spiritual
Mother, nor yet her sublime sanctity, could lead us to the port
of salvation if we did not respond to them by our persevering
will to honor Jesus Christ and the Holy Virgin with our devout
imitation of their sublime virtue.
It is therefore the duty of all Christians to
imitate in a reverent spirit the examples of goodness left to
them by their heavenly Mother. This, venerable brothers, is the
other truth to which we are pleased to call your attention and
the attention of the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care,
that they may second with docility the exhortation of the
Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: "Let the faithful
remember that true devotion consists neither in fruitless and
passing emotion, nor in a certain vain credulity. Rather, it
proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the
excellence of the Mother of God, and are moved to a filial love
toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues."
Imitation of Jesus Christ is undoubtedly the
regal way to be followed to attain sanctity and reproduce in
ourselves, according to our forces, the absolute perfection of
the heavenly Father. But while the Catholic Church has always
proclaimed a truth so sacrosanct, it has also affirmed that
imitation of the Virgin Mary, far from distracting the souls
from the faithful following of Christ, makes it more pleasant
and easier for them. For, since she had always done the will of
God, she was the first to deserve the praise which Christ
addressed to His disciples: "Whoever does the will of my Father
in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother."
The general norm "Through Mary to Jesus" is
therefore valid also for the imitation of Christ. Nevertheless,
let our faith not be perturbed, as if the intervention of a
creature in every way similar to us, except as regards sin,
offended our personal dignity and prevented the intimacy and
immediacy of our relationships of adoration and friendship with
the Son of God. Let us rather recognize the "goodness and the
love of God the Savior," who, condescending to our misery,
so remote from His infinite sanctity, wished to make it easier
for us to imitate it by giving us as a model the human person of
His Mother. She, in fact, among the human beings, offers the
most shining example and the closest to us, of that perfect
obedience whereby we lovingly and readily conform with the will
of the eternal Father. Christ Himself, as we well know, made
this full closeness to the approval of the Father, the supreme
ideal of His human behavior, declaring: "I do always the things
that are pleasing to Him."
If we then contemplate the Virgin of Nazareth in
the halo of her prerogative and of her virtues, we will see her
shine before our eyes as the "New Eve," the exalted daughter
of Sion, the summit of the Old Testament and the dawn of the
New, in which "the fullness of time" was realized, which was
preordained by God for the mission in the world of His
only-begotten Son. In truth, the Virgin Mary, more than all the
patriarchs and prophets, more than the "just" and "pious" Simeon
awaited and implored "the consolation of Israel . . . the Christ
of the Lord" and then greeted His advent with the hymn of "Magnificat"
when He descended into her most chaste womb to take on our
It is in Mary, therefore, that the Church of
Christ indicates the example of the worthiest way of receiving
in our spirits the Word of God, in accordance with the luminous
sentence of St. Augustine: "Mary was therefore more blessed in
receiving the faith in Christ than in conceiving the flesh of
Christ. Accordingly, maternal consanguinity would not have
benefited Mary if she had not felt more fortunate in having
Christ in her heart then in her womb." And it is still in
her that Christians can admire the example of how to fulfill,
with humility and at the same time with magnanimity, the mission
which God entrusts to each one in this world, in relation to his
own salvation and that of his fellow beings.
"Therefore, I beg you, be imitators of me as I
am of Christ." These words, and with greater reason than the
Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth, can be addressed by
the Mother of the Church to the multitudes of the faithful, who,
in a symphony of faith and love with the generations of past
centuries, acclaim her as blessed. It is an invitation which
it is a duty to heed docilely.
And then a message of supreme utility seems
today to reach the faithful from her who is the Immaculate, the
holy, the cooperator of the Son in the work of restoration of
supernatural life in souls. In fact, in devoutly
contemplating Mary they draw from her a stimulus for trusting
prayer, a spur to the practice of penance and to the holy fear
of God. Likewise, it is in this Marian elevation that they more
often hear echoing the words with which Jesus Christ announced
the advent of the Kingdom of heaven: "Repent and believe in the
Gospel" ; and His severe admonition: "Unless you repent you
will all perish in the same manner."
Therefore, impelled by love and by the wish to
placate God for the offenses against His sanctity and His
justice and, at the same time, moved by trust in His infinite
mercy, we must bear the sufferings of the spirit and of the body
that we may expiate our sins and those of our fellow beings and
so avoid the twofold penalty of "harm" and of "sense," that is
to say, the loss of God -- the supreme good -- and eternal
What must stimulate the faithful even more to
follow the examples of the most holy Virgin is the fact that
Jesus Himself, by giving her to us as our Mother, has tacitly
indicated her as the model to be followed. It is, in fact, a
natural thing that the children should have the same sentiments
of their mothers and should reflect their merits and virtues.
Therefore, as each one of us can repeat with St. Paul: "The Son
of God loved me and gave Himself up for me," so in all trust
he can believe that the divine Savior has left to him also, in
spiritual heritage, His Mother, with all the treasures of grace
and virtues with which He had endowed her, that she may pour
them over us through the influence of her powerful intercession
and our willing imitation. This is why St. Bernard rightly
affirms: "Coming to her the Holy Spirit filled her with grace
for herself; when the same Spirit pervaded her again she became
superabundant and redounding in grace for us also."
From what we have been illustrating in the light
of the holy Gospel and of the Catholic tradition, it appears
evident that the spiritual motherhood of Mary transcends space
and time and belongs to the universal history of the Church,
since she has always been present in the Church with her
maternal assistance. Likewise the meaning of the affirmation
appears clear, which is so often repeated: our era may well be
called the Marian era. In fact, if it is true that, by an
exalted grace of the Lord, the providential role of the most
holy Mary in the history of salvation has been more deeply
understood by the vast strata of the Christian people, this,
however, should not lead us to believe that in past ages we had
no intuition whatever of this truth or that future ones will
ignore it. In truth, all periods of the Church's history have
benefited and will benefit from the maternal presence of the
Mother of God because she will remain always indissolubly joined
to the mystery of the Mystical Body, of whose Head it was
written: "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today, yes,
Venerable brothers, the persuasion that the
thought of the Church regarding the veneration of praise,
gratitude and love due to the most blessed Virgin is in full
accord with the doctrine of the holy Gospel, as it was more
precisely understood and explained by the tradition of the East
as well as of the West, stirs in our spirit the hope that this
pastoral exhortation of ours for an ever more fervid and more
fruitful Marian piety will be received with generous acceptance
not only by the faithful entrusted to your care, but also by
those who, while not enjoying full communion with the Catholic
Church, nevertheless, together with us, admire and venerate the
handmaid of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Son of God.
May the Immaculate Heart of Mary shine before
the eyes of all Christians as the model of perfect love toward
God and toward our fellow beings; may it lead them toward the
Holy Sacraments by virtue of which souls are cleansed from the
stains of sin and are preserved from it. May it also stimulate
them to make reparation for the innumerable offenses against the
Divine Majesty. Lastly, may it shine like a banner of unity and
a spur to perfect the bonds of brotherhood among all Christians
in the bosom of the one Church of Jesus Christ, which "taught by
the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a
most beloved mother."
Since the 25th anniversary is recalled this year
of the solemn consecration of the Church and of mankind to Mary,
the Mother of God, and to her Immaculate Heart, by our
predecessor of venerated memory, Pius XII, on Oct. 31, 1942 on
the occasion of the broadcast message to the Portuguese
nation -- a consecration which we ourself have renewed on
Nov. 21, 1964, -- we exhort all the sons of the Church to
renew personally their consecration to the Immaculate Heart of
the Mother of the Church and to bring alive this most noble act
of veneration through a life ever more consonant with the divine
will and in a spirit of filial service and of devout
imitation of their heavenly Queen.
Lastly, venerable brothers, we express the trust
that, thanks to your encouragement, the clergy and the Christian
people entrusted to your pastoral ministry will respond in a
generous spirit to this exhortation of ours so as to demonstrate
toward the Virgin Mother of God a more ardent piety and a firmer
confidence. Meanwhile while we are comforted by the certainty
that the glorious Queen of Heaven and our most sweet Mother will
never cease to assist all and each one of her sons and will
never withdraw from the entire Church of Christ her heavenly
patronage, to you yourselves and to your faithful, as a pledge
of divine favors and as a sign of our benevolence, we
wholeheartedly impart the apostolic blessing.
Given in Rome, at St. Peter, on the 13th day of
the month of May in the year 1967, the fourth of our
PAULUS PP. VI
1. Cf. Apocalypse 12, 1.
2. Cf. Epistle of Mass for the feast of the
Apparition of Mary Immaculate, Feb. 11.
3. Cf. Acta Apostolica Sedis 57, 1965, pp. 1-67.
4. Cf. Luke 1, 38.
5. Ibid.. 1. 46 and 4849.
6. Radio message of Pius XII, May 13, 1946,
given for the Christians of Portugal, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 38,
1946, p. 264.
7. Cf. chapter VIII, paragraph III, on the
Blessed Virgin and the Church, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1965,
8. Cf. ibid. n. 53, p. 58.
9. Cf. ibid.
10. Ibid. n. 54, p. 59.
11. Ibid. n. 55, p. 59.
12. Ibid. n. 66, p. 65.
13. Allocution to the Council Fathers in the
Vatican Basilica on the feast of the Presentation, third session
of the Council, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 56, 1964, p. 1016.
14. Cf. dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n.
66: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1965, p. 65.
15. Cf. ibid. n. 67. p. 65.
16. Pius XII, encyclical letter Mediator Dei:
Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 38, 1947, p. 541.
17. Cf. dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n.
66: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1965, p. 65.
18. Ibid. n. 66, p. 65.
19. Ibid. n. 55, p. 60.
20. Ibid. n. 65, p. 64, also n. 63.
21. Cf. ibid. n. 58, p. 61; Leo XIII encyclical
letter Adiutricem populi, Acts of Leo XIII 15, 1896, p. 302.
22. Dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 58;
Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1967, p. 61.
23. Heb. 7. 25.
24. Cf. dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n.
62: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1965, p. 61.
25. Cf. Dom F. Mercenier, L'Antienne Mariale
grecque la plus ancienne in Le Museon 52, 1939, pp. 229-233.
26. Cf. dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n.
62: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1965, p. 63.
27. Ibid. n. 65, p. 64.
28. Second Antiphon of lauds, feast of the
29. Luke 1, 38.
30. Cf. Matt. 1, 21; Luke 1, 33.
31. Cf. St. Leo, martyr, letter, Lectis
dilectionis tuae to Flavianum; PL 54, 759; idem, letter, Licet
per nostros to Julian, Ep. Coensem: p. 54, 803; St. Hormisdas,
Ep. Inter ea quae to Justinian, emperor, PL 63, 407; Lateran
Council, October, 609, under Martin I, canon 3: Caspar, ZKG, 51,
1932, p. 88; Conc. Tolet. XVI, Symbol. article 22: J. Madoz, El
Simbolo del Concilio XVI de Toledo in Estudios Onienses, ser. I,
volume 3, 1946; dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium nn. 52 55,
57, 59, 63; Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1965, pp. 58-64.
32. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, Part I, q.
25, a. 6, ad. 4.
33. Cf. dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n.
56; Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1965, p. 60.
34. Orat. 54, PL 158, 961.
35. Dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 67;
Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57, 1965, p. 66; confer St. Thomas,
Summa Theologica, Part II-II, q. 81, a. 1, ad. 1; Part III, q.
25, aa. 1, 5.
36. Matt. 12. 50.
37. Cf. Titus 3. 4.
38. St. John 8, 29.
39. Cf. St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, 22, 4: PG
959; St. Epiphanius, Haer. 78, 18: PG 42, 728-729; St. John
Damascene, first homily on the birth of Mary: PG 96, 671 ss;
dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 56; Acta Apostolicae
Sedis, 57, 1965, pp. 60-61.
40. Galatians 4, 4.
41. St. Luke 2. 25-26.
42. Serm. 215, 1: PL 38, 1074.
43. I Cor., 4, 16.
44. Cf. St. Luke, 1, 48.
45. Cf. dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n.
61; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57, 1965, p. 63.
46. St. Mark 1, 15; cf. St. Matthew 3, 2; 4, 17.
47. St. Luke 13, 5.
48. Cf. St. Matthew 25, 41; dogmatic
constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 48: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 57,
1965, p. 54.
49. Galatians 2, 20- cf. Eph. 5, 2.
50. Second homily super Missus est, n. 2: PL
51. Heb. 13, 8.
52. Dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 53:
Acta Apostolicae Sedis, n. 53, 57, 1965, p. 59.
53. Cf. discourses and radio messages of Pius
XII, volume IV pp. 260-262; cf. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 34,
1942, pp. 345-346.
54. Cf. Apostolicae Sedis, 56, 1964, p. 1017.
55. Cf. oration for feast of the Immaculate
Heart of Mary, Aug. 22.
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