Catholics immersed in their 2018 Lenten journey got a boost of what one could call parental support, as well as something new to anticipate with joy, as the season neared its halfway point. In accordance with a decree of Pope Francis made public by the Vatican on March 3, Latin-rite Catholics now will mark the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church on the Monday after Pentecost.
Blessed Pope Paul VI, whom Francis will canonize this fall, formally bestowed the title “Mother of the Church” on Mary in 1964, but as the Vatican’s Cardinal Robert Sarah and others have noted in recent days, believers through the centuries have felt and recognized her care.
The Gospel reading for the feast reinforces why this is such welcome news as the Church journeys through Lent. The reading (Jn 19:25-31), familiar to us from the Good Friday liturgy, recounts how Jesus on the cross entrusts Mary to his disciples as a mother and his disciples to Mary as her children.
Mary’s maternal care is one that resonates with each of us as we seek to live virtuous lives and participate in the saving life of the Church in the world. It’s a care that helps us find our way and understand our identities as creatures of God and our vocations as children of God. The Church serves in this work as well, whether providing support and programming for men to live out their call (see Page 4) or providing women with the opportunities to put their unique talents to work (see Page 5).
This month we also celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal Church, on March 19. Devotion to St. Joseph runs deep, as many Christians find his intercession especially powerful in protecting families and providing what they need to sustain themselves. We should not be strangers in reaching out for this intercessory help. We never do anything alone in this life or this Church. Nor should we try.
But Mary and Joseph not only are supporting the Church on earth with their prayers; they also provide the superlative models of man and woman living out vocations of loving service. St. Joseph reminds us that the faith of fathers, in addition to the loving care of mothers, makes an indelible imprint on the nascent faith of the next generation.
Mary and Joseph also were real people, people who gave themselves over to God’s grace working in the unique circumstances of their lives. Their unique model of responding to God also is instructive for us, as another item to emerge from the Vatican in early March reminds us. The letter Placuit Deo from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirms that salvation comes from a very concrete and particular circumstance, the Incarnation: “The good news of salvation has a name and a face: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” This echoes beautifully the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, in which he wrote, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Salvation is incarnational, embodied: Jesus was and is out in the world, where we are called to encounter one another, as men and women, as his followers. We seek to live out the Gospel effectively and with joy, whether the particulars of that involve a call to married life, consecrated life, parenthood or priesthood. And here again the model of the Holy Family of Nazareth provides us all with hope and strength as we navigate this world and aspire to be welcomed into the next.
OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young