Paul II- On the Blessed Mother
MARY WAS UNITED TO JESUS ON THE CROSS
Pope John Paul II
October 25, 1995
Down the centuries the Church’s tradition has appreciated ever
more profoundly Mary’s very close sharing in her Son’s
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 25 October, the Holy
Father returned to his catechesis on the Blessed Virgin Mary and
her participation in her Son's saving work. "Mary is our Mother:
this consoling truth, offered to us ever more clearly and
profoundly by the love and faith of the Church, has sustained
and sustains the spiritual life of us all, and encourages us,
even in suffering, to have faith and hope". Here is a
translation of the Pope's address, which was given in Italian
and was the third in the series on the Blessed Virgin.
1. Saying that "the Virgin Mary ... is acknowledged and honoured
as being truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer" (Lumen
gentium, n. 53), the Council draws attention to the link between
Mary's motherhood and Redemption.
After becoming aware of the maternal role of Mary, who was
venerated in the teaching and worship of the first centuries as
the virginal Mother of Jesus Christ and therefore as the Mother
of God, in the Middle Ages the Church's piety and theological
reflection brought to light her co-operation in the Saviour's
This delay is explained by the fact that the efforts of the
Church Fathers and of the early Ecumenical Councils, focused as
they were on Christ's identity, necessarily left other aspects
of dogma aside. Only gradually could the revealed truth be
unfolded in all its richness. Down the centuries, Mariology
would always take its direction from Christology. The divine
motherhood of Mary was itself proclaimed at the Council of
Ephesus primarily to affirm the oneness of Christ's person.
Similarly, there was a deeper understanding of Mary's presence
in salvation history.
2. At the end of the second century, St Irenaeus, a disciple of
Polycarp, already pointed out Mary's contribution to the work of
salvation. He understood the value of Mary's consent at the time
of the Annunciation, recognizing in the Virgin of Nazareth's
obedience to and faith in the angel's message the perfect
antithesis of Eve's disobedience and disbelief, with a
beneficial effect on humanity's destiny. In fact, just as Eve
caused death, so Mary, with her "yes", became "a cause of
salvation" for herself and for all mankind (cf. Adv. Haer., III,
22, 4; SC 211, 441). But this affirmation was not developed in a
consistent and systematic way by the other Fathers of the
Mary became spiritual Mother of whole human race
Instead, this doctrine was systematically worked out for the
first time at the end of the 10th century in the Life of Mary by
a Byzantine monk, John the Geometer. Here Mary is united to
Christ in the whole work of Redemption, sharing, according to
God's plan, in the Cross and suffering for our salvation. She
remained united to the Son "in every deed, attitude and wish"
(cf. Life of Mary, Bol. 196, f. 122 v.). Mary's association with
Jesus' saving work came about through her Mother's love, a love
inspired by grace, which conferred a higher power on it: love
freed of passion proves to be the most compassionate (cf. ibid.,
Bol. 196, f. 123 v.).
3. In the West St Bernard, who died in 1153, turns to Mary and
comments on the presentation of Jesus in the temple: "Offer your
Son, sacrosanct Virgin, and present the fruit of your womb to
the Lord. For our reconciliation with all, offer the heavenly
victim pleasing to God" (Serm. 3 in Purif., 2: PL 183, 370).
A disciple and friend of St Bernard, Arnold of Chartres, shed
light particularly on Mary's offering in the sacrifice of
Calvary. He distinguished in the Cross "two altars: one in
Mary's heart, the other in Christ's body. Christ sacrificed his
flesh, Mary her soul". Mary sacrificed herself spiritually in
deep communion with Christ, and implored the world's salvation:
"What the mother asks, the Son approves and the Father grants"
(cf. De septem verbis Domini in cruce, 3: PL 189, 1694).
From this age on other authors explain the doctrine of Mary's
special cooperation in the redemptive sacrifice.
4. At the same time, in Christian worship and piety
contemplative reflection on Mary's "compassion" developed,
poignantly depicted in images of the Pietà. Mary's sharing in
the drama of the Cross makes this event more deeply human and
helps the faithful to enter into the mystery: the Mother's
compassion more clearly reveals the Passion of the Son.
By sharing in Christ's redemptive work, Mary's spiritual and
universal motherhood is also recognized. In the East, John the
Geometer told Mary: "You are our mother". Giving Mary thanks
"for the sorrow and suffering she bore for us", he sheds light
on her maternal affection and motherly regard for all those who
receive salvation (cf. Farewell Discourse on the Dormition of
Our Most Glorious Lady, Mother of God, in A. Wenger,
L'Assomption de la Très Sainte Vierge dans la tradition
byzantine, p. 407).
In the West too, the doctrine of the spiritual motherhood
developed with St Anselm, who asserted: "You are the mother ...
of reconciliation and the reconciled, the mother of salvation
and the saved" (cf. Oratio 52, 8: PL 158, 957 A).
Mary does not cease to be venerated as the Mother of God, but
the fact that she is our Mother gives her divine motherhood a
new aspect that opens within us the way to a more intimate
communion with her.
5. Mary's motherhood in our regard does not only consist of an
affective bond: because of her merits and her intercession she
contributes effectively to our spiritual birth and to the
development of the life of grace within us. This is why Mary is
called "Mother of grace" and "Mother of life".
Mother of the Life from whom all take life
The title "Mother of life", already employed by St Gregory of
Nyssa, was explained as follows by Bl. Guerric of Igny, who died
in 1157: "She is the Mother of the Life from whom all men take
life: in giving birth to this life herself, she has somehow
given rebirth to all those who have lived it. Only one was
begotten, but we have all been reborn" (In Assumpt. I, 2: PL
A 13th-century text, the Mariale, used a vivid image in
attributing this rebirth to the "painful travail" of Cavalry, by
which "she became the spiritual mother of the whole human race".
Indeed, "in her chaste womb she conceived by compassion the
children of the Church" (Q. 29, par. 3).
6. The Second Vatican Council, after stating that Mary "in a
wholly singular way co-operated in the work of the Saviour",
concludes: "for this reason she is a mother to us in the order
of grace" (Lumen gentium, n. 61), thus confirming the Church's
perception that Mary is at the side of her Son as the spiritual
Mother of all humanity.
Mary is our Mother: this consoling truth, offered to us ever
more clearly and profoundly by the love and faith of the Church,
has sustained and sustains the spiritual life of us all, and
encourages us, even in suffering, to have faith and hope.
Weekly Edition in English
1 November 1995
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