I’m a Protestant studying Catholicism due to having read the Early Church Fathers. When I listen to EWTN, or read different Catholic sites, I keep seeing that Mary is referred to as our Mother, and also the Church is referred to as our Mother. How can they both be this to us, or am I just misunderstanding the concepts?
They are just titles given to both. Mary is our mother because of constant intercession, her great love, and her aid for us. The Church as our mother is an honorary title because the church offers the sacraments, which allows us to be able to participate in God’s plan of salvation.
Mary prefigures the Church. i guess the best way to put it is that Mary is our heavily mother, and the Church is our earthly spiritual mother. The Church takes over the mission of Mary in a way. The Church finds a great example in Mary’s life.
In some ways it is a bit like asking how can the Church be both the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ but since both these images are Scriptural Christians of all denominations accept them both as being true. They are mystical truths and represent in words suited to finite minds living in a material world the best available means of expressing those truths.
Similarly with our Lady and the Church. We can express the idea by saying that in a sense Mary is the Church. At one historic point the Church consisted entirely of her, she was the only one to know about Jesus, to love Him and to have faith in Him. Mary gave Christ to the world and the Church now does only what Mary did before her. If you consider too the image in Revelation of the woman clothed with the sun you can see in her a figure that has been variously interpreted as Israel, the Church or Mary. There is no need though to think in either/or terms. Catholicism proposes a both/and description, she is Mary and the Church and in both characters she is mother.
If you are interested to read more and can cope with theological writings the book by the then Cardinal Ratzinger and (mostly) the theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar Mary the Church at the Source might be helpful to you.
This is an interesting question. The Church often speaks metaphorically and it can get confusing
The Church is like a Mother; she is a mother figure that feeds us spiritually and nurtures us with the Sacraments, the way a Mother feeds and nurtures her child. Catholics understand the Church to be primarily feminine, and the metaphor of a mother helps us appreciate her many gifts, graces, and blessings. The Catechism states:
“It is the normal flowering of the baptismal grace which has begotten us in the womb of the Church and made us members of the Body of Christ. In her motherly care, the Church grants us the mercy of God which prevails over all our sins and is especially at work in the sacrament of reconciliation. With a mother’s foresight, she also lavishes on us day after day in her liturgy the nourishment of the Word and Eucharist of the Lord.” (CCC, 2040)
Mary is also a Mother figure to us: she is a wonderful role model of total self-sacrifice for Christ, she prays for us, and inspires us the way a great Mother does! In the Old Testament, mothers were paramount in preparing the Passover feasts and guiding the family through the Exodus story. Because the New Testament is a re-visitation of the Old Testament with Christ as the new Passover Lamb, Christ chooses Mary to act the same way Jewish mothers would: guiding the new family of God, the Church, through the new Exodus story, that of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord!
Marian doctrine is very dense and hard to condense sometimes. I have a talk by Scott Hahn on the role of Mary as our Mother; if you are interested feel free to send me a message and I can e-mail you the mp3
In summary: they are both like mothers and embody different motherly attributes.
Hope this helps!
And there is this from our Lord
29 Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30 who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come
So you could think of our a Lady and the Church as being among the hundred times as many mothers that we now have
The motherhood of Mary and the motherhood of the Church are very interrelated and basically extensions of one another. At the Second Vatican Council, the Church taught that Mary is the “the image and beginning of the Church.” In more detail:
[quote=Vatican II, Lumen Gentium]63. By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.(18*) For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. (19*) By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God’s messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren,(299) namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.
- The Church indeed, contemplating her hidden sanctity, imitating her charity and faithfully fulfilling the Father’s will, by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By her preaching she brings forth to a new and immortal life the sons who are born to her in baptism, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God. She herself is a virgin, who keeps the faith given to her by her Spouse whole and entire. Imitating the mother of her Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, she keeps with virginal purity an entire faith, a firm hope and a sincere charity.(20*)
As others have suggested, Mary is the typological figure of the Church. Think of it as how Christ is the type of Adam (Romans 5:14). Christ is typologically Adam. Mary is typologically the Church. There are many typological parallels throughout Scripture. Mary is also the type of the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is also a type of Moses, Joshua, the Manna, et al.
Thank you all for your answers. As a practicing evangelical Protestant, I’m certainly aware of the many types and foreshadows in the Bible, but of course, I’ve never been taught about Mary and the Ark as a type. Protestants basically say absolutely nothing about Mary other than the virgin birth and the events surrounding it. There is literally no focus at all about Mary. The chart above was very helpful and rather eye opening.
Hi, Jennie…here is a short piece about Mary from John Paul II:
If you want to read more, I would suggest the following book: Hail Holy Queen by Scott Hahn.
Hmmm. That was an interesting piece by JPII. Thank you. It says that it was part of a series on the Blessed Mother by him. Would rest be available to read somewhere online? I’m sure Scott Hahn’s book is very good, but I have limited dollars to spend due to an upcoming cut in my income, so I like to grab all the freebies online if I can.
Never mind! I found the series on EWTN’s website in their library!
You should consider this. The bible actually tells us directly in Galatians 4:26 “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” Our real mother is the heavenly Jerusalem.
That verse is in the context of using the mothers of Abraham’s children as a metaphor for the difference between those born again in the spirit and those in the bondage of the Spirit. Those who have been born again as children of the kingdom of God–the heavenly Jerusalem–are free.
But again, that does not rule out other motherly relationships. Jesus Himself says outright of Mary, “Behold your Mother.” The Church is also a mother, due to its anticipating the heavenly Jerusalem here one earth and through its sacraments and teaching, bringing forth and nourishing the sons and daughters of God. Of course, we also have biological mothers.
It’s just like how God is called Father but St. Paul also says he and Timothy have a father-son relationship (Phil 2:22). It’s both. One does not detract from the other, but rather is a reflection of the other, increasing the overall brightness of the light.
In Catholic theology, Mary is also a type of Eve, the new Jerusalem, the Garden, Israel, the Ark, etc… so no problems with that verse at all. It’s a false dichotomy to identify one typological mother and therefore forbid any others.
Good afternoon, Jennie. I was actually wondering about you and how you were doing just the other day. I hope you are well!
Christianity in general and the Bible in particular seems to do what EWTN is doing. I am going to muddy the water a bit; BUT only to the end of illustrating that SOMETIMES it’s okay for more than one person (or entity) to hold a title. Heavenly/divine attributes are often shared in the NT.
I wrote this for another post, but it applies here…
In Ephesians 2:20 ~ the Apostles are called the “foundation of the Church”.
In 1 Corinthians 3:11 ~ Jesus Christ is called the “Foundation of the Church”.
In 1 Corinthians 3:12 ~ the faithful build upon the foundation.
In Matthew 16:18 ~ Jesus builds upon the foundation.
In 1 Peter 2:5 ~ the faithful are called the stones of God’s spiritual house.
In Acts 4:11 ~ Jesus is called the Stone of God’s house.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16 ~ The faithful are the Temple of God.
In Revelation 21:22 ~ Jesus is the Temple of God.
In Acts 20:28 ~ the Apostles are called the bishops of the flock.
In 1 Peter 2:25 ~ Jesus is called the Bishop of the flock.
Matthew 16:19 ~ Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven (the House of God) to Peter.
Revelation 3:7 ~ Jesus has the Key of David (the House of God).
Matthew 16:19 ~ Peter has the authority to bind and loose (open and shut).
Revelation 3:7 ~ Jesus has the Authority to open and shut (bind and loose).
In Luke 22:30 ~ The Apostles sit upon heavenly thrones.
In Revelation 7:10, 11, 15, 17 God sits upon His heavenly throne.
Crazy, huh? What do you think?
I’m doing well, thanks for asking. I’m still reading about 2 to 3 hours of Catholic theology/history per night. My 24-year-old son is now also interested and we are both discussing going to the RCIA courses in the Fall. I haven’t let my Presbyterian minister know about this though and I seem to be dragging my feet on that one. I have to give them a heads up though because I run the nursery in that church. I’m just a bit afraid of doing so for some reason.
Thank you for the examples, and also the person before you, Marco Polo. You both seem to be saying what I’ve heard before; that Catholicism is more both/and and Protestantism is more either/or; and that it is the either or mentality that often causes all the splits and arguments. Your list helped me to understand this kind of thinking better!
But using your reasoning in context Sarah is the mother of the church because she is the one whom the promise was made to not Mary.
In Catholic theology, Sarah is also a type of Mary. She conceives under extraordinary circumstance and, also like Mary, her offspring has a heritage that includes God’s covenant promises. The angel Gabriel echoes OT covenant promises to Mary because Jesus fulfills those as her offspring. Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote much on the Sarah/Mary typology in Daughter Zion and Mary: The Church at the Source. Dr. Scott Hahn and other theologians have as well. :o
I agree the circumstances for both women were extraordinary. That’s where the similarities end. Sarah’s conception is quite different from Mary’s. God directly promised Sarah she would conceive because God promised by faith she would conceive unlike Hagar who conceived by the flesh and will of man. Mary was capable of conceiving while Sarah was barren. Sarah truly is a type of the church because she represents the covenant of the divine promise to those born by her. The bible doesn’t even mention Mary in this context in these verses while Sarah is clearly mentioned. Why wouldn’t it do so if it were true since Mary was well known at the time? Yet the bible remains silent.