Without Mary There Is No Church
Pope Benedict XVI
At the General Audience the Pope talks about the prayer of the Blessed Virgin
“It is impossible to talk about the Church if Mary is not present”. This comment of St Chromatius of Aquileia on the Acts of the Apostles was taken up by Holy Father at the General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday, 14 March . The following is a translation of the Pope’s Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today’s Catechesis I would like to start talking about prayer in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Letters of St Paul. As we know, St Luke bequeathed to us one of the four Gospels, dedicated to Jesus’ earthly life; but he also left us what has been called the first book on the history of the
Church, namely, the Acts of the Apostles. In both these books, prayer itself is a recurrent element, from the prayer of Jesus to the prayer of Mary, of the disciples, of the women and of the Christian community. The beginning of the Church's journey is measured first and foremost by the action of the Holy Spirit who transforms the Apostles into witnesses of the Risen One, even to the shedding of their blood, and by the rapid transmission of the Word of God to both East and West.
However, before the proclamation of the Gospel is spread abroad, Luke records the episode of the Ascension of the Risen One (cf. Acts 1:6-9). The Lord presents to his disciples the programme of their life dedicated to evangelization and says: “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) In Jerusalem, the Apostles — who then numbered eleven because of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal — had gathered together at home in order to pray, and it was precisely in prayer that they were awaiting the gift promised by the Risen Christ: the Holy Spirit.
In this context of expectation — between the Ascension and Pentecost — St Luke mentions for the last time Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and his brethren (v. 14). To Mary he dedicated the beginning of his Gospel from the announcement of the Angel to the birth and infancy of the Son of God made man. It is with Mary that Jesus’ earthly life begins and with Mary too the Church takes her first steps; both these moments are steeped in an atmosphere of listening to God, of recollection. Today, therefore, I would like to reflect on this prayerful presence of the Virgin in the group of the disciples who were to become the first, nascent Church.
Mary discreetly followed her Son’s entire journey through his public life, right to the foot of the
Cross; and today she continues to follow the Church’s journey with silent prayers. At the Annunciation in the house at Nazareth Mary receives the Angel of God, she pays attention to his words, accepts them and responds to the divine plan, showing her complete willingness: “Behold,
the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (cf. Luke 1:38). It is because of her inner attitude of listening that Mary can interpret her own story, humbly recognizing that it is the Lord who is acting.
In visiting her kinswoman, Elizabeth, she bursts into a prayer of praise and joy, a celebration of the
divine grace that filled her heart and her life, making her Mother of the Lord (Luke 1:46-55). Praise, thanksgiving and joy: in the canticle of the Magnificat , Mary does not only look at what God has wrought in her, but also at what he has brought about and ceaselessly brings about in history. In his famous commentary on the Magnificat, St Ambrose invites us to have the same spirit of prayer. He writes: “'May Mary's soul be in each one to magnify the Lord, may Mary's spirit be in each one to rejoice in God” (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam 2, 26: PL 15, 1561).
Mary is also present in the Cenacle in Jerusalem, in the “upper room where they [the disciples of Jesus] were staying” (cf. Acts 1:13), in an atmosphere of listening and prayer before the doors are flung open and they begin to proclaim Christ the Lord to all peoples, teaching them to observe all that he had commanded (Mt 28:19-20). The stopping points of Mary’s journey — from the house of Nazareth to that in Jerusalem, passing through the Cross from which her Son entrusts to her the Apostle John — are marked by her ability to persevere in an atmosphere of recollection, to reflect
over each event before God in the silence of her heart (cf. Luke 2:19-51) and to perceive God’s will in it and accept it interiorly in meditation.
The presence of the Mother of God with the Eleven after the Ascension is not a mere historical annotation of something of the past but acquires a significance of great value for she shares what is most precious to them: the living memory of Jesus in prayer; and she shares this mission of Jesus: to preserve the memory of Jesus and thereby to preserve his presence.
The last mention of Mary in the two writings of St Luke is made on the Sabbath: the day on which God rested after the Creation, the day of silence after the Jesus’ death and of the expectation of his Resurrection. And the tradition of Holy Mary on Saturday is rooted in this episode. From the Ascension of the Risen One to the first Christian Pentecost, the Apostles and the Church gathered with Mary to await with her the gift of the Holy Spirit, without whom they could not become
witnesses. She who has already received him in order to conceive the Incarnate Word, shares with the whole Church the expectation of the same gift so that “Christ may be formed” (Gal 4:19) in every believer’s heart.
If there is no Church without Pentecost, without the Mother of Jesus there is no Pentecost either, since she lived in a singular way what the Church experiences each day under the action of the Holy Spirit. St Chromatius of Aquileia comments in these words on the annotation in the Acts of the Apostles: “so the Church had gathered in the upper room together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. It is therefore impossible to speak of the Church if Mary, Mother of the Lord is not present.... The Church of Christ is wherever the Incarnation of Christ by the Virgin is preached, and wherever the Apostles, who are the Lord’s brethren, preach, it is there that the Gospel is heard (Sermo 30, 1: SC 164, 135).
The Second Vatican Council wished to give a special emphasis to this bond that is visibly expressed in the praying together of Mary and the Apostles in the same place while they were waiting for the Holy Spirit. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium says: “since it had
pleased God not to manifest solemnly the mystery of the salvation of the human race before He would pour forth the Spirit promised by Christ, we see the Apostles before the day of Pentecost ‘persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren’ [Acts 1:14]; and we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation” (n. 59). The privileged place of Mary is the Church, where “she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity” (ibid, n. 53).
Hence venerating the Mother of Jesus in the Church means learning from her to be a community that prays: this is one of the essential notes of the first description of the Christian community outlined in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42). Prayer is often dictated by difficult situations, by personal problems that prompt us to turn to the Lord for enlightenment, comfort and help. Mary
invites us to open the dimensions of prayer, not to turn to God only in times of need and to turn to him not only for ourselves, but also in a unanimous, persevering and faithful way, with “one heart and soul” (cf. Acts 4:32).
Dear friends, human life passes through various stages of transition, frequently difficult and demanding, that call for binding decisions, renunciations and sacrifices. The Mother of Jesus was placed by the Lord in crucial moments of salvation history and she knew how to respond with total availability, the fruit of a deep bond with God that developed in assiduous and intense prayer.
Between the Friday of the Passion and the Sunday of the Resurrection the beloved disciple, and with him the entire community of disciples, was entrusted to her (cf. John 19:26). Between the Ascension and Pentecost, she is found with and in the Church in prayer (cf. Acts 1:14). As Mother of God and Mother of the Church, Mary exercises her motherhood until the end of history. Let us entrust to her every phase of our personal and ecclesial lives and not the last of our final transit. Mary teaches us the need for prayer and points out to us how it is only through a constant, deep and loving bond with her Son that we may courageously come out of “our home”, out of ourselves, in order to reach the ends of the earth and proclaim everywhere the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Many thanks.
Weekly Edition in English
21 March 2012, page 3
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