Monday May 24th, 2021 is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church – a new Memorial in the Church calendar. Mary the Mother of Jesus is known by numerous titles in the Church, some of which are designated for celebration as Solemnities, Feasts or Memorials. Three Solemnities are Holy Days of Obligation, and some of the most well-known titles of Mary are celebrated on these days: Mary, Mother of God (Jan 1); Mary, Assumed into Heaven (Aug 15); and the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8).
This relatively new Memorial is celebrated on the first Monday after Pentecost and is called the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Although this Memorial has been recently designated on February 11, 2018 by Pope Francis, this title, “Mother of the Church” has been part of the Litany of Loreto since it’s papal approval in 1587. See more about the Litany of Loreto at https://churchwonders.com/devotions/litanies/the-litany-of-the-blessed-virgin-mary/. In addition, on November 21, 1964, Saint Pope Paul VI, declared the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Mother of the Church”.
Mary is the Mother of God, and in the title Mother of the Church, she is also officially designated as the Mother of the People, i.e. the faithful, the Church. Mary’s designation as a Mother to the People is addressed in the Gospel reading for the Feast Day, when Jesus declares Mary to be a mother to the disciple whom he loved. He does this from the Cross and is narrated by John, “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)
Mary’s motherly presence to the Apostles is also illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles where, in the time of uncertainty after Jesus’ death, Mary was with them in the Upper Room providing a constant comfort. Mary is inferred to be with the Apostles at the coming of the Holy Spirit which is described in the reading to be heard on Pentecost Sunday (May 23, 2021), “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” (Acts 2:1-4)
The Church started with the twelve Apostles – those who were closest followers of Jesus during his life, and after His death were the first to preach the “Good News” across the world. At Pentecost, the twelve were enabled with the Spirit to carry out the mission of proclamation, and the Feast of Pentecost is, thus, called the “Birthday of the Church”.
Scenes from Pentecost are frequently seen in churches with many of them being either in paintings or stained-glass windows. Some beautiful stained-glass is shown here from the churches of the Diocese of Sacramento, California.
The Pentecost scene is more difficult to depict in sculpture, but the bronze sculpture from the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco (shown as feature photo above) prayerfully shows the coming of the Holy Spirit as a dove surrounded by tongues of fire. The Blessed Virgin is seated, amid the twelve Apostles in the Upper Room, ready to receive the Spirit, with folded hands and eyes closed. The Apostles look to their Mother’s example and, too, prepare themselves for receipt of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The sculpture was created by Italian artist Enrico Manfreni (1917 – 2004).
The sculpture of the three women at the foot of the Cross is mounted above the sanctuary at St. Joseph’s Church in Geneva, Nebraska and brings to mind the scene when Jesus declared His Mother to be the Mother of all, when he said, “Behold, your mother.” The statues of the three women in sorrow at the foot of the Cross are life-size; and from the Gospel of John (see reference above to John 19:25-27) are the Blessed Virgin Mary painted with a gold-edged blue tunic and white scarf; and two women painted in muted colors of brown and gold: Mary Magdalene with long hair and Mary of Clopas who by some accounts is identified as the wife of Saint Joseph’s brother (the sister-in-law of the Blessed Virgin Mary). The statues of the three women, as well as the body of Jesus, and most other statues and stained-glass windows in the church were part of the original church structure which housed the parish for nearly one-hundred years. The statues of the three women were restored and mounted on the altar in 2018 with the donations of a generous parishioner.
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Crow Canyon Journal – https://crowcanyonjournal.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/san-franciscos-st-marys-cathedral/
Eternal Word Network – https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/seasons-and-feast-days/mary-mother-of-church-20917
Marians of the Immaculate Conception – Feast Days of Mary – https://www.marian.org/mary/feastdays.php
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year-and-calendar/mother-of-the-church