John Paul II - On the Blessed Mother

The Marian anD Petrine Principles
Annual Address to Roman Curia
H. H. John Paul II
December 22, 1987

On Monday, 22 December, in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Rossi, conveyed the Christmas greetings of the assembled cardinals and officials of the Roman Curia to the Holy Father, who delivered the following address in reply.

Your Eminences,
Revered Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
My dearest Laity,

I sincerely thank the Cardinal Dean for his greeting; he has interpreted your personal desires in this traditional and always pleasant gathering before Christmas. His message has focused our common attention on the particular significance which current circumstances contribute to our annual meeting. We meet near the Eve of Christmas in the Marian Year.

Every year on this occasion we are moved by the expectation of him who is born in Bethlehem of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, and it is our mutual desire to experience as deeply as possible this central event of history by extending a welcome to the Incarnate Word. In this Marian Year our meeting has a special significance and brings a new emphasis to our Christmas reflection. The Marian Year, in fact, prepares us to approach Christ in this Advent of the third millennium in order to relieve the mystery of his Incarnation, following Mary who precedes us in this journey of faith. She was the first “minister” of the Word.

As members of the Roman Curia we are conscious of serving the Mystery of the Incarnation from which the Church as a “Body” originated. In Mary, as St. Augustine noted: “the only-begotten Son of God was pleased to unite to himself human nature, so that to the immaculate head he associated the immaculate Church, (Serm 191.3; PL 38, 1010). From Mary is born Christ the Head who is indissolubly united to the Church, his Body. The “whole Christ” is born. As servants and ministers of this Mystical Body, daily nourished with the Eucharistic Body of Christ, we manifest this year the particular presence of the Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church in which we are aware of participating in a particular manner.

2. We well understand that Vatican II effected a great synthesis between Mariology and ecclesiology. The Marian Year adheres to such a synthesis and conciliar inspiration so that the Church may be everywhere renewed through the presence of the Mother of God who, as the Fathers taught, is a model of the Church.

The Council offers an enlightening interpretation of the presence of the Virgin in the divine plan of salvation. Because she is the instrument and privileged channel of the Incarnation of the Word in human nature and of his presence among us, Mary is “intimately united with the Church: the Mother of God is a figure of the Church, as Saint Ambrose had earlier taught, in the order of faith, of charity and of the perfect union with Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 63). Developing this teaching, I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater: “ the reality of the Incarnation finds a sort of extension in the mystery of the Church – The Body of Christ. And one cannot think of the reality of the Incarnation without referring to Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word” (no. 5).

Mary united to Christ, Mary united to the Church. And the Church united to Mary finds in her the most refined and perfect image of its own specific mission which is simultaneously virginal and maternal. The Fathers and the Teachers of the early Church have underlined this double aspect: for example, St. Augustine brilliantly comments, Hic est speciosus forma prae filiis hominum, sanctae filius Mariae, sanctiae sponsus Ecclesiae, quam suae genitriit similem redditit: nam et nobis eam matrem fecit, et virginem sibi custodit” (Serm 195.2; PL 38:1018). The Virgin Mary is the archetype of the Church because of the divine maternity; just like Mary, the Church must be, and wishes to be, mother and virgin. The Church lives in this authentic “Marian profile”, this “Marian dimension”; thus the Council, gathering together the patristic and theological voices, both eastern and western has noted this phenomenom: “The Church, moreover, contemplating Mary’s mysterious sanctity, imitating her charity, and faithfully fulfilling the Father’s will, becomes herself a mother by accepting God’s word in faith. For by her preaching and by baptism she brings forth to a new and immortal life, children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God. The Church herself is a virgin, who keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse. Imitating the Mother of her Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, she preserves with virginal purity and integral faith , a firm hope and sincere charity” (Lumen Gentium, 64).

Sphere of divine grace

3. This Marian profile is also- even perhaps more so- fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united. In this vision of the Church Mary precedes the People of God who are still pilgrims.

Mary is she who, predestined to be the Mother of the Word, lived continuously and totally in the sphere of divine grace subject to its vivifying influence; she is the mirror and transparency of the life of God himself. Immaculate, “full of grace”, she was prepared by God for the Incarnation of the Word and was always under the Continuous action of the Holy Spirit: hers was the “yes” and the fiat par excellence to him who had chosen her “before the beginning of the world” (Eph 1:4). Such response was evident in the docility, the humility, the conformity to the least movement of grace which rendered her, we can say, mother in a twofold sense through conformity to God’s will: “who does the will of God is my mother” (cf. Mk 3:35). The divine maternity, that unique and sublime privilege of the ever-Virgin, must be seen in this perspective as the supreme glory of the fidelity of Mary in corresponding with grace.

The Marian dimension of the Church is evident from the similarity of tasks in relation to the whole Christ. To this dimension, in fact, can be applied the word of Jesus: “whoever does the will of my Father is my brother, sister, and mother”, (Mk, ibid.). The Church, like Mary, lives by grace in submission to the Holy Spirit; according to his light the signs and necessities of the times are interpreted, and progress is accomplished in complete docility to the voice of the Spirit.

In this sense the Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine, without being in any way divided from it or being less complementary. The Immaculate Mary precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles. This is so, not only because Peter and the Apostles, being born of the human race under the burden of sin, form part of the Church which is “holy with sinners:, but also because their triple function has no other purpose except to from the Church in line with the ideal of sanctity already programmed and prefigured in Mary. A contemporary theologian has well commented: “Mary is ‘Queen of the Apostles’ without any pretensions to apostolic powers: she has other and greater powers” (von Balthasar, Nette Klarstellungen, Ital. transl., Milan 1980, p. 181). In this context it is especially significant to note the presence of Mary in the Upper Room, where she assists Peter and the other Apostles, praying for and with them as all await the coming of the Spirit.

This link between the two profiles of the Church, the Marian and the Petrine, is profound and complementary. This is so even though the Marian profile is anterior not only in design of God but also in time, as well being supreme and pre-eminent, richer in personal and communitarian implications for individual ecclesial vocations.

In this light the Roman Curia lives and ought to live – all of us ought so to live. It is certain that the Curia is directly united to the Petrine office to whose service it is dedicated by office, constitution and mission. The Curia serves the Church as a Body; situated, one may say, at the apex, it offers its collaboration to the Successor of Peter in his service to the local Churches. In this activity, it is more necessary and indispensable to preserve and strengthen the Marian dimension in the service to Peter. Mary precedes those of us who are in the Curia where we serve the Mystery of the Word Incarnate, just as she precedes the whole Church for which we live. May she assist us to discover ever more fully and to live more authentically this richness, which for us, I would say, is vital and decisive. May Mary help us to participate more consciously in the symbiosis of the Marian and Petrine apostolic dimensions from which the Church daily draws orientation and sustenance. May attention to Mary and to her example bring us to a greater love, tenderness and docility to the voice of the Spirit, so that each one is more enriched interiorly with that dedication to the ministry of Peter.

4. In the light of the Marian Year as the central theme of our meeting, which continues the teaching Vatican II in presenting Mary as the guide of the People of God in their pilgrimage of faith, I would now like to underline some of the salient events of the year that is about to conclude: the Synod of bishops, the numerous beatifications and canonizations, and the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Dimitrios I of Constantinople.

In the first place the sessions of the Synod: two months have passed since the conclusion of its discussions and it is more and more evident that the interventions and labours of the Synodal Fathers have resulted in a global image of the Church – how she lives, works, prays, suffers, struggles, and adheres to Christ. The Synod has effectively offered the image of this People on pilgrimage on earth, and especially of that portion of the People of God, the laity, according to their specific characteristics. In their pilgrimage it is still the Mother who precedes her children as they seek “the kingdom of God in dealing with temporal affairs as they organize them according to God’s will in the ‘spirit of the Beatitudes’” (Lumen Gentium, 31). This Marian presence in the mission of the laity, in their journey of faith, is the line which clearly defines that great event.

As time passes since the Synod of last October, the positive results become more evident, not alone in the reaffirmation of the teaching of the magnificent documents of Vatican Ii but more so because of the emphasis on the ecclesiology of communion as a necessary contest for situating the role of the laity in the Church for the salvation of the world. The laity themselves have co-operated in formulating this conclusion, in so far as the Synod Fathers represented the voice of the laity; furthermore, the laity themselves of both sexes entered actively by their conspicuous and qualified presence at the Synod where they spoke in the plenary sessions and collaborated effectively in the circuli minores. The result has been a truly universal overall view of the diverse realities that constitute the true image of the Church today. As with the preceding Synods, it shall be my duty to follow those unforgettable days.

Meanwhile I am happy to underline in our present meeting how this richness and plurality of results is the evidence that the Church is truly open to the voice of the Spirit in her pilgrimage of faith and love, and is always conscious of her responsibility to God and before the world. Mary is present in this journey of the laity, to guide them a she guides us all towards the coming of Christ.

Final destiny

5. Vatican II has demonstrated that in her who is the Mother of God the Church has reached her final destiny: “In the bodily and spiritual glory which she possesses in heaven, the Mother of Jesus continues in this present world as the image and first flowering of the Church as she is to be perfected in the life to come” (Lumen Gentium, 68). This affirmation reiterates what the dogmatic Constitution the Church had already expounded in chapter7: “the eschatological character of the pilgrim Church and its union with the heavenly church”, and chapter 5: “the universal vocation to holiness in the Church”. In the fullness of time Mary, in virtue of her immaculate conception, reunited in herself the salvific design of God that had been destroyed by sin. Assumed into heaven with her most holy body, which is the Ark of the new Covenant, she already reigns with Christ in the psycho-physical unity of her person.

She is, therefore, after Christ, “the first-begotten of the dead (Rev. 1:5; Col 1:18). She is the one who precedes the Church in the journey towards the fulfillment of sanctity and awaits the completion that shall be total. However, with her there are also those who, awaiting the final resurrection, are already in heaven according to the judgement of the church. They have verified in themselves the plan of God and have reached that desired success of every human existence: “the complete, intimate union with Christ” (cf. Lumen Gentium, 49).

Recalling the Queen of all Saints in this Marian Year I now wish to mention the two canonizations and eleven beatifications of this year. These numerous liturgical events of 1987 have demonstrated, perhaps more forcibly than usual, how real, true and actual is the Church’s universal call to holiness, and have given testimony to the ethnic-vocational plurality of such a call.

The new saints and beati, in fact, belong to diverse vocations among the people of God. Among such we discover: Cardinals, as Marcello Spinola y Maestre (29 March) and Andrea Carlo Ferrari (10 May): bishops, as Michal Kozal (14 June) and Jurgis Matulaitis (28 June); priests and brothers, as Manuel Domingo y Sol (29 March), Rupert Mayer (3 May) and Jules Arnould Reche (1 Nov.); women religious, as Teresa de los Andes (3April), Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinelli (10 May), Ulrika Nisch and BlandinaMerten (1 Nov.); laity of both sexes, as Lorenzo Ruiz (18 Oct.), Giuseppe Moscati (25 Oct. ), and many others all professions and occupations, even the most humble. It is a witness given in the most diverse circumstances, i.e. as pastors and ministers of the Church, as medical doctors, as educators and evangelizers.

Often such witness was rendered in the most arduous circumstances, such as by martyrdom antonomastically so called as in the case of three Carmelite Sisters of Guadalajara (29 March), Edith Stein (1 May) and Karolina Kozka (10 June), Marcel Callo, Pierina Morosini and Antonia Mesina (4 Oct.), the 16 martyrs of Japan (18 Oct.), and the eighty-five English martyrs (22 Nov.).

Again, many of the new saints and beati lived in our century: they are contemporaries. In reality, the saints are in our midst and they demonstrate that even today the Church is called to sanctity and responds generously under the inspiration and guidance of Mary.

Furthermore, the saints and beati belong to diverse nations of different continents: thus the canonizations and beatifications attest to the universal significance even when viewed geographically.

From this point of view I regard it as a special grace of the Lord to have been able to propose for the veneration of the church, as desired by repeated requests of the local bishops, come champions of the faith in the locality where they lived. I did this during some of the apostolic journeys of this year: Sister Teresa de los Andes at Santiago, Chile (3 April); Sister Benedicta of the Cross, at Cologne (1 May); Father Mayer at Munich (3 May); Karolina Kozka, at Tarnow (10 June); and Mons. Kozal at Warsaw (14 June).

The ever-increasing possibility of publicly proclaiming the heroic sanctity of the sons and daughters of the Church in the course of my visits to various countries of the world confirms me in the belief that such journeys constitute a particular service to the People of God on its pilgrimage, precisely that pilgrimage towards the definitive Kingdom of God, in which Mary “precedes” the Church in various places on earth. Since the journeys are, with God’s help, the contemporary application of the mandate of Christ – “go therefore into the whole world” (Mk 16:15) – and also and explicit consequence of the Petrine ministry, “confirm your brothers” (Lk 22:32), they afford a greater spiritual and intellectual irradiation of the office that is so sublime and solemn, by proposing for the imitation of the Church the authentic exemplars of sanctity proper to it. Such saintly individuals are proof before the world that holiness is possible for all people, in every civilization and in all climates.

6. Following the path of the Council, the encyclical Redemptoris Mater underlined the “pilgrimage” aspect of the Church, in which the Mother of God “precedes”, and as such has ecumenical overtones.

or separated brethren of the Churches and ecclesial communities of the West, that document emphasizes the manner in which they can, even desire to, advance together in the journey of faith of which Mary is the exemplar. The encyclical sees as a glad omen the fact that those Churches are united “with us in fundamental points of the Christian faith, even in what concerns the Virgin Mary”. (Redemptoris Mater, 31). Furthermore, the encyclical stresses the identity of the historical, theological, liturgical and artistic witness that the Orthodox Church as well as the ancient Oriental churches offer concerning their theologically profound and humanly tender veneration of the Mother of God (ibid., 31-33).

In the light of all this the visit to Rome of His Holiness, Dimitrios I, the Ecumenical Patriarch, 3-7 December, is vested with a particular significance. I had the great joy of receiving him in the Vatican with the fraternal charity and honour due to him. It was a visit of ecclesial communion in exchange for that which I had made to the ecumenical Patriarch for the feast St. Andrew in 1979 – a visit that was intentionally undertaken as contribution to the re-establishment of full communion between Catholics and Orthodox.

Maturation of interests

The event took full account of the maturation of interests that had developed between Catholics and Orthodox from the time of the Council, and also of the results of the positive theological dialogue current at the time. We were thus able to pray together during the Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica. In the spirit of the Marian Year we also prayed together in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. In his Mariological homily Patriarch Dimitrios I wished to emphasize, “how our two sister Churches and maintained through the centuries the unquenchable flame of devotion to the All-Holy mother of God”.

This fact constitutes a firm link uniting us in a common tradition. And if, in the course of time, distinctions have appeared which are certainly being discussed and understood in dialogue, “the common dogmatic and theological patrimony that has developed concerning the venerable person of the All-Holy Mother of God constitutes a bond of unity and reunion of separated parties”. In confirmation of the positive importance of this perspective, Patriarch Dimitrios wished to propose that “the theme of Mariology should occupy a central position in the theological dialogue between our Churches, and should be examined not only from a theological standpoint but also from that of anthropology and in particular in an ecclesiological context, in the effort towards finding the complete re-establishment of our ecclesial communion for which we pray and labour, and towards which we look forward with great expectation”.

This statement reflects directly the orientation of the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater. Profoundly grateful, I am convinced that from this point of view the visit of the Patriarch has made positive contribution in depth to the relations between Catholics and Orthodox.

The interest, rather the enthusiasm, which this visit had aroused makes me repeat the desire that the Church “begin again to breathe fully with her two lungs: the East and the West…This is more than ever necessary today… It would also be the way for the pilgrim church tossing and live more perfectly her Magnificat” (Redemptoris Mater, 34).

7. As we conclude our meeting I take the opportunity of announcing officially the proximate publication of an encyclical letter in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of “Populorun Progressio” of Paul VI. That document marked a fundamental phase in the contemporary life of the Church. At the same time it occasioned profound reactions in public opinion, giving thereby testimony and new proof of the living presence of the Church herself in the dramatic situations of the development and peace of the world. In recalling the continuing relevance of that excellent document, the forthcoming encyclical intends to highlight that current themes and to respond to the problems which, concerning the same themes, confront the conscience of modern man: in a word, the encyclical desires to remain on the same track as Populorum Progressio, as its ideal continuation and development.

The projected work underlines how much the Church desires to accompany the people of our time. For that reason I dedicate this encyclical here and now to the Holy Virgin. I have it very much at heart as I wish to find answers for society and to urge renewal as well proposing concrete suggestions for international co-operation in the context of fraternal understanding among nations, and promoting authentic development according to the plan of God.

8. In this perspective, which we must keep alive in our hearts, I want to renew today my gratitude and my wishes for a happy Christmas. I offer them to all of you who, in every rank and grade, contribute your important and appreciated collaboration to the Holy See in the roman Curia, to the Diocese of Rome in the Vicariate and to Vatican City. I offer these greetings to the Pontifical Representatives and the diplomatic personnel who help them in their mission: I extend them to your dear ones, especially to those families where physical or spiritual suffering exists. May Jesus bring his grace and peace to all.

The child Jesus, whom we find as the Shepherds and the Magi found him in the arms of Mary his Mother, is the light of the world, and he is the light of our lives: “He is a light to our minds”, as St. Augustine wrote (Quaest, Evangeliorum 1:1; PL 35, 1323). May his light guide the service which we bring to the Mystery of the Incarnation, where she who is his Mother and ours is particularly to be found, she who is the Mother of the Church. It is she who will take us by the hand and help us to be faithful in our ecclesial service, in which she will always be our “predecessor”.

With that wish, which the imminent feast makes more intimate and profound, I bless you all.

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