Mary as Mother of the Church

Published December 30, 2020

The Church has always encouraged the faithful to cultivate a loving and filial relationship with Mary.  Some Christians are fearful that doing so is a form of idolatry.  But there are two very biblical reasons that this is a false fear. 

The first is that the love of God and the love of neighbor—especially those neighbors we call our father and mother—are not in competition.  It is God himself who commands us “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).

The second is that Jesus himself gave us Mary as our mother as his very last gift before departing this life.  That is the meaning of this story:

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

John makes clear that he is choosing from a wealth of information about Jesus, saying, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).  In other words, every syllable he records has a theological purpose.  He is therefore not telling this story because he thought you might be idly curious about how Judean widows were cared for in the first century.

On the contrary, he is telling you this story for two reasons. 

First, as a reminder that Mary was indeed a perpetual virgin (that’s why it was necessary for John, the beloved disciple, to care for her once Jesus was gone: he had no siblings).

Second and most importantly, because John want us to see the truth that we are the Beloved Disciple as well and that it is to all of us that Jesus speaks when he says, “Behold your Mother.”

All of this and a great deal more is crammed into this very brief mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a simple and profound reason:  when God became man, her life became inextricably entwined, not only with the life of the Second Person of the Trinity, but with every single person, baptized and unbaptized, who has ever lived and who will ever live, for her Son died for every single person who has ever lived and will ever live.

The key to understanding everything the Church says about Mary is simply this: the thing about Mary is that the thing is not about Mary.  Her life is an entirely referred life.  Her mission is summed up in her words at the wedding at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).  And because of this, every teaching the Church has concerning her always comes back to the reality that Mary is the first guardian of the Faith, revealing through her person the truth about who Jesus is and therefore about who we are.  For Jesus does not simply reveal the Father to us.  He reveals us to ourselves.[1] This interplay of Mariology (the theology about Mary and her relationship to Jesus and the Church) and Christology (the theology about who and what the incarnate Son of God is) becomes clearer as we look at three of the most profound words in the entire Creed.


[1] Gaudium et Spes, 22.  Available on-line at http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html as of July 25, 2018.

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