The presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965) has generated much interest. Scores of publications have provided analysis of the Marian references found in the conciliar texts.
Over forty years after the solemn opening of the Council on October 11, 1962, then the Feast of the Maternity of Mary, we consider the explicit mention of Our Lady in eleven of the sixteen official documents.
1. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: 103
2. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: 15, 46, 50, 52-69
3. Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches: 30
4. Decree on Ecumenism: 14-15, 20
5. Decree on the Up-To-Date Renewal of Religious Life: 25
6. Decree on the Training of Priests: 8
7. Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian
8. Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People: 4
9. Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity: 4, 42
10. Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: 18
11. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: 22
In summarizing what the Council asserted about Our Blessed Lady, we adapt four of the five headings employed in Chapter Eight of Lumen Gentium.
1. Mary’s Function in Jesus’ Salvific Work
Both Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition illustrate the part Mary—the Daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son and the Temple of the Holy Spirit—played in salvation. She, foreshadowed in the promise of victory given by the Lord after the Fall, was the Virgin whose Son would be called Emmanuel. Mary, the Daughter of Sion and the Mother of the Redeemer, is one of the Lord’s poor and humble ones.
Free from all sin and full of grace, Mary, who is closest to Jesus and closest to us, gave her consent (fiat) to the Father’s plan of Redemption. As a woman (Eve) brought about death, a woman (Mary) helped usher in life. This daughter of Adam became, in the fullness of time, the Mother of Jesus. Her faith and obedience she employed for our everlasting benefit.
From Christ’s conception until His Death, Mary was inseparably linked with Jesus in His salvific work, especially in the Visitation, the Nativity, the Arrival of the Shepherds and the Magi, the Presentation and Finding in the Temple, the Wedding Feast of Cana, Christ’s Preaching of the Kingdom, and the Crucifixion. While on earth, Mary’s life was like any other, filled with the labors and cares of the home.
Even after Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary did her part. She prayerfully assisted the early Church as she, the Apostles, the holy women and Jesus’ brethren actively awaited the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. After her Assumption, Our Lady was crowned by the Lord as Queen of the Universe, signifying that Mary is more fully conformed to her Divine Son.
2. The Madonna’s Relationship With the Church
Jesus, Who is the one Mediator between God and men, has associated Mary to Himself. The influence of the Mother of men cannot compete with that of her Son. All she does draws from Christ’s merits as she leads her children to Him.
When God decided that the Son would become the Word made flesh, He chose Mary to be His Mother. Our Lady is not only the Mother of the Redeemer but also the Lord’s associate and handmaiden. As Mother, she conceived, bore and nourished Christ, as well as presented Him in the Temple and stood near His Cross. By her obedience, faith, hope and charity, she helped to restore God’s life to us. She is Our Mother “in the order of grace.”
Mary’s Motherhood proceeds unceasingly from the Annunciation until her sons and daughters enter Paradise. From Heaven she assists her beleaguered children on earth. No wonder she is saluted as Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix—titles that do not disturb the truth of Christ’s unique office as Mediator. The role of Mary, who aids the Faithful in following Christ, is secondary to that of Jesus, Who freely invited Mary to cooperate with Him.
Mary is intimately united to Christ’s Church, thanks to Jesus, for all He has given to her. She is a pattern (type) of the Church in faith, charity and perfect union with Jesus. Both Mary and the Church are virgin and mother. In her faith and obedience, Mary was empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear the Father’s Son, Who is the first among the Faithful. Our Mother participates in the generation and formation of the Faithful.
In contemplating her hidden sanctity, imitating her charity, and by doing the Father’s will, the Church becomes a mother. The Church—a virgin who keeps the faith she pledged to Jesus—brings forth children by preaching and baptism. By emulating Mary and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is steadfast in faith, hope and charity.
In Mary the Church has already reached perfection. The Faithful realize their sinfulness and turn to Mary—the model of virtues. By meditating on her, the Church as the Spouse of Christ becomes more herself. Mary encapsulates the Church’s doctrines and takes her children to Jesus, particularly when she is the subject of preaching and devotion. The apostolic work of the Church, which strives to imitate Mary’s virtues, is enriched by pondering the Woman who bore Christ. Those who labor in the Church’s mission should be enlivened with Our Lady’s motherly love. Priests, who should always devotedly venerate and love Mary as the Mother of the High Priest, Queen of the Apostles and Protectress of their ministry, find a stirring example of docility in her who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, dedicated herself to the redemption of men. Through the gentle and poor Virgin’s prayers, the number of religious increases and their apostolate flourishes.
3. The Ever-Virgin is Lovingly—and Rightly—Venerated by the Faithful
Due to divine grace, Mary has been lifted higher than angels and men to a place second only to that of Jesus. From very early, the Faithful have given Mary the first place of honor, using the title Mother of God, and have sought her protection. After the Council of Ephesus, there was astonishing growth in veneration, love, invocation and imitation of the Virgin. The cult towards the glorious Ever-Virgin is different from that adoration offered to each Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. The Church has approved forms of piety towards Our Lady, ensuring that Jesus is known, love and glorified, and His commandments kept. Seminarians should reverence the Woman who was given to His disciples by the dying Christ. And the Laity should venerate and entrust their lives to the care of Mary—the perfect model of the apostolic spiritual life.
The Council Fathers, who with the Sovereign Pontiff prayed that through the Virgin the nations might soon be led to the Truth, urged that veneration of Mary, especially the liturgical cult, be fostered, that devotion be cherished, and that the Church’s traditional practice regarding images of Jesus, Mary and the Saints be followed. In the annual liturgical cycle of Christ’s mysteries, the Church honors Mary with a special love. Both exaggeration and understatement concerning Mary are to be avoided by theologians and preachers who, based on their study of Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, the Doctors, and the Sacred Liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium, are to explain Mary’s duties and privileges as they relate to Christ—the Source of truth, holiness and devotion. Theologians and preachers must be careful not to lead baptized non-Catholics into error about the Church’s authentic teaching. The Faithful recall that true devotion to Mary is not mere affection or belief based on very slight evidence, but is rooted in faith, a faith by which we acknowledge Our Mother’s excellence and strive to imitate her virtues. In Mary the Church admires and exalts the most excellent fruit of redemption.
4. The Mother of Jesus Gives Hope and Solace to Her Wayfaring Sons
To contemplate Mary, who is in Heaven body and soul, is to see the faultless image and beginning of the Church as the Church desires to be, hopes to be, and truly will be. The influence on earth of Our Lady, who is a sign of hope and comfort to the People of God as they progress along the way to Everlasting Life, will continue until the Second Coming of her Divine Son.
Among those separated from the Catholic Church, the Council Fathers noted, are those who honor Mary, especially the Orthodox and the members of the Eastern Christian Churches. Eastern Christians use beautiful hymns to honor Mary, whom the Council of Ephesus proclaimed as Mother of God. True, differences exist between some Christians and the Catholic Church concerning Mary’s role in the work of salvation, but all Christians of the East and West are to pray daily that through Mary’s assistance all may be one. Muslims honor Mary and at times devoutly invoke her. Christians pray to the Mother of God and Mother of men who by her prayers helped the Church at her beginning and who is now exalted above the Angels and Saints. In union with the Saints Mary intercedes with her Son until all peoples—Christians and non-Christians—may be gathered in peace and harmony into the one People of God for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity.
Over fifty years after the Council’s festive beginning, we must rediscover and appreciate more the Marian teaching of the Council, so that it will be better known and applied. May Our Lady, now in Heaven but closer than ever to her beloved children, quickly bring this about.
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan, is a member of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.