Sermon Solemnity of Immaculate Conception (12/8/09)

by Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

The Collect, or Opening Prayer for today’s Mass, beautifully sums up the mystery we celebrate.  It states:  “God, You have prepared a worthy dwelling place for Your Son through the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin: . . .  You preserved her from all stain of sin in your in Your foreknowledge of His death, . . .” [N.B.:  Engl. trans. from the Latin.]

In other words, Mary was “pre-redeemed” — the merits of Christ’s death on the cross were applied to her to preserve her from Original Sin.  In fact, Pope Pius IX’s 1854 Bull defining Mary’s Immaculate Conception states that Mary was preserved not only from Original Sin, but from all sin during her life.  This is the negative aspect of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

But Mary’s Immaculate Conception has a positive aspect as well:  from the moment of her conception she was filled with grace.  This is why the Archangel Gabriel greeted her with the words, “Hail, full of grace.”  Mary was filled with grace from the moment of her conception, and she grew in grace during her life through her prayers, her virtuous acts, her love of God & neighbor, and through her receptions of Holy Communion after Jesus ascended into Heaven. 

And because Mary was free from concupiscence and there were no obstacles or impediments which prevented her from doing God’s will in all of her actions, she merited grace and grew in holiness to a degree than only God can comprehend whenever she performed good acts.

Why did God preserve Mary from Original Sin and filled her with grace from the moment of conception? The primary reason was because she was going to be the Mother of God, the Mother of the Incarnate Word.

Besides today’s Gospel from St. Luke which reveals that Mary was filled with grace, the Church looks to other Scripture verses to support its teaching on Mary’s Immaculate Conception.  One important verse is Genesis 3:15, where God speaks to the devil after the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, and says:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; she shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel.”

This verse from Genesis is known as the “Protovangelium”; that is, the first announcement of the good news of a savior to redeem the human race from sin.  Actually, in the original Hebrew, the last phrase contains neuter pronoun, which means the verse literally reads:  “. . . it will crush your head.” 

One can translate this verse into ways.  One way is:  “He will crush your head,” which means Jesus Christ crushes the head of the serpent.  Properly speaking, it is Jesus Christ, by His suffering and death on the cross, who crushes Satan’s head and releases the human race from slavery to the devil.

But one can also translate this verse:  “She will crush your head.”  The Church has done so from time immemorial, with the understanding that Our Lady, through her cooperation with God’s plan to redeem us from slavery to sin and the devil – by her conceiving and giving birth to Jesus, and especially by her association with Christ’s redemptive death at the foot of the Cross – that the Blessed Virgin can be said likewise to crush Satan’s head.  Statues of Our Lady of Grace portray this truth, showing Mary standing atop the earth with her foot over the head of a serpent. 

For purposes of today’s feast, Our Lady crushing Satan’s head has been understood to mean that the Evil One would never have power over her; that is, that she would be untainted by that Original Sin of Adam.

Throughout the history of the Church Mary, the Immaculate, All-Pure Virgin has been active in battling Satan and in protecting us, her beloved children.  Worthy of note was her activity in the Americas, when she appeared to St. Juan Diego under the title known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The Aztec people in Mexico were truly in Satan’s grip, with their practice of human sacrifice to appease their demon gods. 

The preaching of missionaries could not turn the people away from their evil religion.  But after Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego on Dec. 12, 1531 and left her image on his tilma, the largest mass conversion in the history of the world took place:  by 1538, between eight and nine million natives were converted to the Catholic Faith.  Our Lady had truly crushed Satan’s head. 

Significant is that the image of Our Lady on the tilma portrays Mary as pregnant with the Christ Child:  the ribbon in a bow over Our Lady’s abdomen was understood by the natives as a symbol of her being with Child; thus, we see that it is really Christ working through Mary who crushes Satan’s head.

We honor the Blessed Virgin today, on her great feast of the Immaculate Conception; and we pay her homage on Dec. 12 her under her glorious title Our Lady of Guadalupe, as Patroness of the Americas and Patroness of the Unborn.

We know that Our Lady will be active in assisting us in our battle against the Evil One until the end of the world.  It is especially in the Last Days that her glory will be made known and manifested.  St. Louis de Monfort, in his classic work, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, says that towards the end of the world God will raise up the great saints who will be exceptionally devoted to Mary (nos. 47-48); he says:  “The salvation of the world began through Mary and through her it must be accomplished.  Mary scarcely appeared in the first coming of Jesus Christ so that man, as yet insufficiently instructed and enlightened concerning the person of her Son, might not to wander from the truth by becoming too was strongly attached to her. . . . but in the second coming of Jesus Christ, Mary must be made known and openly revealed by the Holy Spirit so that Jesus may be known, loved and served through her (no. 49). 

Let us pray that we may imitate Mary’s holiness, her spotless purity, so that Jesus, her Son may be better known, loved and served.

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Sermon 2nd Sun. Advent (Trid. Mass 12/6/09): Jesus Living in Mary/Union of Their 2 Hearts

Second Sunday of Advent (Trid. ’09)

(Jesus living in Mary/Union of Their 2 Hearts)

 by Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

“Behold the Lord shall come to save the nations:  and the Lord shall make the glory of his voice to be heard, in the joy of your hearts.”  These words from our Introit today, the Second Sunday of Advent, are directed to all the peoples of all nations on earth; but they apply in a special way to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Of all the people on earth to whom Our Lord came to save, it was Mary whose Heart was most filled with joy when God became man, for this Miracle of miracles took place within her immaculate womb:  it was then, at the Incarnation, that Jesus began living in Mary – a fitting topic to consider in these weeks as we prepare for the glorious Birth of Our Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus living in Mary; the Son of God, infinite in power and majesty, whom the whole universe cannot contain, is enclosed within the womb of the Virgin Mother, where he lives for the first nine months of His life on earth.  What humility! What condescension! What a self-emptying do we see in this mystery of the Incarnation and Jesus living in Mary!

Our Lord could have come to the earth as a full-grown man.  But he did not.  Rather, He chose to begin his earthly life in a manner like us:  by becoming a little Babe and living in His Mother’s womb, enclosed there for nine months, unable to talk, or interact with others.  Yet, we know that Jesus gave more glory to God His Father by living within his Mother for nine months, than if he had been preaching and performing great miracles for all to see. 

Why was it part of God’s plan that Jesus should come to us through Mary, by living within her for the first nine months of His human life? What purpose did God have in doing things this way? No doubt, Jesus wanted to teach us to imitate Him by His example.  As any other child living in its mother’s womb, Jesus was totally dependent on His Mother, Mary, for His human life and nourishment.  What a wonder this is:  that the Creator should be totally dependent upon a creature of His own making!

By living in Mary as a Babe in her womb, Jesus teaches us to have that same dependence on Mary for everything, and to entrust ourselves – our lives, our desires, our needs – totally to her.  For she is truly our spiritual Mother in the order of grace, who not only foresees our needs, but protects us from harm as well.  The oldest known prayer to Mary in the Church, the Sub tuum praesidium, dating from the late 200’s if not earlier, reflects this notion: 

We fly to thy patronage or holy Mother of God, despise not our prayers in our necessities, but ever deliver us from all dangers, O glorious & Blessed Virgin!

In addition to giving us His example to imitate, Our Lord Jesus Christ had another reason for living within Mary for nine months:  to establish a deep and abiding bond of love between Mother and Son; and here, this ineffable bond of love can, I believe, be best understood as a loving union of their two Hearts.  As Pope John Paul II teaches, at the moment of the Incarnation, the Heart of Jesus began to beat beneath the Heart of His Mother, Mary, and at this time the ineffable union of love between their two Hearts was established – a union which began to grow and deepen with time, and which now perdures in Heaven. 

With this teaching, Pope John Paul II was merely echoing what the great saints and spiritual writers had been saying for centuries.  For example, in the early 1600’s, we have the writings of Pierre Cardinal Bérulle, the founder of the so-called French school of spirituality, in which so many great saints and spiritual writers, such as St. Louis de Montfort, were formed. 

Cardinal Bérulle says that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary “live in one another,” and speaks about how when Jesus was a Babe within His Mother’s womb, there existed a mystical movement or inclination of Mary’s Heart toward the Heart of Jesus and of His Heart toward the Heart of Mary.  Bérulle maintains that these two Hearts mutually ravished one another; that the Hearts of Son and Mother underwent a “continual attraction” and a “perpetual glance” toward each other, caused by the love which Jesus impressed on Mary’s Heart, and the Virgin Mother’s return of that love toward Jesus. 

This mutual bond of love not only united their two Hearts, making them as almost one Heart; it also bore fruit – in a deep and abiding joy.  We cannot fathom the joy that overflowed in Mary’s Heart, knowing that the Eternal Word took flesh in her womb and was living within her.  Her Heart was literally bursting with joy – a great theme to contemplate in this holy season of Advent.

During the Advent season in 1685, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who was novice-mistress at the time in the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial, put out a challenge for her novices.  She wrote:  “Our challenge for Advent will be for us to unite in spirits and in heart with the most holy Virgin, . . . in order to render homage to the Incarnate Word, this God made child in the womb, adoring him and loving him in silence with her.”

During this Advent season let us make this challenge our own by uniting our hearts with the Heart of Mary, asking her to share her joy with us at the upcoming Birth of her Son, so that like her, we may bring that joy to others, so that we may be harbingers of that true, authentic joy which finds its terminus or final end in the Eternal Word made flesh, Christ Jesus, Our Lord.

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“Mary, Mother of the Church,” Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

*This article was published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review (Nov. 2003) and in Ephemerides Mariologicae (April-June, 2003).


On Nov. 21, 1964, at close of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary “Mother of the Church.”  The Holy Father bestowed on Mary this glorious title in the context of promulgating the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (LG), the eighth chapter of which expounds the relation of Mary with Christ and the Church.  He told the Council Fathers:

“Our consideration of the close connections that exist between Mary and the Church, and that have been so clearly explained in this conciliar Constitution, leads Us to feel that this solemn moment is the most opportune time for us to fulfill a wish that We indicated at the end of the last session.  Many Fathers have since taken it up in the form of requests that the maternal role that the Blessed Virgin Mary fulfills with regard to the Christian people be proclaimed at this Council in explicit terms.  And so…We declare Mary Most Holy to be Mother of the Church, that is of the whole Christian people, both the faithful and the bishops, who call her a most loving Mother.  We decree that from now on the whole of the Christian people should us this sweetest of names to pay more honor to the Mother of God and to pour out their prayers to her.”[1]

With these words Pope Paul VI emphasized how the title Mother of the Church explicates Mary’s maternal role towards all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church.  In the same address the Holy Father explained the reason for this title, saying that this name “is firmly based on the dignity Mary has as Mother of the Incarnate Word of God;” for

“the divine Maternity is the source of those relationships that exist between Mary and the Church; since Mary is the Mother of Christ, who as soon as He took on a human nature in her virginal womb, united to Himself as its Head His Mystical Body which is the Church.  And so Mary, as the Mother of Christ, must be regarded as the Mother of all the faithful and the bishops, which means of the Church.”[2]

Basis in Scripture and Tradition

The title Mother of the Church and the truth it expresses — Mary’s maternal relationship to the members of Christ’s Body, the Church – is a doctrine that has developed over the centuries.  The doctrine is implicit in Scripture and in early Tradition.[3] St. Augustine’s words, quoted in ch. 8 of LG, offer the strongest early testimony in favor of this doctrine:  that Mary “is clearly the mother of the members of Christ…since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.”[4]

The first explicit reference to Mary as Mater Ecclesiae comes in the twelfth century with Berengaud, who in reference to the “woman” in Rev. 12, says that Mary “is Mother of the Church because she brought forth him who is the Head of the Church.”[5] The title came into more general use after the fourteenth century.[6]

In papal magisteria the title Mother of the Church was first used explicitly by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical on the Rosary, Adiutricem:  “She was, in very truth, Mother of the Church, the Teacher and Queen of the Apostles.”[7] For scriptural support Leo XIII looks to Jesus’ words to Mary on Calvary, “Behold thy son” (19:26), which reveal that “in John, as the Church has constantly taught, Christ designated the whole human race….”[8]

Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical, Mystici Corporis, says of Mary:  “she who, according to the flesh, was the mother of our Head, through the added title of pain and glory became, according to the Sprit, the mother of all His members;” and that “she continues to have for the Mystical Body of Christ…the same motherly care and ardent love with which she cherished and fed the Infant Jesus in the crib.”[9]

Herein I will demonstrate how the use of this title Mother of the Church and the doctrine which it encompasses have undergone development in the magisteria of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II; and how with the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the title Mother of the Church places the teaching of LG ch. 8 on Mary’s role in the Church and her relationship to all the faithful, in its proper context.

The Magisterium of Pope Paul VI

An important but often overlooked fact is that in the same address in which he proclaimed Mary to be Mother of the Church, Pope Paul VI, in the presence of all the Council Fathers, commemorated the act of consecration of the Church and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope Pius XII on Oct. 31, 1942,[10] saying that, “it is only right for Us to commemorate this very holy act of devotion in a special way here today.”[11]

In commemorating Pope Pius XII’s act of consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the “double” context of 1) the promulgation of Lumen Gentium and of 2) the declaration of Mary as Mother of the Church, Paul VI, in a solemn act of his magisterium, linked Mary’s motherhood of all the faithful with devotion to her Immaculate Heart.  Furthermore, because LG nos. 61 & 62 teach that Mary is our Mother in the order of grace,[12] Pope Paul VI, in his declaration of Nov. 21, 1964, has expressed a similar link between devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart and her motherly intercession on our behalf in obtaining for us “the gifts of eternal salvation.”[13]

A few months after declaring Mary to be Mother of the Church, in his very next public address entitled, “The Mind of the Council on Mary” (on the Feast of the Purification of Mary), Pope Paul VI again used the title, developing further the doctrine it encompasses.  The Holy Father explained that,

“under one aspect the Blessed Virgin is a part, a daughter of the Church, our sister, because like us, although in an eminent and privileged way, she too has been redeemed by Christ; but under another aspect, because she is the one who generated the Son of God made man, she is the ‘Theotokos,’ the Mother of God, Queen of the Church, Mother of the Mystical Body according to faith and charity.”[14]

In his apostolic exhortation Signum Magnum,[15] addressed to all the bishops of the world, Pope Paul VI reiterated the importance of the title Mother of the Church, and again (as he had done when he proclaimed the title) linked it to the private revelations given by Our Lady at Fatima, especially the revelations concerning consecration to her Immaculate Heart.  In this regard the following points are worthy of note:

1)  Signum Magnum was given at Rome on May 13, 1967, the 50th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima (May 13, 1917), and the 25th anniversary of the consecration of the Church and the whole human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope Pius XII (Nov. 21, 1942);

2)  Earlier that same day (May 13, 1967) the Holy Father had visited Fatima and gave homily commemorating both the Fatima apparitions and the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pius XII;[16]

3)  In Signum Magnum, Paul VI made explicit reference to: a) Pope Pius XII’s consecration of the Church and the whole human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and b) the fact that he had repeated this consecration on Nov. 21, 1964 (when he promulgated Lumen Gentium and proclaimed Mary to be Mother of the Church);[17] and

4)  He urged all members of the Church “to consecrate themselves once again to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, [and] to translate this pious act into concrete action in their daily lives.”[18]

Pope Paul VI begins Signum Magnum with a reference to the “great sign” which the Apostle John describes in Revelation 12:1:  “a woman clothed with the sun.”[19] The sacred liturgy, says the Holy Father, “interprets this sign as the Blessed Virgin Mary who, by the grace of Christ the Redeemer, is the mother of all men.”  Paul VI then recalls his proclamation of Mary as “the spiritual Mother of the Church – mother, that is, of all its faithful and of all its sacred pastors.”[20] By quoting Rev. 12:1, he offers further biblical support for the title Mother of the Church.

In the lines that follow Paul VI makes two references to Mary’s “maternal heart,” and then lays out the purpose of the exhortation:  “to remind all members of the Church of the close and enduring connection between Mary’s spiritual motherhood – spelled out so clearly in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – and the duties of all redeemed men toward her as Mother of the Church.”[21]

In explaining Mary’s motherhood in relation to the Church/its members, Paul VI lays down this important principle:  “No human mother can limit her task solely to the procreation of new human beings; she must also undertake the task of nourishing and educating them.  So it is with the Blessed Virgin Mary.”[22] Because Mary cooperated intimately with her Son’s sacrifice for our redemption, Jesus “designated her the mother not only of John the Apostle but also…of the whole human race, which he somehow represented.  Now in heaven, she carries on her motherly role, helping to nourish and foster the divine life in the souls of redeemed men.”[23]

The Pope then explains how does Mary this:  by her “unceasing supplications, which are prompted by her deep love…United with Jesus Christ, who ‘lives always to make intercession for them,’ [Heb. 7:25]…she offers herself as their ‘Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix and Mediatrix’ [LG 62].”[24] With these words Paul VI places the teaching of ch. 8 of Lumen Gentium on Mary’s intercessory role clearly within the context of her spiritual motherhood, as Mother of the Church – that is, its members.

Not only is Mary our Mother; she is also a model to be imitated.  While the imitation of Jesus Christ “is certainly the royal road we must travel to acquire holiness,” says the Holy Father, “The Catholic Church…has also proclaimed that the imitation of the Virgin Mary, far from turning us away from the imitation of Christ, makes it easier and more pleasant…Hence, even where the imitation of Christ is concerned, this general norm obtains:  ‘To Jesus through Mary.’”[25] As regards St. Paul’s phrase, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:16), Paul VI says:  “The Mother of the Church has even more right than St. Paul to direct this invitation to believing Christians.”[26]

In Signum Magnum the Pope teaches that as Mother of the Church, Mary exercises a maternal role in Heaven:  “Mary’s spiritual motherhood transcends the boundaries of time and space…she never ceases to exercise her maternal office or to help us.”  He refers to Mary’s “providential role in salvation history,” and says that “in every age – past, present and future – the Church benefits from the maternal presence of God’s Mother, because she is tied by an enduring bond to the mystery of the Mystical Body.”[27]

On the Cross, Christ “bequeathed” to us His Mother “as a spiritual inheritance, along with the rich store of grace and virtue she had accumulated.  Through her powerful intercession and our zealous imitation,” says the Pope, “they would redound to our benefit.”[28] He then quotes the great Doctor of Clairvaux, St. Bernard:  “Coming to her, the Holy Spirit filled her with grace for herself; when the same Spirit pervaded her again, she became super-abundant and overflowing with grace for us also.”[29] Here Paul VI makes clear that Mary’s spiritual motherhood in the order of grace (as taught by LG 61-62) is a function of her spiritual motherhood of the Church.  In other words, it is because Mary is the Mother of the Church – i.e., spiritual Mother of all the faithful – that she is our spiritual Mother in the order of grace.

At the end of his apostolic exhortation, Paul VI sets forth Mary’s Immaculate Heart – the pure and loving Heart of the Mother of all the faithful — as a model worthy of imitation and as a most powerful means to reconciliation, grace, reparation and unity:

“May the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary shine forth to all Christians as the model for perfect love of God and neighbor.  May it draw the faithful to take part in the Church’s Sacraments, through which they are liberated and protected from sin.  May it stimulate them to atone for the countless offenses committed against God’s majesty.  May it serve as the sign of unity and the spur to brotherhood among all Christians….”[30]

If we consider Signum Magnum in light of Pope Paul VI’s proclamation of Mary as Mother of the Church, it becomes evident that there exists a link between Mary’s spiritual motherhood of all the faithful and the message of Fatima — a link which Paul VI sets forth clearly and forcefully.  Furthermore, the Holy Father’s words quoted above regarding Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and his exhortation at the end of Signum Magnum for “all members of the Church to consecrate themselves once again to the Immaculate Heart of Mary” and “to translate this pious act into concrete action in their daily lives,” reveals that the Holy Father was endeavoring to make known and to carry out the requests made by Our Lady at Fatima:  “to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart,”[31] and to undertake prayer (especially the Rosary) and reparation for the conversion of sinners, in order to attain world peace.[32]

In his 1974 apostolic exhortation explaining the right ordering and development of devotion to Mary, Marialis Cultus,[33] Pope Paul VI teaches that the truth of Mary being Mother of the Church  — i.e., Mother of both Head and members of Christ’s Mystical Body — cannot be separated from the reality of the Church as Mother of those same members.  Paul VI speaks of the “brotherhood” which unites all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ “as sons and daughters of the Virgin Mary;” and then relates Mary’s spiritual motherhood to that of the Church, saying that, “both the Church and Mary collaborate to give birth to the Mystical Body of Christ since [quoting Bl. Isaac of Stella] ‘both of them are the Mother of Christ, but neither brings forth the whole (body) independently of the other.’”[34] A few lines further the Holy Father again quotes Bl. Isaac to further emphasize his point:  “The Church was united…in the Upper Room with Mary the Mother of Jesus and with his brethren.  The Church therefore cannot be referred to as such unless it includes Mary the Mother of our Lord, together with his brethren.”[35]

In the conclusion of his exhortation Paul VI speaks of the effective nature of Mary’s spiritual motherhood:  “Mary’s many-sided mission to the People of God is a supernatural reality which operates and bears fruit within the body of the Church;” and  this mission, “with its individual effectiveness, is directed towards the same end, namely, producing in the children the spiritual characteristics of the first-born Son” (emphasis added).  This is accomplished, says the Pope, by:  1) Mary’s maternal intercession; for she is “ever ready to listen with a mother’s affection and efficacious assistance;” 2) her exemplary holiness, which encourages the faithful to look to Mary as a “model of the virtues;” and 3) being devoted and obedient children of our loving Mother; for Mary tells all of us, as she told the servants at the marriage feast of Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5).[36]

The Magisterium of Pope John Paul II

From the very beginning of his pontificate and in the years that have followed, Pope John Paul II has continued to proclaim the doctrine of Mary as Mother of the Church, in order to make better known the great proclamation of his predecessor, Pope Paul VI.

In his first papal address, in his Urbi et Orbi message on Oct. 17, 1978, the day after his election as Supreme Pontiff, John Paul II said, “we cannot do other than turn our mind with filial devotion to the Virgin Mary, who always lives and acts as a Mother in the mystery of Christ, and repeat the words ‘Totus tuus’ (all thine) which we inscribed on our heart and on our coat of arms twenty years ago on the day of our episcopal ordination.”[37]

Less than two months later Pope John Paul put the words “Totus tuus,” and the concept of entrustment of the Church and himself to Mary, in the context of her mother-hood of the Church.  On Dec. 8, 1978, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope John Paul offered Mass in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, his first visit there as the Supreme Pontiff.  Fittingly, he began his homily that day by recalling how on Nov. 21, 1964, at the closing of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, with the world’s bishops present in the very same basilica, Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mary “Mother of the Church” for the first time.  Pope John Paul said the reason that Paul VI began to call Mary by that title was, “above all to invoke her to take part as Mother in the life of the Church.”  He also said the reason Pope Paul VI gathered with the Council Fathers at St. Mary Major Basilica was “to lay even greater emphasis on this expression,” since Mary had for centuries been venerated at this basilica under the title of Salus Populi Romani (Salvation of the Roman People), where the icon bearing this title rests.[38]

To bring the doctrine of Mary Mother of the Church to the pastoral level, Pope John Paul ended his homily that day saying that he “wishes to entrust the Church particularly to her in whom there was accomplished the stupendous and complete victory of good over evil, of love over hatred, of grace over sin.”  In addition, he entrusted to Mary both himself and “the Roman Church, as the token and principle of all the Churches in the world, in their universal unity,” saying, “He [the Pope] entrusts it to her and offers it to her as her property.”  To further emphasize the entrustment of himself to Mary and (at the same time) Mary’s spiritual motherhood over all the faithful, including the Roman Pontiff, he went on to say:  “Totus Tuus ego sum et omnia mea Tua sunt.  Accipio Te in mea omnia!” (“I am all yours, and all that I have is yours.  May You be my guide in everything”).[39]

Near the end of his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man),[40] Pope John Paul II explained the theological foundations for the doctrine of Mary as Mother of the Church.  After pointing out that the Church is a mother, and that the Church itself “always…has need of a Mother,” he says:

“Mary is Mother of the Church because, on account of the Eternal Father’s ineffable choice and due to the Spirit of Love’s special action, she gave human life to the Son of God, ‘for whom and by whom all things exist’ and from whom the whole of the People of God receives the grace and dignity of election.  Her Son explicitly extended his Mother’s maternity in a way that could easily be understood by every soul and every heart by designating, when he was raised on the Cross, his beloved disciple as her Son.  The Holy Spirit inspired her to remain in the Upper Room, after our Lord’s Ascension, recollected in prayer and expectation, together with the Apostles, until the day of Pentecost, when the Church was to be born in visible form, coming forth from darkness.  Later, all the generations of disciples…like the Apostle John, spiritually took this Mother to their homes, and she was thus included in the history of salvation and in the Church’s mission from the very beginning. “‘[41]

In his homilies and addresses in the years of his pontificate that have followed, and especially when visiting other countries, Pope John Paul has consistently made it a point to invoke Mary under the title Mother of the Church, along with other Marian titles particular to the nations he visits.

Probably one of the most significant “applications” of the title and doctrine of  Mother of the Church by Pope John Paul II came on Pentecost Sunday, June 7, 1981, when in an address at St. Mary Major Basilica he made an act of entrustment and dedication of the “whole human family” to the Holy Spirit in the heart of Mary, while invoking Mary as “Mother of the Church.”[42] Of particular importance was the fact that on this day the Church was celebrating the 1600th anniversary of the First Council of Constantinople (381), at which the divinity of the Holy Spirit was solemnly defined (Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, dominum et vivificantem), as well as the 1550th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus (431), which defined Mary as Theotokos, Mother of God.  The Holy Father used this occasion to pray for unity between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East.

In his talk at the afternoon vespers, after thanking the Holy Spirit for the birth of the Church, Pope John Paul said that ever since Pentecost Mary communicates her own motherhood to the Church:  “Let us give thanks for the Motherhood of Mary which was communicated to the Church and continues to be so! Let us give thanks to the Mother who is ever present in the Upper Room of Pentecost! Let us give thanks because we can also call her the Mother of the Church!” (Emphasis added.)[43]

In these words of the Holy Father we have a truly profound teaching:  that in addition to the work of Jesus Christ with His Death and Resurrection and of the Holy Spirit who came with gifts and graces on Pentecost, the source of the Church’s motherhood is, and continues to be, the spiritual motherhood of Mary in the order of grace — understood, of course, in a subordinate manner, in that God dispenses His graces and benefits through her (cf. LG 62).

In his same address, Pope John Paul explains the reasons why this is so.  He addresses Mary directly, saying:  “You, who more than any other human being were entrusted to the Holy Spirit…;” “You, who are in such a profound and maternal way linked to the Church…embrace all who are on pilgrimage through the temporal life toward their eternal destiny…with that love which the divine Redeemer himself, your Son, poured into your heart as he hung on the Cross” (emphasis added).[44] In other words, the spiritual motherhood of Mary is superabundantly fruitful and the source of the Church’s motherhood, first, because of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, at which time she was entrusted to the Holy Spirit in a mystical union as His beloved bride; and second, because her spiritual motherhood is the fruit both of her divine motherhood and of her intimate and unique cooperation on Calvary in the very act of redemption (cf. LG 58, 61-62), when Jesus announced her motherhood of all the faithful (“Woman, behold thy son” Jn. 19:26-27) and poured forth the love and grace from His Sacred Heart into her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart (cf. LG 58) — which love and grace in turn has been and continues to be communicated to the Church.

The Pope’s words quoted above also give witness to the truth of the union between the Hearts of Jesus and Mary (“that love…your Son poured into your heart as he hung on the Cross”), and the supernatural effects of this union in regard to Mary’s place in the order of redemption and grace – as our Mother in the Order of Grace.

Another way of expressing the Holy Father’s teaching here is to say that on Calvary Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, poured the love and grace of His Heart into the Heart of His Mother; and that beginning at Pentecost that same love, in the form of the spiritual motherhood of Mary, was and continues to be communicated to the Church.  As Lumen Gentium teaches, “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.  Taken up into heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation” (LG 62; cf. CCC, 969).

In his address that afternoon, after invoking Mary’s glorious title as Mother of the Church, the Pope calls Mary “the first handmaid of the unity of Christ’s body,” and asks her to “help all the faithful who feel so keenly the tragedy of historical divisions of Christianity, to seek persistently the path to perfect unity of the body of Christ through unreserved fidelity to the spirit of truth and love.”[45]

In his 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer),[46] Pope John Paul relates Mary’s motherhood of the Church to what he calls the “crowning moment” in the “salvific economy of grace” —  namely “when Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, his paschal mystery, is accomplished.”  With Jesus’ words, “Woman, behold your son!” (Jn. 19:27), Mary’s motherhood of the human race is now “clearly stated and established…The mother of Christ,” says the Pope, “is given to every single individual and all mankind.”  This “new motherhood of Mary,” he says, “generated by faith, is the fruit of the ‘new’ love which came to definitive maturity in her at the foot of the cross, through her sharing in the redemptive love of her son.”[47] Furthermore, “In accordance with the eternal plan of providence, Mary’s divine motherhood is to be poured out upon the church…according to which Mary’s ‘motherhood’ of the church is the reflection and extension of her motherhood of the Son of God” (emphasis added).[48]

Pope John Paul says that, “the very moment of the church’s birth and full manifestation to the world enables us to glimpse this continuity of Mary’s motherhood,” and then quotes Lumen Gentium (LG) which says that on Pentecost, “We see Mary prayerfully imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the annunciation” (LG 59).  “And so,” teaches the Holy Father,

“in the redemptive economy of grace brought about through the action of the Holy Spirit, there is a unique correspondence  between the moment of the incarnation of the Word and the moment of the birth of the church.  The person who links these two moments is Mary:  Mary at Nazareth and Mary in the Upper Room at Jerusalem.  In both cases her discreet yet essential presence indicates the path of ‘birth from the Holy Spirit.’  Thus she who is present in the mystery of Christ as mother becomes – by the will of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit – present in the mystery of the church.  In the church too she continues to be a maternal presence, as is shown by the words spoken from the cross:  ‘Woman, behold your son!’; ‘Behold your mother.’”[49]

The CCC sets forth the teaching on Mary’s motherhood in Part One (the Profession of Faith), article 9 (“I Believe in the Holy Catholic Church”).  In par. 6 of art. 9, Mary’s motherhood appears within a “dual context”:  “Mary – Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.”  CCC 963 teaches:  “The Virgin Mary…is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer;” and then quotes LG 53 (which quotes St. Augustine):  “She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’…since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of the believers in the Church, who are members of its head.”  Significantly, the doctrine of Mary’s motherhood in the order of grace as taught by LG 61 and 62 appears in the CCC (pars. 968-69) within the context of Mary’s motherhood of the Church.

In a Wednesday general audience on September 17, 1997,[50] as part of his then-ongoing catechesis on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope John Paul gives his listeners an historical summary of the title Mother of the Church.  He says that while the Second Vatican Council (LG, ch.8) “does not explicitly attribute the title ‘Mother of the Church’ to the Blessed Virgin…it unmistakably expresses its content by repeating a statement made in 1748…by Pope Benedict XIV (Bullarium Romanum, series 2, t. 2, n. 61, p. 428).”  He says that Lumen Gentium, which describes “the filial sentiments of the Church, [and] which recognizes Mary as her most beloved mother, indirectly proclaims her Mother of the Church…the title was rarely used in the past, but has recently become more common in the pronouncements of the Church’s Magisterium and in the devotion of the Christian people.”

The Holy Father ends his address by saying that the title Mother of the Church “thus reflects the deep conviction of the Christian faithful, who see in Mary not only the mother of the person of Christ, but also of the faithful;” and says that Paul VI “explicitly enunciated the doctrine contained in chapter eight of Lumen Gentium, hoping that the title of Mary, Mother of the Church, would have an even more important place in the liturgy and piety of the Christian people.”

We must pray that the desires of both Paul VI and John Paul II be fulfilled, and that Mary be better known and invoked under this glorious title!


[1] Pope Paul VI, Address at the Close of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Nov. 21, 1964; The Pope Speaks, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1965), 138.

[2] Ibid., 139.

[3] Cf. Michael O’Carroll, C.S.Sp., Theotokos:  A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Wilmington, Del.:  Michael Glazier, Inc., 1986), 252.

[4] St. Augustine, De S. Virginitate, 6: PL 40, 399, quoted in Lumen Gentium, No. 53; cf. CCC 963.

[5] PL 17, 876 CD, quoted in Theotokos, 252.

[6] Theotokos, 253.

[7] Pope Leo XIII, Encylical, Adiutricem (On the Rosary), Sept. 5, 1895, No. 6; Claudia Carlen, I.H.M., The Papal Encyclicals 1878-1903 (Raleigh, N.C.:  McGrath Publishing Co., “Consortium Book,” 1981), 375-80; 376.

[8] Ibid., Carlen, 376.

[9] Pope Pius XII, Encyclical, Mystici Corporis (On the Mystical Body of Christ), June 29, 1943; Carlen,  The Papal Encyclicals 1939-1959, 37-62, 60.

[10] AAS 34 (1942), 318, 325; in Arthur Burton Calkins, Totus Tuus:  John Paul II’s Program of Marian Consecration and Entrustment (Libertyville, Il.:  Academy of the Immacualate, 1992), 102.  Pope Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1942 pursuant to a request by the Blessed Virgin Mary to Sr. Lucia, one of the seers at Fatima, on June 13, 1929.  Cf. Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words:  Sister Lucia’s Memoirs, ed. Fr. Louis Kondot, S.V.D., trans. Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Rosary (Fatima, Portugal:  Postulation Centre, 1976), 199-200.  Sr. Lucia, in a letter dated Dec. 2, 1940, told Pius XII of Our Lady’s request.  Cf. Antonio Maria Martins, S.J., and Fr. Robert Fox, Documents on Fatima & the Memoirs of Sister Lucia (Waite Park, Mn.:  Park Press, Inc., 2002), “Letter Sent to the Holy Father,” 385-86.

[11] The Pope Speaks, op. cit., 138.

[12] Cf. CCC 967-70, which places Mary’s Motherhood in the order of grace in the context of her being Mother of the Church.

[13] LG 62.

[14] Pope Paul VI, “The Mind of the Council on Mary,” The Pope Speaks, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1965), 103.

[15] Pope Paul VI, Signum Magnum (On Venerating and Imitating the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Model of All Virtues), Apostolic Exhortation, May 13, 1967; The Pope Speaks, Vol. 12, No. 3 (1967), 278-286.

[16] “Prayer Intentions at Fatima,” Homily of Pope Paul VI at 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Fatima Apparitions; The Pope Speaks, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1967), 93-6; 93.

[17] Signum Magnum, The Pope Speaks, Vol. 12, No. 3, 285.

[18] Ibid.

[19] At the sixth and final apparition at Fatima, on Oct. 13, 1917, the so-called “miracle of the sun” (which coincided with Our Lady’s appearance) was witnessed by over 70,000 people.

[20] Signum Magnum in The Pope Speaks, op. cit., 278.

[21] Ibid., 279.

[22] Ibid., 280.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 281.

[25] Ibid., 283-4.

[26] Ibid., 284.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] St. Bernard, Hom. 2, no. 2:  PL 183, 64, cited in Ibid.

[30] The Pope Speaks, op. cit., 286.

[31] Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words, op. cit., 161.

[32] Ibid., cf. 160-68.

[33] Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Marialis Cultus (On the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary), Feb. 2, 1974; 17 Papal Documents on the Rosary (Boston, MA:  Daughters of St. Paul, 1980), 23-74.

[34] Ibid., no. 28; quoting Isaac of Stella, Sermo LI, In Assumptione B. Mariae: PL 194, 1863.

[35] Ibid., quoting Isaac of Stella, Sermo XXX, 1:  SCh 164, 134.

[36] Ibid., no. 57.

[37] Pope John Paul II, Urbi et Orbi (“To the City and to the World”) Message, Oct. 17, 1978; ORE (Oct. 26, 1978), 3, 4.

[38] Pope John Paul II, Homily, Dec. 8, 1978, ORE (Dec. 21, 1978), 3.

[39] Ibid., 4.

[40] Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man), Carlen, The Papal Encyclicals 1958-81, 245-73.

[41] Ibid., no. 91; Carlen, 269.

[42] Pope John Paul II, Afternoon Address, June 7, 1981; ORE ( June 15, 1981), 10.

[43] Pope John Paul II, Ibid.; ORE, ibid., 10.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer), March 25, 1987; Origins (Vol. 16, No. 43, April 9, 1987), 745-766.

[47] Ibid., no. 23

[48] Ibid., no. 24.

[49] Ibid., no. 24.

[50] Pope John Paul II, Wed. General Audience Address, Sept. 17, 1997, ORE (Sept. 24, 1997), 11.

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Father Ben Reese, Archbishop Listecki and Father Dwight Campbell

“Father Campbell and Father Reese bring with them a rich tradition, a pastoral heritage, a heart for the people that they serve but also a vision; a vision to create a spirituality in the lives of many as apostles of Jesus Christ who is both priest and victim.”

His Eminence Jerome Listecki
Archbishop Of Milwaukee

 Please visit our website here. 

Summary of Our Rule/Common Life

The Apostles of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, is a new society of diocesan priests, founded in the Archdiocese of Chicago with the permission of Francis Cardinal George, whose charism is to sanctify its members through conformity to Christ crucified in a mission of shared charity.

Our fundamental mission is to save the greatest number of souls and to renew parish life according to the following specific means:

  1. Reverently offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, thus communicating the beauty and nobility of the Sacred Liturgy.
  2. Zealously preaching and teaching in order to extend Christ’s universal Kingship.
  3. Fostering sanctification of the family through the sacramental life and consecration to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
  4. Forming men in their vocation to natural and spiritual fatherhood, including priestly vocations, through devotion to St. Joseph.

In our mission to save souls, which we carry out in communion with the Pope and the Bishops, we offer our lives and sufferings daily in union with Jesus, High Priest and Victim, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and with Mary, our Mother in the Order of Grace.

We are located at St. John Vianney Church, 46 N. Wolf Rd., Northlake, IL 60164

Realizing that parish life for diocesan priests can become fragmented and isolated, we strive to live a common life in shared charity for the good of our priestly apostolate. Our common life, which allows flexibility to accommodate itself to the life of a parish priest, entails the following:

  1. Morning and Evening Prayer (Liturgy of the Hours) in common
  2. One-half hour morning and evening meditation in common
  3. At least one meal daily together
  4. A weekly morning of study in the areas of theology or philosophy, with a specific focus on papal teachings and St. Thomas Aquinas

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