In early March this year it was announced that the Congregation for Divine Worship, with the approval of Pope Francis, has added a new memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary added to the calendar. The memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church, is to be kept on the Monday after Pentecost.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was present at the first Pentecost. It is recorded at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles that, after the Ascension, the following went to the upper room:
“…Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
Then, after a successor to Judas was selected, the Holy Spirit came down upon those gathered – the apostles, Mary, and other women.
The decree was dated Feb. 11, the memorial for the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes. It says in part:
“Having attentively considered how greatly the promotion of this devotion might encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety, Pope Francis has decreed that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, should be inscribed in the Roman Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost and be now celebrated every year.”
The new memorial will appear in all calendars and liturgical books of the Roman rite around the world. There are three ranks of celebrations in the Roman calendar: solemnities, feasts, and memorials. The latter may be optional or, as in the case of today’s new memorial, obligatory. In common parlance any commemoration is spoken of as a feast – “the feast of Pentecost, the feast of St. Patrick” – though technically the former is a solemnity and the latter a memorial. (This is rather like referring to all Western art music from the Middle Ages through Pärt as “classical,” though technically the classical era was from c. 1750 – 1825.)
The Monday after Pentecost is observed as “Pentecost Monday” or the “Second Day of Pentecost” in many places, with a proper liturgy for the day. It is a holiday in many European countries as well as Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, the Bahamas, Grenada, the Ivory Coast, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Solomon Islands. It is unclear how the new obligatory memorial will affect liturgical practice in these places.
The liturgical texts for the memorial will be translated and approved by episcopal conferences, and then may be published after confirmation by the Congregation for Divine Worship. Pope Francis recently returned approval of liturgical translations to episcopal confirmations, with Rome simply confirming the conference approval, in accord with the explicit wishes of the Second Vatican Council.
“Mary, Mother of God” at the Second Vatican Council
At the Second Vatican Council there was a proposed document “On the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men,” which was soon renamed “On The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” Periti such as Rahner and Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict) raised concerns that it was ecumenically undesirable to have an independent document on the Virgin Mary and to speak of her as the “mediatrix of all graces.” The bishops from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, attentive to these concerns, stated that they would support “mediatrix” but not “mediatrix of all graces.” These bishops also supported including the treatment on the Virgin Mary within the document on the Church, rather than as an independent document – which the Council eventually did. It became chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium on the church, now titled “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church,” without the title “Mother of the Church.”
Vatican II did not refer to Mary as “Mother of the Church,” but said this in chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium:
“Taught by the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church honors her [Mary] with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.”
The Council did not define “mediatrix,” but simply stated that the title is sometimes employed:
“Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. These, however, are to be so understood that they neither take away from nor add anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature could ever be classed with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer…. The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary.”
Then in 1964, at the end of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI formally declared Mary the “Mother of the Church.” The title had been used as early as the fourth century by St. Ambrose, as discovered by Hugo Rahner, and was used occasionally as well by popes in recent centuries.
Cardinal Sarah on Silence
In an accompanying commentary on the new memorial, Cardinal Sarah sounded one of his favorite themes on silence, writing at the conclusion of the commentary:
“The hope is that the extension of this celebration to the whole Church will remind all Christ’s disciples that, if we want to grow and to be filled with the love of God, it is necessary to plant our life firmly on three great realities: the Cross, the Eucharist, and the Mother of God. These are three mysteries that God gave to the world in order to structure, fructify, and sanctify our interior life and lead us to Jesus. These three mysteries are to be contemplated in silence. (cf. R. Sarah, The Power of Silence, n.57).”
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us! Help us to contemplate the mystery of our redemption in silence – and to proclaim it in joyful song!
Featured image: Coptic icon of Pentecost. This post is based on an early post when the new memorial was first announced.