The following is an excerpt from Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptoris Hominis, where he immediately identifies the central importance of Our Lady as Mother of the Church and the spiritual Mother of all peoples. – Ed.

When therefore at the beginning of the new pontificate I turn my thoughts and my heart to the Redeemer of man, I thereby wish to enter and penetrate into the deepest rhythm of the Church’s life. Indeed, if the Church lives her life, she does so because she draws it from Christ, and he always wishes but one thing, namely that we should have life and have it abundantly. (1) This fullness of life in him is at the same time for man. Therefore the Church, uniting herself with all the riches of the mystery of the Redemption, becomes the Church of living people, living because given life from within by the working of “the Spirit of truth” (2) and visited by the love that the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts. (3) The aim of any service in the Church, whether the service is apostolic, pastoral, priestly or episcopal, is to keep up this dynamic link between the mystery of the Redemption and every man.

If we are aware of this task, then we seem to understand better what it means to say that the Church is a mother (4) and also what it means to say that the Church always, and particularly at our time, has need of a Mother. We owe a debt of special gratitude to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who expressed this truth in the Constitution Lumen Gentium with the rich Mariological doctrine contained in it. (5) Since Paul VI, inspired by that teaching, proclaimed the Mother of Christ “Mother of the Church,” (6) and that title has become known far and wide, may it be permitted to his unworthy Successor to turn to Mary as Mother of the Church at the close of these reflections which it was opportune to make at the beginning of his papal service. Mary is Mother of the Church because, on account of the Eternal Father’s ineffable choice (7) and due to the Spirit of Love’s special action, (8) she gave human life to the Son of God, “for whom and by whom all things exist” (9) and from whom the whole of the People of God receives the grace and dignity of election. Her Son explicitly extended his Mother’s maternity in a way that could easily be understood by every soul and every heart by designating, when he was raised on the Cross, his beloved disciple as her son. (10) The Holy Spirit inspired her to remain in the Upper Room, after our Lord’s Ascension, recollected in prayer and expectation, together with the Apostles, until the day of Pentecost, when the Church was to be born in visible form, coming forth from darkness. (11) Later, all the generations of disciples, of those who confess and love Christ, like the Apostle John, spiritually took this Mother to their own homes, (12) and she was thus included in the history of salvation and in the Church’s mission from the very beginning, that is from the moment of the Annunciation. Accordingly, we who form today’s generation of disciples of Christ all wish to unite ourselves with her in a special way. We do so with all our attachment to our ancient tradition and also with full respect and love for the members of all the Christian Communities.

We do so at the urging of the deep need of faith, hope and charity. For if we feel a special need, in this difficult and responsible phase of the history of the Church and of mankind, to turn to Christ, who is Lord of the Church and Lord of man’s history on account of the mystery of the Redemption, we believe that nobody else can bring us as Mary can into the divine and human dimension of this mystery. Nobody has been brought into it by God himself as Mary has. It is in this that the exceptional character of the grace of the divine Motherhood consists. Not only is the dignity of this Motherhood unique and unrepeatable in the history of the human race, but Mary’s participation, due to this Maternity, in God’s plan for man’s salvation through the mystery of the Redemption is also unique in profundity and range of action.

We can say that the mystery of the Redemption took shape beneath the heart of the Virgin of Nazareth when she pronounced her “fiat.” From then on, under the special influence of the Holy Spirit, this heart, the heart of both a virgin and a mother, has always followed the work of her Son and has gone out to all those whom Christ has embraced and continues to embrace with inexhaustible love. For that reason her heart must also have the inexhaustibility of a mother. The special characteristic of the motherly love that the Mother of God inserts in the mystery of the Redemption and the life of the Church finds expression in its exceptional closeness to man and all that happens to him. It is in this that the mystery of the Mother consists. The Church, which looks to her with altogether special love and hope, wishes to make this mystery her own in an ever deeper manner. For in this the Church also recognizes the way for her daily life, which is each person.

The Father’s eternal love, which has been manifested in the history of mankind through the Son whom the Father gave, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” (13) comes close to each of us through this Mother and thus takes on tokens that are of more easy understanding and access by each person. Consequently, Mary must be on all the ways for the Church’s daily life. Through her maternal presence the Church acquires certainty that she is truly living the life of her Master and Lord and that she is living the mystery of the Redemption in all its life-giving profundity and fullness. Likewise the Church, which has struck root in many varied fields of the life of the whole of present-day humanity, also acquires the certainty and, one could say, the experience of being close to man, to each person, of being each person’s Church, the Church of the People of God.

Faced with these tasks that appear along the ways for the Church, those ways that Pope Paul VI clearly indicated in the first Encyclical of his pontificate, and aware of the absolute necessity of all these ways and also of the difficulties thronging them, we feel all the more our need for a profound link with Christ. We hear within us, as a resounding echo, the words that he spoke: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (14) We feel not only the need but even a categorical imperative for great, intense and growing prayer by all the Church. Only prayer can prevent all these great succeeding tasks and difficulties from becoming a source of crisis and make them instead the occasion and, as it were, the foundation for ever more mature achievements on the People of God’s march towards the Promised Land in this stage of history approaching the end of the second millennium. Accordingly, as I end this meditation with a warm and humble call to prayer, I wish the Church to devote herself to this prayer, together with Mary the Mother of Jesus, (15) as the Apostles and disciples of the Lord did in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after his Ascension. (16) Above all, I implore Mary, the heavenly Mother of the Church, to be so good as to devote herself to this prayer of humanity’s new Advent, together with us who make up the Church, that is to say the Mystical Body of her Only Son. I hope that through this prayer we shall be able to receive the Holy Spirit coming upon us (17) and thus become Christ’s witnesses “to the end of the earth,” (18) like those who went forth from the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

Notes

(1) Cf. Jn. 10:10.

(2) Jn. 16:13.

(3) Cf. Rom. 5:5.

(4) Cf. Vatican Council II: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 63-64; AAS 57 (1965) 64.

(5) Cf. Chapter VIII, 52-69; AAS 57 (1965) 58-67.

(6) Pope Paul VI: Closing Address at the Third Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, November 21, 1964: AAS 56 (1964) 1015.

(7) Cf. Vatican Council II: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 56: AAS 57 (1965) 60.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Heb. 2:10.

(10) Cf. Jn. 19:26.

(11) Cf. Acts 1:14; 2.

(12) Cf. Jn. 19:27.

(13) Jn. 3:16.

(14) Jn. 15:5.

(15) Cf. Acts 1:14.

(16) Cf. Acts 1:13.

(17) Cf. Acts 1:8.

(18) Ibid.