Mary’s Spiritual Maternity




While the Church’s inchoate belief in Mary’s motherhood of all believers reaches back beyond its conscious articulation, the chronicling of this belief provides an interesting instance of the development of doctrine which is thus described in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum:


The Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts (cf. Luke 2.19 and 51). It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth. Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her. (1)


Exposition of the Doctrine from the Magisterium


Put very simply, the magisterium of the Church teaches the doctrine that as Mother of the Christ, who is “the head of the body, the Church” (Col.1.18), Mary is also the Mother of the members of that body. Theologically, a distinction is frequently made with regard to the beginning of Mary’s spiritual maternity at the time of the Annunciation and its “promulgation” (2) on Calvary. Father Otto Semmelroth SJ puts it this way:


When Mary conceived the God-man, she became ontologically the Mother of the Mystical Christ. This element had to receive the addition of moral completion at Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. (3)


Father Wenceslaus Sebastian OFM differentiates these two “moments” analogously with the Redemption wrought by Christ:


The Incarnation may be considered as the Redemption in potency or in actu primo, and the sacrifice on Calvary, as the Redemption in act, or in actu secundo. Mary’s co-operation in the production of the supernatural life follows a similar pattern. At the Incarnation, in virtue of her Divine Maternity, she conceives us to the supernatural life, whereas on Calvary she begets us. (4)


Eschewing the distinction between Mary’s spiritual maternity in actu primo and in actu secundo as an unnecessary “hardening of formulas,” Pere Jean-Marie Salgado OMI prefers, following the lead of Pius XII, to speak of Mary’s “double title to motherhood in the supernatural order”: her divine maternity and her association with the sacrifice of Calvary. (5)


The Ontological Basis of the Spiritual Maternity


Let us pursue for a moment what might be called the ontological basis of Mary’s spiritual maternity, i.e. the fact that, by virtue of becoming the Mother of Christ, Mary also became the Mother of his members. One of the clearest statements of this foundation, based on the Pauline theology of the Body of Christ, was made by Pope Saint Pius X in his encyclical Ad Diem Illum of 2 February 1904:


For is not Mary the Mother of Christ? She is, therefore, our Mother also. Indeed everyone must believe that Jesus, the Word made Flesh, i