Council's Teaching on Mary Is Rich and Positive

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General Audience, 13 December 1995

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 [1961] 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 great Council of Ephesus, which precisely on that date has proclaimed Mary "Theotokos", Mother of God (Motu proprio Concilium; AAS 54 [1962] 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 [1962] 795).

The Council Fathers also turned their thoughts expressly to Mary in their message to the world at the opening of the Council's 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 Theological 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, preeminence, 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 favor 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 a 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 the Marian teaching presented by the Council (Acta Synodalia, II, III, 343-345).

The Council Fathers, moved by the same love for Mary, thus tended, in their expression of different doctrinal positions, to favor various aspects of her person. Some reflected on Mary primarily in her relationship to Christ, others considered her more as a member of the Church.

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, 627).

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 cooperation in the divine plan of salvation was highlighted; the harmony of this cooperation with Christ's unique mediation appeared more 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 decision.

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 these wishes, although substantial and widespread, to be 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 treatment.

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 cooperation "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 Mother.

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, and 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 Redemption.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20-27 December 1995, p. 13.

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