+J.M.J+

MOTHER OF THE CHURCH,
OUR SPIRITUAL MOTHER


Definition

"For the glory of the Blessed Virgin and our own consolation, we proclaim the Most Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church , of the whole people of God, faithful and pastors, and we call her most loving Mother." (Pope Paul VI, November 21, 1964).

How This Teaching Exalts Christ

It reaffirms the true humanity of Jesus, as well as the fact that we are one Body with Him.

Biblical Basis

This teaching is rooted in the New Eve concept (see the first article for the biblical basis of the New Eve).  The first Eve was the "mother of the living" (Genesis 3:21); the physical genetrix of all humanity. Even so, the New Eve is the Mother of all redeemed humanity.  Mary is the true "Mother of the living", the Mother of all who possess eternal life in Christ, her Son.

We also find biblical basis for this belief in John 19:25-27:

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Mary was not St. John's physical mother, yet the dying Lord tells him "Behold your Mother".  St. John represents all Christians here; Jesus is giving the "Woman" - the New Eve - to all Christians as their spiritual Mother.

Mary is the Mother of Jesus, we are His brothers and sisters, so Mary is our Mother as well.  Though she did not physically give birth to us, she gave Jesus the Sacred Body of which we have become members (Ephesians 5:29).  We are all united to the fruit of Mary's womb; the very same Flesh which Jesus drew from the Virgin, so she is, in a very real sense, our Mother in the order of the Redemption.

Early Christian Witness

In the second century, St. Irenaeus writes:

"The Word will become flesh, and the Son of God the son of man _ the Pure One opening purely that pure womb, which generates men unto God." (Against Heresies, 1.509; 189 AD)
Mary's womb, the same pure womb which bore Jesus, also "generates men unto God"! Second century Christians clearly recognized that Mary is the spiritual Mother of all who are in Christ.  In the third century A.D., the Christian writer Origen indicated that John 19:25-27 relates to Mary's spiritual Motherhood:
"No one can apprehend the meaning of it (John's Gospel) except he have lain on Jesus' breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also....For if Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus, and yet Jesus says to His mother "Woman, behold thy son" and not "Behold you have this son also", then He virtually said to her "Lo, this is Jesus, whom thou dost bear".  Is it not the case that every one who is perfect lives himself no longer, but Christ lives in him, if Christ lives in him, then it is said of him to Mary "Behold thy son Christ".  (Origen, Commentary on John, Bk 1, ch.6)
Note Origen's allusion to Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me".  Christans share in the very life of Jesus, the Son of Mary!

More Quotes:

"True it is...the whole race of man upon earth was born of Eve; but in reality it is from Mary that Life was truly born to the world, so that by giving birth to the Living One, Mary might also become the Mother of all the living."  (Epiphanius, Panarion, 78, 18; 374 AD)

"The Virgin has given birth to the salvation of the world, the Virgin has brought forth the life of all" (or given life to all things).  {Ambrose of Milan, Epistle 63, 33; )

"But plainly (Mary) is, in spirit, Mother of us who are His members, because by love she has cooperated so that the faithful, who are the members of that Head might be born in the Church.  In body, indeed, she is mother of that very Head."  (Augustine, On Holy Virginity, 6,6; 401 AD)

"(Mary is)...mother of those who live according to the Gospel". (Nilus the Ascetic, Epistolae I, 266, early 5th. C)

If all the baptized have "put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27), are members of His Body (Ephesians 5:29-31) and if they no longer live, but Christ lives in them, then surely His Mother becomes their Mother as well!

Objections

  1. The Bible refutes the Catholic teaching is Mary is the Mother of the Church:  In Matthew 16:16, Jesus said "I will build My church".

    The title Mother of the Church does not mean that Mary somehow founded the Church.  It means that, because she is the Mother of Christ Who is the Head of the Church, she is also the spiritual Mother of all the members of His Body.  So St. Matthew 16:16 has no bearing on this matter.

  2. In the book of Revelation, Jesus addresses the churches, NOT Mary.

    The Apocalypse/Book of Revelation was addressed to the pilgrim Church on earth; Mary was already in Heaven by then.

  3. Mary was not made an Apostle, she was never given a position of authority above other Christians (Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 12:13, 27).

    She was not made an Apostle because she was a woman; Jesus chose only male Apostles.  Besides, she didn't want a position of authority for on earth she was always the humble Handmaid of the Lord; she made herself the least of all.  That is why she is so exalted now in heaven; as the Bible says, "The last shall be first...".

  4. Mary is just another member of the church, not the Mother of the Church.

    She is indeed a member of the Church, insofar as she is a member of the Body of Christ.  In another sense, she is the Mother of the Church, for as the Mother of Christ the Head she is also Mother of all the members of the Church; the Head and Body are one Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12).

  5. But our rebirth is spiritual, and Mary only gave birth to Jesus in the flesh.  Jesus does not communicate to us the physical life which He derived from Mary.

    This smacks of Gnosticism, an early heresy which denied the Incarnation and hoped for a purely spiritual salvation. The Bible, on the other hand, clearly teaches that our salvation is both physical and spiritual by virtue of Jesus' Incarnation.

    Human beings are both physical and spiritual, a body and a soul.  Our Lord assumed our human nature - both a human body and a human soul - in order to save us.  The Incarnation actually made the Atonement possible; Jesus' physical Blood has redeemed us (Eph 1:7, Col 1:14, Heb 9:12, 1 Pet 1:2, 1 Jn 1:7, Rev 5:9), His bodily wounds and sufferings have redeemed us: "By his bruises we are healed" (Is 53:5).

    Jesus actually saves us by uniting us to His own Humanity!  Thus the Bible says that the redeemed are members of His Body (Ephesians 5:29-32), and that our bodies are members of Christ (I Corinthians 6:15).  We are truly united to Jesus' glorified human Body, which is the same exact Body which He drew from Mary, and in which He suffered and died (as He proved by the scars in his hands, feet and side:  Luke 24:39-40; John 20:20, 27).

    We even bear His resurrection life within our very bodies until the Last Day, when Jesus will finally redeem and glorify our bodies (John 6:54; Rom 8:23 Phil 3:21).  Our Redemption is not a purely "spiritual" reality; it most definitely has a physical aspect as well.

    The Incarnation is inseparable from the Redemption.  We receive life from Christ through His Sacred Humanity, which He received from Mary!  So Jesus' Mother is our Mother as well, for He drew from her the same flesh to which we are united in the Body of Christ.

  6. Perhaps, but I still can't see how she could be my mother.

    Do you have the same trouble understanding how God could be your Father?  I'm sure you know that the Bible says that Jesus is our Brother (Hebrews 2:11), which makes God our Father (Galatians 4:5-6).  Well, if Jesus is our Brother and His Father is our Father, then surely His Mother is our Mother as well.  Brothers have the same father and mother (unless they are half-brothers, but the Bible never calls us Jesus' half-brothers).

    Had Jesus not become Incarnate, we could never have become His brothers and sisters, since we become such by our union with His human nature. But in His Incarnation, Jesus has a Mother, Mary.  So Mary must be our Mother too.

  7. If Jesus intended His statement "Behold your mother" to apply to all Christians, that would mean that every Christian would have to take Mary "into his care" as St. John did (vs. 27).

    The word "care" in John 19:27 was added in by translators; it does not appear in the original text!  The original Greek reads "eis ta idia".  "Eis" means "for" or "as"; "ta idia" means "one's own, my own, your own, his own, her own, our own, or their own", depending on the context (this context clearly indicates "his own", meaning "John's own").

    So this verse literally says that John took Mary "for his own" or "as his own".  This is what Jesus wants us to do as well; not to take Mary "into our care" but to take her "for our own"; to accept her as our Mother in Christ.  She is His gift to us, how can we spurn His gift?

  8. The earliest Christians never saw Mary as their Mother.

    The apostle John - one of the very earliest Christians - considered her his Mother.  We know that Mary lived among the first Christians for some time after Jesus' death.  Surely those early converts would have loved the woman who was the Mother of their Savior.  And given their tendancy to look upon one another as family (Romans 16:13), they may well have considered Mary their spiritual Mother

    Jesus taught that we will have many mothers in the kingdom of God (Mark 10:29-30) and St. Paul counseled Christians to treat all older women in the Church as mothers (I Timothy 5:2).  Some Evangelicals look upon a saintly older woman in their congregation as a spiritual mother-figure.  Is it so hard to believe that the first Christians might have looked on the Mother of their Lord in the same manner?

  9. Motherhood ceases at death, so Mary cannot be considered the mother of anyone now.  She is just a Christian in heaven.

    The Bible does not support that belief, in fact, it indicates that motherhood and fatherhood transcend death.  Consider Abraham the Patriarch, the physical ancestor of the Jews.  Centuries after his death, Scripture continues to call him the "father" of the Jewish people (Joshua 24:3; Is 51:2; Lk 1:73; Jn 8:56; Acts 7:2).

    Notice that in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man invokes Abraham as "Father Abraham", and Abraham responds by calling him "son" (Luke 16:24-25). Even though both are dead - and one is damned - they are still father and son!

    Abraham is also the spiritual father of Gentile Christians, even though he did not physically sire them (Romans 4:11-12, 16-18). All of these passages were written after Abraham died, and the New Testament ones were written after he had entered heaven.  Yet all along he is called the father of the Jewish people and of Christians.

    As for his wife, Sarah, St. Peter wrote the following to Christian women:  "Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement" (1 Peter 3:6)

    If Christian women are the daughters of Sarah, then she must be our . . . MOTHER!  Not our physical mother (unless one is of Jewish decent), but our spiritual mother, as Abraham is our spiritual father. Yet St. Peter wrote his epistle almost two millenia after Sarah's death.

    If the Bible clearly continues to call people in heaven the "father" and "mother" of believers on earth, then these heavenly personages must certainly continue to be our father or mother.  If this is true of Abraham and Sarah, it can certainly be true of Mary as well.

  10. By calling Mary "Our Heavenly Mother", don't you make her equal to God our Heavenly Father?

    No, for we know that our Heavenly Father is the Eternal, Infinite Creator and that our Heavenly Mother is one of His creatures.

  11. Isn't the Church our Mother (Galatians 4:26)?

    Yes, the Church gives birth to us in Baptism and nourishes us in the Sacraments, so she is indeed our spiritual Mother.  Catholics traditionally call her "Holy Mother Church".  But the Church is a corporate entity, not a human person, and we are used to mothers who are individuals, with whom we have a personal relationship.  We obviously cannot have such a relationship with Mother Church, yet we can with the Virgin Mary.  She is the Image, Model and pre-eminent member of the Church, so she puts a "human face" on the Church's Motherhood.

  12. If the Church is my mother then I don't need Mary.

    Whether you know it or not, you do need Mary. God has placed in every human heart the need for a mother's love.  The Church, great as she is, cannot completely fill this need, but Mary can.  That is why God gives her to you as your Mother.

    You seem to believe that you must choose between the two, as if having Mary as Mother and having the Church as Mother are mutually exclusive.  In reality, you can have both.  God is not asking you to choose between them.  We Catholics recognize both Mary and the Church as Mother, and so can you.

  13. How can we have two spiritual mothers?

    Jesus said that we could have hundreds of them (Mark 10:30).  Why settle for just one?

  14. Mary is not my mother!  I don't want her for my mother!

    Well I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, if she's good enough for Jesus she's good enough for me!

    Jesus created a beautiful, holy woman to be His Mother.  Rather than keep her all to Himself He gives her to us as well to be our Mother in heaven.  This is consistent with His infinite generosity; He gave His life for us, shed His Blood, gives us salvation, righteousness, eternal life and a share in the divine nature (II Peter 1:4), and, as if all that weren't enough, He even gives us His own Mother, so that we may know the mother-love He put in her heart.  How can we spurn this precious gift of Our Lord?


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