Down the centuries the Church’s tradition has appreciated ever more
profoundly Mary’s very close sharing in her Son’s redemptive mission
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 work.
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
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 Church.
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 185, 188).
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.