The following article is from a chapter in the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion. – Asst. Ed.
When pondering the Church’s teaching about the Blessed Virgin Mary, one may be immediately inclined to think about her Divine Maternity, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, and Assumption—and rightly so, given that these truths have been defined as dogmas of the Catholic faith. (1) Yet, there are other Church teachings concerning Our Lady that are also important because they, too, glorify God and assist in the salvation of souls. One such doctrine is the spiritual maternity (or spiritual motherhood) of Mary. (2)
The purpose of this article is to present this doctrine, which “is one of the most certain and most universally accepted doctrines of Mariology.” (3)
The spiritual maternity of Mary is “a particular and unique cooperation of Mary, as Mother of God the Savior, with the redemptive work of her Son, in restoring supernatural life to immortal souls.” (4) The spiritual motherhood of Mary means that the ever-Virgin is my Mother in the spiritual order, often called “the order of grace,” in a similar fashion to the way in which the woman who conceived and bore me is my Mother in the natural order or “the order of nature.”
The great Mariologist Fr. Emil Neubert (+1967), a religious of the Society of Mary (Marianists), in his Mary in Doctrine, writes: “Even the least instructed among Catholics know that Mary is their Mother. Before he has heard the words Immaculate Conception, virginity, Assumption, any child who can lisp a prayer knows that the Mother of Jesus is also his Mother.” (5) Eschewing as “incomplete” the ideas that the spiritual maternity is “metaphorical” and/or “adoptive,” (6) Fr. Neubert, seconding the previous remark, continues: “This spiritual maternity means that Mary has given us supernatural life just as truly as our mothers have given us natural life. What our mothers do for our natural life, Mary does in the supernatural order, nourishing, protecting, increasing, and developing our life so as to bring it to maturity.” (7)
The late Jesuit Fr. Bertrand de Margerie (+2003) also provides a description of Mary’s spiritual maternity.
Spiritual motherhood means a supernatural activity, received and subordinate, in the work of eternal salvation of another human being, by which a created person receives and transmits to another person the divine life. Spiritual maternity presupposes divine paternity and human fraternity. The human being who is elevated to the level of spiritual motherhood receives from God the Father the possibility of engendering supernaturally those who are his brothers and sisters in the natural order. (8)
Hence, Mary’s spiritual maternity is real—a true relationship has been established between her and the children of Adam. Far from “make-believe” or wholly symbolic, this rapport, as we will now see, is based in large measure on the “handing over” of John the beloved apostle by Jesus to Mary.