Mary’s Presence in the Mass



It is highly significant that in the Eucharistic Liturgy of every rite of the Catholic Church we find an explicit commemoration of the Mother of God, often quite close to the consecration. {footnote}Cf. Cuthbert Gumbinger, O.F.M. Cap., “Mary in the Eastern Liturgies,” in Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed.), Mariology, Vol. 1 (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1955) 206-208, 211-212, 215-217, 224-226, 233, 240.{/footnote}


This is a usage established in antiquity and, no doubt, the oral tradition antedates the written, with roots deriving from the era of the Apostles. This ancient practice also testifies to the sound instinct of the faithful that Mary belongs close to her Son especially at the moment when his sacrifice is being renewed on the altar. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (#103) provides explicit corroboration of such an association by stating that Mary “is inseparably linked to her Son’s saving work” (indissolubili nexu cum Filii sui opere salutari coniungitur). {footnote}One already finds the description of the “bond” between Jesus and Mary in the work of our salvation as “intimate and indissoluble” (arctissimo et indissolubili vinculo) in the Venerable Pius IX’s Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December 1954 (Pii IX Pontificis Maximi Acta (Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck-up. Verlagsanstelt, 1971) I:607; Our Lady: Papal Teachings, trans. Daughters of St. Paul (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1961; henceforth OL) #46). Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium uses the same language in #53 when it speaks of Mary’s being united to Jesus “by a close and indissoluble tie” (arcto et indissolubili vinculo unita). Likewise Paul VI’s speaks of the “close and indissoluble bond” which joined Mary “to the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption” (Arcto et indissolubili vinculo mysterio Incarnationis et Redemptionis) in his Professio Fidei or “Credo of the People of God” of 30 June 1968 (Acta Apostolicæ Sedis (henceforth AAS) 60 (1968) 438-439; The Pope Speaks 13:278).{/footnote}


This follows logically from a principle of capital importance enunciated by Blessed Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December 1854, namely that “God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.” {footnote}Pii IX Pontificis Maximi Acta I:599; OL #34. This principle was repeated by Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus (AAS 42 (1950) 768; OL #520), Lumen Gentium#61, Paul VI in Marialis Cultus #25 (AAS 66 (1974) 136) and by John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater #8-9 (Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1979- ; henceforth referred to as Inseg) X/1 (1987) 687).{/footnote}


There are many “reconstructionists,” “reductionists” and “revisionists” around today who want to remove Mary’s images from churches. There are “purists” who insist that Marian devotion should be strictly separated from the Mass. There are even liturgical “dictators” who prohibit the recitation of the rosary during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament as if this Christ-centered Marian devotion so dear to the faithful was an affront to the Son of Mary. All of these aberrations, I would suggest, result from a failure to grasp the “indissoluble link” between Mary and her Son’s saving work. By the same token the awareness of this immutable bond is never missing from the teaching and liturgical practice of our present Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. {footnote}For a brief overview on this theme in the Second Vatican Council and in the teaching of Pope John Paul II, cf. Arthur Burton Calkins, Totus Tuus: John Paul II’s Program of Marian Consecration and Entrustment (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 1994) 199-204.{/footnote}


In an Angelus address of extraordinary doctrinal richness which he gave early in his pontificate, on 5 June 1983, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Pope drew out some of the implications of this bond between Mary and Jesus’ sacrifice:


Born of the Virgin to be a pure, holy and immaculate oblation, Christ offered on the Cross the one perfect Sacrifice which every Mass, in an unbloody manner, renews and makes present. In that one Sacrifice, Mary, the first redeemed, the Mother of the Church, had an active part. She stood near the Crucified, suffering deeply with her Firstborn; with a motherly heart she associated herself with his Sacrifice; with love she consented to his immolation (cf. Lumen Gentium, 58; Marialis Cultus, 20): she offered him and she offered herself to the Father. Every Eucharist is a memorial of that Sacrifice and that Passover that restored life to the world; every Mass puts us in intimate communion with her, the Mother, whose sacrifice “becomes present” just as the Sacrifice of her Son “becomes present” at the words of consecration of the bread and wine pronounced by the priest (cf. Discourse at the Celebration of the Word, 1 June 1983, n. 2, ORE 788:1). {footnote}Inseg VI/1 (1983) 1447; L’Osservatore Romano, English edition (henceforth referred to as ORE 788:2 (first number = cumulative edition number; second number = page).{/footnote}


While spiritual writers and theologians have occasionally touched on the topic of Mary’s presence in the worship of the Church, it is still a relatively undeveloped theme in the fields of liturgical theology and Mariology. {footnote}Cf. Jesus Castellano Cervera, O.C.D., “La Vergine nella liturgia: in che modo è presente?” Madre di Dio 64, No. 11 (Novembre 1996) 5.{/footnote}Pope John Paul II has arguably brought this theme into sharper focus on the magisterial level than any of his predecessors. I would like to devote this study to exploring the implications of this Angelus message in the light of other magisterial statements by Pope John Paul II and his predecessors.

I wish to begin by noting two specific affirmations which the Pope makes. He states that Mary “offered him (Jesus) and she offered herself to the Father.”


I. Mary’s Offering of Christ to the Father


First, it must be clear that Mary’s offering of Jesus to the Father is subordinate and complementary to the fact that “Christ offered on the Cross the one perfect Sacrifice” and that he is necessarily the primary offerer of that sacrifice. Indeed, Jesus’ offering of himself was all-sufficient for the redemption of the world. Nonetheless the Church has grown in her consciousness of the fact that Mary’s “yes” spoken at the Annunciation (Lk. 1:38) blossomed into her “yes” at Calvary and that that “yes” constituted a real and proper offering of Jesus to the Father. Here is how Pope John Paul II put it in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitæ of 25 March 1995: