The ancient, distant steps that preceded the contemporary ones, leading to the institution of the liturgical celebration “Mary, Mother of the Church” are well-known. But in order to fully adhere to the invitation of a liturgical celebration that will soon enter our liturgical year, we ought to comprehend its deepest meaning. The invocations to Mary Mother of Jesus are countless, all related to the individual experience of the believer or of a group that experienced the protection of the Holy Virgin at a difficult moment in life. Why should we honour, praise and invoke the Holy Virgin with the title of Mother of the Church? Pope Paul VI said in clear words:
Mother of the Church, that is to say of all Christian people, the faithful as well as pastors, who call her the Most loving Mother
Thus ended the third Session of Vatican II, which ushered in a new season for all those who looked up to the Church and wished to live in her womb. Paul VI did not intend to establish a bond with a specific historical event. It is a radical affirmation that underlay his clear words. This is even truer today. In the wake of the progress in ecumenical relations this title calls into question Christian consciences, embracing a universal sphere that spans centuries. Mary and the apostles are gathered in the Cenacle in a seemingly traditional family reunion, that knows how to shun disagreements because impending dark clouds hover over the entire group. This moment is described in two passages of the Acts of the Apostles, which shifts focus and qualifies the group: “of one mind.” Thus the heart was undivided, there were no shadows or personal drives. All those present, joined together in prayer, stood in unison.
Mary was with them.
“They were waiting”, states the text. Who? What? It’s the time, kairos, the opportune chronological or sequential time that becomes the appointed moment for the coming of the Spirit that infuses it with the mystery of God, making it propitious for His coming. It’s an incandescent, burning moment. The new reality, gift of God, that we know by the name of Church, is about to be born. This reality can be seen as a group of people who share intention and service, but it also bears the face whence shines the Face of the Saviour. Mary is not only present, not only does she share and join the group “waiting with one mind”, Mary is there, as always, ready to bear a conspicuous burden that requires her vigilance and dedication. One could almost think: Didn’t she do enough? Didn’t she suffer enough? Let us leave her alone, Let her catch breath.
The Spirit restores the fecundity of her womb, the womb of the Holy Virgin, for all the centuries to come, for all peoples and for all individuals who in this immense multitude address their gaze to Her, and want their gaze to be pierced by the mystery of communion with all minds.
We stand before that small, earliest group, the Church of Jerusalem that was on the point of germinating and sewing her vital seeds into the swirling flow of the years and centuries that form the history of the Church.
Church Fathers were able to identify and love the newness born onto incandescent kairos, Mary’s womb. For Augustine: “Mary is the mother of the members of Christ because with charity she collaborated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church”; for St. Leo the Great “the birth of the Head is also the birth of the Body” thus “Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of His Mystical body, which is the Church.” We are all with her in Jerusalem vigilantly, eagerly waiting for the news that is bestowed upon us but that can only be recognized in Her, the Mother of the Church. Once again at the foot of the Cross, only for us, for each one of us. In our invocation to Her with this title we can capture the Breath that from the Cenacle traversed the centuries and countless consciences, to live that initial moment of and at Jerusalem and root it into the here and now, wherever we are, in the awareness that we are embodying the will of our Lord Jesus Christ.