Councilís teaching on Mary is rich and positive
With great concern for the biblical foundation of Marian doctrine,
the Fathers portray Mary as a woman of faith and as the type and
exemplar of the Church
The treatment of Mary by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council
was the subject of the Holy Father's weekly address at the General
Audience of Wednesday, 13 December. "The entire exposition in the
eighth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church clearly shows
that terminological precautions did not prevent a very rich and positive
presentation of basic doctrine, an expression of faith and love for her
whom the Church acknowledges as Mother and Model", the Pope said.
Here is a translation of his catechesis, which was the ninth in the
series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.
1. Today I would like to reflect on the particular presence of the
Mother of the Church at what was certainly the most important ecclesial
event of our century; the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, opened by
Pope John XXIII on the morning of 11 October 1962 and closed by Pope
Paul VI on 8 December 1965.
An extraordinary Marian tone actually marked the Council from its
indiction. In the Apostolic Letter Celebrandi Concilii Oecumenici,
my venerable predecessor, the Servant of God John XXIII, had already
recommended recourse to the powerful intercession of Mary, "Mother
of grace and heavenly patroness of the Council" (11 April 1961, AAS
53  242).
Treatment of Mary placed in Constitution on the Church
Subsequently, in 1962, on the feast of the Purification of Mary, Pope
John set the opening of the Council for 11 October, explaining that he
had chosen this date in memory of the grant Council of Ephesus, which
precisely on that date had proclaimed Mary "Theotokos", Mother
of God (Motu proprio Concilium, AAS 54  67-68).
Later, in his opening address, the Pope entrusted the Council itself to
the "Help of Christians, Help of Bishops", imploring her
motherly assistance for the successful outcome of the Council's work (AAS
54  795).
The Council Fathers also turned their thoughts expressly to Mary in
of their message to the world at the opening of the Councilís
sessions, saying, "We successors of the Apostles, joined together
in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, form one apostolic body"
(Acta Synodalia I, I, 254), thus linking themselves, in communion
with Mary, to the early Church awaiting the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).
2. At the second session of the Council, it was proposed that the
treatment of the Blessed Virgin Mary be put into the Constitution on the
Church. This initiative, although expressly recommended by the Theo
logical Commission, prompted a variety of opinions.
Some, who considered this proposal inadequate for emphasizing the
very special mission of Jesus' Mother in the Church, maintained that
only a separate document could express Mary's dignity, pre-eminence,
exceptional holiness and unique role in the Redemption accomplished by
the Son. Furthermore, regarding Mary as above the Church in a certain
way, they were afraid that the decision to put the Marian teaching in
the treatment of the Church would not sufficiently emphasize Mary's
privileges and would reduce her role to the level of other members of
the Church (Acta Synodalia, II, III, 338-342).
Others, however, spoke in favour of the Theological Commission's
proposal to put the doctrinal treatment of Mary and the Church in a
single document. According to them, these realities could not be
separated at the Council which, in aiming to rediscover the identity and
mission of the People of God, had to show its close connection with her
who is the type and exemplar of the Church in her virginity and
motherhood. Indeed, as an eminent member of the ecclesial community, the
Blessed Virgin has a special place in the Church's doctrine.
Furthermore, by stressing the link between Mary and the Church,
Christians of the Reformation could better understand of the Marian
teaching presented by the Council (Acta Synodalia, II, III,
The Council Fathers, moved by the same love for Mary, thus tended, in
their expression of different doctrinal positions, to favour various
aspects of her person. Some reflected on Mary primarily in her
relationship to Christ, others considered her more as a member of the
3. After an intense doctrinal discussion attentive to the dignity of
the Mother of God and to her particular presence in the Church's life,
it was decided that the treatment of Mary would be situated in the
Council's document on the Church (cf. Acta Synodalia, II, III,
The new schema on the Blessed Virgin, drafted so as to be included in
the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, shows real doctrinal progress.
The stress placed on Mary's faith and a more systematic concern to base
Marian doctrine on Scripture are significant and useful elements for
enriching the piety and esteem of the Christian people for the Blessed
Mother of God.
Moreover, with the passing of time the danger of reductionism, feared
by some Fathers, proved to be unfounded: Mary's mission and privileges
were amply reaffirmed: her co-operation in the divine plan of salvation
was highlighted; the harmony of this co-operation with Christ's unique
mediation appeared were evident.
For the first time, the conciliar Magisterium offered the Church a
doctrinal exposition of Mary's role in Christ's redemptive work and in
the life of the Church.
Thus, we must consider the Council Fathers' choice, which proved very
fruitful for later doctrinal work, to have been a truly providential
4. During the Council sessions, many Fathers wished further to enrich
Marian doctrine with other statements on Mary's role in the work of
salvation. The particular context in which Vatican II's Mariological
debate took place did not allow those wishes, although substantial and
widespread, to be a accepted, but the Council's entire discussion of
Mary remains vigorous and balanced, and the topics themselves, though
not fully defined, received significant attention in the overall
A balanced presentation of Marian doctrine
Thus, the hesitation of some Fathers regarding the title of Mediatrix
did not prevent the Council from using this title once, and from stating
in other terms Mary's mediating role from her consent to the Angel's
message to her motherhood in the order of grace (cf. Lumen gentium,
n. 62). Furthermore, the Council asserts her co-operation "in a
wholly singular way" in the work of restoring supernatural life to
souls (ibid., n. 61). Lastly, even if it avoided using the title
"Mother of the Church", the text of Lumen gentium
clearly underscores the Church's veneration for Mary as a most loving
The entire exposition in the eighth chapter of the Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church clearly shows that terminological precautions
did not prevent a very rich and positive presentation of basic doctrine,
an expression of faith and love for her whom the Church acknowledges as
Mother and Model.
On the other hand, the Fathers' differing points of view, as they
emerged during the conciliar debate, turned out to be
providential, because, on the basis of their harmonious
relationship, they have afforded the faith and devotion of the Christian
people a more complete and balanced presentation of the marvelous
identity of the Lord's Mother and of her exceptional role in the work of