Mother of the Church (Latin: Mater Ecclesiae) is a title given to Mary in the Catholic Church, as officially declared by Pope Paul VI in 1964. The title first appeared in the 4th century writings of Saint Ambrose of Milan, as rediscovered by Hugo Rahner.[1] It was also used by Pope Benedict XIV in 1748[2] and then by Pope Leo XIII in 1885.[3] Pope John Paul II placed it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church[4] and Pope Francis inserted a feast by this title into the Roman Calendar.[5]

St. Ambrose and Hugo Rahner

The Church has traditionally portrayed the Blessed Virgin Mary together with the apostles and disciples gathered at that first Pentecost, joined in prayer with the first members of the Church. The title Mater Ecclesiae is found in the writings of Berengaud, bishop of Treves (d. 1125).[6] In the 1895 encyclical Adjutricem populi (Helper of the People) Pope Leo XIII wrote, "She is invoked as Mother of the Church and the teacher and Queen of the Apostles". Following the title's usage by Leo XIII, it was later used many times in the teachings of John XXIII and Paul VI,[7] John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

The use of the Mater Ecclesiae title to the Virgin Mary goes back to Ambrose of Milan in the 4th century, but this was not known until its 1944 rediscovery by Hugo Rahner.[1] Rahner's Mariology, following Ambrose, sees Mary in her role within the Church. His interpretation, based solely on Ambrose and the early Fathers,[1] greatly influenced Vatican II[8] and Pope Paul VI,[9] who, quoting Ambrose, declared Mary the "Mother of the Church".

Pope Paul VI

Pope Paul VI

The Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ's members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed. – Pope Paul VI's "Credo of the People of God".[10]

A former archbishop of Milan, Paul VI used similar language to that of Saint Ambrose of Milan, calling Mary Model of the Church in light of her faith, love and complete unity with Christ and Mother of the Church because she gave birth to Christ.[11] During his speech upon the closing of the third session of the Second Vatican Council on November 21, 1964, Paul VI said: "We declare Mary Most Holy Mother of the Church, that is, of all the Christian people"[9]

In Redemptoris Mater Pope John Paul II referred to Paul VI's "Credo of the People of God" as a reaffirmation of the statement that Mary is the "mother of the entire Christian people, both faithful and pastors" and wrote that the Credo "restated this truth in an even more forceful way":[12]

Pope John Paul II

Mosaic of Mater Ecclesiae in St. Peter's Square. The mosaic bears the personal arms and motto of Pope John Paul II, who approved the installation of the image and blessed it personally.

In 1980, during the UNIV Forum,[13] an annual gathering of university students from all over the world held in Rome during Holy Week and born by inspiration of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, a young man taking part in the gathering told Pope John Paul II that he was not able to find an image of Our Lady in St. Peter's Square, considered the heart of Christendom. In fact, although there are 162 statues of saints, none of them depict the Mother of God. The pope answered immediately: "then we should finish the square". When Blessed Álvaro del Portillo, successor of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, heard this story, he asked the Spanish architect Javier Cotelo to find a good solution for the image. In July 1980 and January 1981, Cotelo submitted to the pope a proposal of using one of the windows of the building located between St. Peter's Square and the Cortile di San Damaso, since from there the image could be seen from any part of the square. The pope accepted the suggestion and on December 7, 1981, a mosaic of Maria Mater Ecclesiae ("Our Lady, Mother of the Church") was installed following Cotelo's proposal. On the following day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the pope blessed the mosaic from his window; this mosaic is considered to be last stone of St. Peter's Square.[14] Moreover, this mosaic overlooks the spot on the square where an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II was made in 1981. It is thus also considered a tribute to the intercession of Mary in saving his life.

In 1987, John Paul repeated this title Mother of the Church in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater and at a general audience on September 17, 1997.[15]

With regard to the title "Mother of the Church", John Paul used Redemptoris Mater as an opportunity to explain how the Blessed Virgin Mary's maternity of Christ's faithful derives from her maternity of Christ, as well as how Mary serves as a "type", or model, of the Church as a whole.

Mary is present in the Church as the Mother of Christ, and at the same time as that Mother whom Christ, in the mystery of the Redemption, gave to humanity in the person of the Apostle John. Thus, in her new motherhood in the Spirit, Mary embraces each and every one in the Church, and embraces each and every one through the Church. In this sense Mary, Mother of the Church, is also the Church's model. Indeed, as Paul VI hopes and asks, the Church must draw "from the Virgin Mother of God the most authentic form of perfect imitation of Christ."[16]

On September 17, 1997, Pope John Paul II devoted a Wednesday general audience to the title "Mother of the Church" with regard to its application to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The faithful first called upon Mary with the title "Mother of God", "Mother of the faithful" or "our Mother" to emphasize her personal relationship with each of her children. Later, because of the greater attention paid to the mystery of the Church and to Mary’s relationship to her, the Blessed Virgin began more frequently to be invoked as "Mother of the Church"."[17]
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.[18]

Pope Benedict XVI

Madonna del Popolo (Madonna of the people) by Federico Barocci, 1579

Pope Benedict XVI referred to the Credo of Paul VI and stated that it sums up all of the scriptural texts that relate to the matter.[19]

Benedict addresses the issue, why Roman Catholic Mariology is related to ecclesiology, the teaching about the Church. On first sight, he argues, it may seem accidental, that the Council moved Mariology into ecclesiology. This relation helps to understand what "Church" really is. The theologian Hugo Rahner showed that Mariology was originally ecclesiology. The Church is like Mary.[20] The Church is virgin and mother, she is immaculate and carries the burdens of history. She suffers and she is assumed into heaven. Slowly she learns, that Mary is her mirror, that she is a person in Mary. Mary on the other hand is not an isolated individual, who rests in herself. She is carrying the mystery of the Church.[20]

Pope Francis

In 2018, Pope Francis decreed that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church be inserted into the Roman Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost (also known as Whit Monday) and to be celebrated every year, outranking even obligatory memorials.[5] The decree was signed on February 11, 2018, the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, on the 160th anniversary of the Lourdes apparitions. It was issued on March 3, 2018.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Hugo Rahner, "Mater Ecclesia - Lobpreis der Kirche aus dem ersten Jahrtausend", Einsiedeln/Köln 1944
  2. ^ Bullarium Romanum,series 2, t. 2, n. 61, p. 428
  3. ^ Acta Leonis XIII, 15, 302
  4. ^ "Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church." Catechism item 963 at the Vatican web site
  5. ^ a b "Decreto della Congregazione per il Culto Divino e la Disciplina dei Sacramenti sulla celebrazione della beata Vergine Maria Madre della Chiesa nel Calendario Romano Generale". Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  6. ^ "Mauriello, Matthew R., "Mary, Mother of the Church", Fairfield County Catholic, January 1996". Archived from the original on 2016-03-21. Retrieved 2016-04-04.
  7. ^ Pope John Paul II General Audience. September 17, 1997. "The Blessed Virgin is Mother of the Church", no. 2
  8. ^ Lumen Gentium Chapter eight,
  10. ^ "Credo of the People of God"
  11. ^ Ambrose of Milan, De inst. Virg 98, PL 16, 328 and IV, 3,4,PL17,876
  12. ^ John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, no. 47, citing Pope Paul VI, Solemn Profession of Faith (30 June 1968), 15: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 60 (1968) 438f.
  13. ^ "History | Univforum". Archived from the original on 2018-06-13. Retrieved 2018-05-20.
  14. ^ Javier Martinez (2011-07-14), La historia del mosaico de la Virgen María "Mater Ecclesia" de la plaza de San Pedro, archived from the original on 2021-12-21, retrieved 2018-05-20
  15. ^ Blessed Virgin Is Mother Of The Church
  16. ^ Redemptoris Mater, no. 47, citing Pope Paul VI, Discourse of 21 November 1964: AAS 56 (1964) 1016
  17. ^ John Paul II. General Audience. September 17, 1997. "Blessed Virgin is Mother of the Church," no. 2
  18. ^ John Paul II. General Audience. September 17, 1997. "The Blessed Virgin is Mother of the Church," no. 5
  19. ^ Mary: The Church at the Source by Benedict XVI, Adrian Walker and Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Oct 1, 2005) ISBN 158617018X pages 58-59
  20. ^ a b Joseph Kardinal Ratzinger: Weggemeinschaft des Glaubens. Kirche als Communio. Festgabe zum 75. Geburtstag, hg. vom Schülerkreis, Augsburg (2002)