Mary continues her vital role in church life

Father John A. Kiley

The Blessed Mother is highlighted twice in the Gospel according to St. John. The miracle at Cana, to be proclaimed this coming Sunday, places Mary at the very beginning of Christ’s public life and St. John’s narrative of the crucifixion locates the mother of Jesus at the very last moments of Jesus’ public life.

Mary’s interactions with her son – the one spoken, the other silent – form the brackets within which the public life of Jesus Christ is lived out. Both at Cana and at Calvary, Mary supports directly the ministry of Christ, her son. At Cana, Mary’s intercession provokes a response that surprises even Jesus himself. “Woman, how does this concern of yours involve me? My hour has not yet come.” But Mary is firm in her intuition that Jesus will respond to the nuptial need. “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary instructs the waiting attendants. These last recorded words of Mary display great confidence that the mother knew the mind of her son. She knew how far she could go. Mother and son were of one mind and one will. Mary could speak assertively with Jesus. Her perennial ministry as an intercessor with her divine Son is clearly foreshadowed at Cana.

Although Mary is a silent witness to her son’s sufferings at Calvary, Jesus reserves some of his final, tormented breaths to commend Mary to his beloved friend, St. John. Clearly linking Calvary to Cana, Jesus addresses his mother with the same appellation that he favored at the wedding feast. “Woman, behold your son,” Jesus instructs his mother. “Son, behold your mother,” St. John is directed by Jesus. Mary’s intercessory power effectively displayed at Cana is now entrusted to the infant church whom St. John represents. The fledgling Christian community is advised by Jesus to consider Mary as its mother. The new church is counseled to rely on Mary’s wisdom, to prevail upon her nearness to her son, to take advantage of her mediating role. Hence Jesus is the first to acknowledge the power of Mary’s prayers. Clearly he worked his first miracle at her request. Now, through St. John, Christ directs the early church and the church in every generation to turn to Mary in time of need. Mary knew the mind of Christ. Mary sensed the will of Christ. Mary had the inside track. Her intercessory power was acknowledged in Scripture and it would continue to be appreciated in later church life.

Recall that Mary was present at Pentecost, interceding on behalf of the apostolic church for their confirmation in the Spirit. The mosaics and icons of the ancient church testify to the veneration that Mary’s maternal task was accorded by the church in its infancy. The solemnities and Marian feast days that mark the Christian calendar are tributes to Mary’s supportive motherhood among the believing community. The parish churches named for St. Mary under her assorted titles are prolific, honoring her motherhood throughout the countryside. The rosaries, the scapulars, the medals, the statuary, the holy cards that abound in Catholic households affirm Mary’s effectiveness as an ever present help in time of need. The popes, especially those of modern times, have issued encyclicals celebrating Mary’s continuing role in salvation history. Every pope since Leo XIII has written an encyclical on the rosary.

The Second Vatican Council for its part reserved the conclusion of its decree on the church, “Lumen Gentium,” to emphasize specifically Mary’s lasting maternal role in God’s divine plan. Just as the church is mother of the faithful, leading and guiding the people of God toward a more intimate union with the Father, so Mary continues to fulfill a similar task from heaven. The Council noted that Mary intervened in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ during his life here on earth, as the scriptural narratives above attest. They accordingly affirmed that Mary continues to intervene in the life of the church with the same maternal concern. The Vatican Fathers taught: “The entire body of the faithful pours forth instant supplications to the Mother of God and mother of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one people of God, for the glory of the most holy and undivided Trinity.”

So both Holy Scripture and solemn church teaching agree with traditional Catholic practices, which faithfully invoke Mary as compassionate mother, compassionate intercessor, compassionate mediator.