Motherhood Matters

She’s a Mother too!

When St. John Paul II attended the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) as then Bishop Wojtyła, he took his deep love for his Mother Mary with him. Since it was an “ecumenical” council, some of the Council Fathers were hesitant to say too much about Mary. Apparently, they had not heard of the “Honey-Sweet”[1] Doctor’s old maxim, de Maria numquam satis, which roughly means, “when it concerns Mary, there’s never too much.”

Someone within the College of Bishops, however, agreed with St. Bernard, and he made his voice heard.

When given the opportunity to speak about Our Lady, Wojtyła made sure to speak about her motherhood. For Wojtyła, her motherhood mattered. It is true that Mary was a “pre-eminent member” of the Church, that she was a faithful witness to her Son, especially showing her fidelity at the foot of the Cross. But Mary was not just a disciple of the Lord, but also His Mother, and not only His Mother, but also ours.

For theological reasons beyond just Mariology, Mary’s motherhood mattered. Centuries before him, the Council Fathers at Ephesus (431) affirmed that it mattered for Christology. To safeguard Christ’s Incarnation, they proclaimed her Theotokos (Θεοτόκος, “God-bearer,”and thus “Mother of God”).

If that tiny baby in Bethlehem was really a Divine Person with a human nature, then she was really the “Mother of God” because in philosophical terms the Mother-Child relation is a philosophical relation between persons. She is a human person (Mary) and He is a Divine Person (the Second Person of the Trinity), but she is fully the mother of that Person who is God. Mary should be called the “Mother of God” because in His Incarnation Jesus Christ is true God (Divine Person) and true Man (assuming a human nature). Saying anything less about Mary would be to say less about Jesus and His Divinity: her motherhood matters for Christology.

In a similar way, Wojtyła saw that her motherhood also mattered for Ecclesiology (i.e., “the Church’s teaching on the Church”). In an increasingly secularized world, there was a growing temptation to think about the Church as just another institution, subject to human conceptions and standards. (That temptation still hangs in the air today!)

The Church is not just an institution. The Church is a living reality. She is united to her Ever-living Bridegroom, Christ. She is enlivened and unified by a Life-Giving Principle, the Holy Spirit. Her principal mission is to communicate a life-giving reality, grace. And, as Wojtyła keenly saw, she is also related to a living Mother, Mary.

If the Church has a mother, then she cannot be seen as just another institution. Institutions don’t have mothers, because institutions—although they might be made up of living members—are not in themselves living realities. The Church is a living reality. The Church is a living and Mystical Body united to Christ. The mother that brings them together is Mary, Mother of the whole Christ, Mother of the Church.

Despite being contested by some at the the Second Vatican Council, the theological foundations for the title “Mother of the Church” were upheld in Chapter VIII of the Dogmatic Constitutions on the Church, Lumen Genitum (1964).  In his speech at the conclusion of Session III of Vatican II, St. Paul VI openly affirmed and declared the title “Mary Mother of the Church” [text only available in Latin and Italian].

St. John Paul II reflected on those historical circumstances surrounding this beloved Marian title in a general audience in 1997. Eventually the time finally came for her to have a feast under this title. In 2018, Pope Francis extended to the universal Church the feast of Mary Mother of the Church on the Monday after Pentecost.[2]

Fulfilling our role

Although credit cannot be given entirely to Wojtyła for championing this truth at the Council Sessions, nevertheless he played an indispensable role. Today as we celebrate this great Marian saint and Pope, let us remember that we too must play an indispensable role in promoting and prolonging the truth about Mary. There are two ways we can do this.

First, by loving Mary in truth. St. Louis de Montfort reminds us that her children “tenderly love and truly honor [her] as their good Mother. They love her not only by mouth, but in truth. They honor her not only outwardly, but in the bottom of their hearts. They avoid…everything which can displease her. They bring to her, and give her their body and their soul, with all that depends on them.”[3]

Secondly, by teaching others about Mary. Just as the New Evangelization calls us to renew our efforts in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, so also the good news about Mary needs rejuvenation. This does not mean radically new teachings, but a new energy, new insights, and a renewed docility to the Holy Spirit. What should this look like? Well, St. John Paul II suggested that a renewal in Marian catechesis could be effected by bringing together the essential teachings of St. Louis de Montfort and the Second Vatican Council. [4] Mary’s missionaries living in the 21st century should especially reread and repropose Montfort’s True Devotion in the light of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium.

Remember, we can never love Mary too much, never read too much about her, nor can we ever teach too much about her. De Maria numquam satis!

Seize the day and make it all Hers!

[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux is known as the “Doctor Mellifluus”, because his sermons and teachings were as sweet to the ear as the flow of honey. Mel in Latin means “honey”, and fluere means “to flow”. This is also the origin of the English word mellifluous, “having a smooth rich flow” (

[2] The feast of Mary Mother of the Church was already an approved liturgical celebration for the Monday after Pentecost for the dioceses of Poland. Polish bishops received this approval from the Holy See in 1971. (Cf. Arthur Burton Calkins, Totus Tuus: John Paul II’s Program of Marian Consecration and Entrustment, 1992 ed, 132).

[3] True Devotion, 197.

[4] “The considerable development of Marian theology since St Louis Marie’s time is largely due to the crucial contribution made by the Second Vatican Council. The Montfort teaching, therefore, which has retained its essential validity should be reread and reinterpreted today in the light of the Council.” St. John Paul II, Letter to the Montfort Religious Family, 8 December 2003,