The Readings for Mary, Mother of the Church
Monday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
The Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God. Shall not Sion say: This man and that man is born in her? and the Highest himself hath founded her.
In the Eastern Rite, there is a hymn sung at every Divine Liturgy during the Easter Season. In part, it runs:
O, New Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord
Has shown, on you!
This hymn, seemingly (and truly) about the City in the book of St John’s Apocalypse, is in fact a hymn about the Mother of God. In full it runs like this:
The Angel cried to the Lady full of Grace
Rejoice, O Pure Virgin!
Again I say: Rejoice!
Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb!
With Himself He has raised all the dead!
Rejoice, all you people!
O New Jerusalem!
The Glory of the Lord
has shone on you!
Exult now, exult
and be glad, O Zion!
O Pure Theotokos,
in the Resurrection of your Son!
The interplay of images is important: the New Jerusalem is the Church; it is also the Theotokos, the Dei Para, Mary, the Mother of God. Mary is the birth-giver of God, the church is his body, Mary is the Mother of the Church. In the Resurrection of Christ, the Church rises from the dead as well and Mary, who is both a member of the Church and the Mother of the Church, draws us all upward in her sinlessness. This rich interplay of images is brought to the West today with a new feast, instituted by Pope Francis: the Memorial of Mary the Mother of the Church.
The title itself predates the feast going back before the Schism between East and West. Yet liturgically this title had to wait until Pope St John Paul II added the “Mother of the Church” to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1980.
All of the Psalms are prophecy of Christ: so, taking the city of Jerusalem as a type of the Blessed Virgin, we see in today’s Responsorial Psalm that the Lord loves the Gates of Zion above all the houses of Jacob. Zion here is Jerusalem, and so the Blessed Virgin herself. Zion is the Church as well, as the Eastern Hymn says, called to Exult not only in the Resurrection of Jesus, but also in the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, poured out on her in all fullness, and on all the Church in the feast of Pentecost, making a great chiasmas of the Christ Event.
This man is born in her (in Mary) is Christ, but all of us are born in the Church, that is, in Mary. We are her daughters and sons in that we are children of the Church. As the Church is our Mother, so is Mary. The Font is the tomb of Christ, the womb of the Church where we are born anew. The altar is the tomb of Christ, and the table of the Holy House, where our Mother feeds us. The Gates of Zion are round about us. Here is an 11th century image from the Monte Cassino Psalter of the Church as Mother. Mater Ecclesia, (as opposed to Mater Ecclesiae, Mother of the Church).
And so this feast ties a lot of things together: Mother, Mary, Church, Body of Christ, and us as Children of Church, Children of Mary, Sons and Daughters of God in Christ.
I am not even yet adding to this tapestry the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist in which we are the Body of Christ, fed on the Body of Christ, within the Body of Christ. Christ who is both God and Man, uniting in himself the Divine and the Human, the spiritual and eternal, the celestial and the earthly, feeding us himself, into that same divine dance shared by the Holy Trinity. Created by God the Father, redeemed in Love by the God the Son, and overshadowed in Love by God the Holy Spirit. We are, as St Basil says, creatures of dirt given the vocation to become divine.
Maria, Mater Ecclesiae, ora pro nobis!