Mary Mother of the Church
Celebrated on the first Monday after Pentecost
May 29, 2023
New Marian Feast Has Deep Roots
There are three saints who are so significant to the Catholic Church that they have two different feast days on our liturgical calendar. St. Joseph has March 19 and May 1, St. Peter has February 22 and June 29, and finally St. Paul has January 25 and a shared feast day with St. Peter on June 29.
That is a pretty big deal considering there are about 10,000 canonized saints, and only a tiny fraction have a feast day on our regular liturgical calendar. To have two feast days means that these three saints are very important to the life and history of the Catholic faith.
The Virgin Mary has 18: the liturgical feasts of Mary Mother of God, Our Lady of Lourdes, the Annunciation, Our Lady of Fatima, the Visitation, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Dedication of St. Mary Major, the Assumption, the Queenship of Mary, the Nativity of Mary, the Most Holy Name of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of the Rosary, the Presentation of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. That’s not to mention that every Saturday is dedicated to her as well.
Not all of her liturgical feast days are ancient. In fact, one is so new that Pope Francis established it just in 2018, and that is the feast of Mary Mother of the Church, better known by its Latin title, “Mater Ecclesiae,” which we celebrated on May 29th in 2023. It is celebrated on the first Monday after Pentecost each year.
The title of Mary, Mother of the Church, or Mater Ecclesiae is very ancient, so Pope Francis is not adding anything new to the church other than making it liturgically recognized, and he placed the feast day very appropriately on the Monday following Pentecost. Pentecost, of course, is the birthday of the church, so it is logical to place Mary’s new feast day in conjunction with this last day of the Easter season.
If you have ever been to Rome, you may have noticed that very few churches have the image of the Virgin Mary on the outside. In fact, I can only think of one that does, and that is Santa Maria in Trastevere, and from what I understand, having no Marian images on the church’s exteriors was by design.
Now, I am not an architecture guy, but from what I have heard, the churches in Rome purposefully were built without the images of Mary on the exterior, because the churches represent her womb, since Christ is inside the churches in the tabernacles.
Whether that is true or not, I do not know, but I love the imagery of it: viewing all our Catholic church structures as Mary’s womb because of Christ’s real presence within! Not too long ago, however, another image of Mary was placed on the outside of a church in Rome, and that was done by Pope St. John Paul the Great at St. Peter’s Basilica.
After the assassination attempt on his life back on May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul the Great famously said that while one hand pulled the trigger of the gun, another hand guided the bullet. This is because of how close the bullet came to hitting a major artery, which would have meant a quick death.
The pope was speaking of the Virgin Mary’s hand guiding the bullet, thus saving his life. As the story goes, immediately upon being shot, John Paul fell back and looked up, and right where his eye landed is where he later decided to place an image of Mary, whom he credited with saving his life.
So today if you were to go to St. Peter’s Square and look way up above the right side of the façade, you would see an image of Mary, and right below this large mosaic of the Blessed Mother you will see the words “Mater Ecclesiae.”
There are so many different scripture passages that support this ancient title, but certainly the most compelling one comes from the Gospel of John. As Jesus hangs dying on the cross, he speaks these familiar words to his mother and the Apostle John, “Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his Mother, ‘Woman behold your son.’ In turn he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his care” (19:26 – 27).
The church is based on the faith of the Apostles. They were the ones sent by Jesus to proclaim the Gospel, so the Apostles are the church! Jesus telling the Apostle John that Mary is now his mother makes her the church’s mother and our mother as well.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!