The Blessed Virgin Mary is the spiritual mother of all Catholics, and to help the faithful around the world recall this fact in their prayer life, Pope Francis has named a new universal liturgical feast day in our Mother in Heaven’s honor—Mary Mother of the Church, to be celebrated for the first time this year.
According to Devin Watkins in a March 3 report for Vatican News, Pope Francis announced that this newest Marian celebration is being added to the Church’s liturgical year.
“Pope Francis has decreed that the ancient devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Mother of the Church, be inserted into the Roman Calendar,” Watkins writes. “The liturgical celebration, B. Mariæ Virginis, Ecclesiæ Matris, will be celebrated annually as a Memorial on the day after Pentecost.
In the decree, released on March 3, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Robert Sarah said “the Pope’s decision took account of the tradition surrounding the devotion to Mary as Mother of the Church,” Watkins writes. “He said the Holy Father wishes to promote this devotion in order to ‘encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety.’”
In his report, Watkins notes that the decree emphasizes Mary’s “importance in the mystery of Christ,” especially as part of “the Church liturgical tradition and the writings of the Church fathers,” such as St. Augustine and Pope St. Leo the Great.
“Mary is the mother of the members of Christ,” the decree noted, citing St. Augustine, “because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church, while [St. Leo the Great] says that the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church.”
The scriptural basis for the title, Watkins writes, is found on Calvary. “Scripture, the decree says, depicts Mary at the foot of the Cross (cf. Jn 19:25).” “There she became the Mother of the Church when she ‘accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal.’”
In 1964, Pope Paul VI named Mary as the Mother of the Church, Watkins notes, and in 1975, the Holy Year of Reconciliation, “the Church inserted into the Roman Missal a votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. With the present decree, Pope Francis inserts that celebration into the universal Church’s liturgy as a Memorial on a fixed date.”
The Congregation for Divine Worship has published the official texts of the liturgy in Latin, Watkins reports, and translations, according to the decree “are to be prepared and approved by local Bishops’ Conferences before being confirmed by the Congregation.”