The first day after Pentecost is the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church.
The concept of Mary as mother of the Church is rooted in Scripture. Mary gave birth to Jesus’ physical body at the Nativity. St. Paul teaches that the Church is the mystical body of Christ. The Acts of the Apostles shows how, through her presence and prayer in the Upper Room, Mary helped give birth to the Church at Pentecost. It should come as no surprise, then, that Mary’s title as “Mother of the Church” is an ancient one, going back at least to St. Ambrose in the 300s.
The readings for the day show connections between Eve and Mary, Jerusalem and Mary, and Mary and the Church. Such connections highlight the unity of salvation history.
For example, consider the connection between Mary and Eve. After the Fall, God says to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” This foretells the birth of Jesus, and His victory over sin and Satan. Eve became the mother of all the living, but she brought them to birth under the reign of sin and death. Mary became the new mother of all the living, bringing them to birth in Christ’s victory over sin and death.
Or, consider the connection between Eve and the Church. The blood and water that flowed from Christ’s side on the Cross symbolize baptism (water) and the Eucharist (blood). Drawing on that symbolism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “[I]t was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church. As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the Cross.” (766)
Consider the connection between the Old Testament, where Joshua (Hebrew: Yeshua) leads God’s people (Israel) into the Promised Land of Canaan, and the New Testament, where Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua) leads God’s people (the Church as the new Israel) into the Promised Land of Heaven.
Everywhere we look, the plan of salvation history forms a tightly knit whole. Part of that plan is Mary’s special role as mother of the Church. At the pivot point of salvation history, she gave birth to the physical body of Jesus in Bethlehem. Then, extending His victory over sin and death, she helped give birth to the Church as the mystical body of Christ. Finally, today, she intercedes as a mother for each of us, desiring that Jesus would live and grow in us, and that we would live and grow in Jesus. In this way, she tends to the growth of His mystical body, just as she tended to the growth of His physical body.
We’ve spent the last three months observing Lent and celebrating Easter. As we re-enter Ordinary Time this week, we can reflect on the unity of salvation history, and celebrate the role of Mary as mother of the Church, and mother of each of us in Christ.