Mary and the Priesthood
Mary has a very special relationship with priests. Pope John Paul II was known for his fervent devotion to our Blessed Mother. During his extended pontificate he did not cease to emphasize the great importance of Mary in Christian life. He often renewed the consecration of himself, the Church and the whole world to Her Immaculate Heart. For he realized in a profound manner that Mary is the Mother of the Church and the spiritual Mother in the order of grace of each Christian. But her maternal action and presence is in a particular way inseparable from the life of priests. There exists an essential relationship between the Mother of Jesus and the ministerial priesthood. In a General Audience in 1993 and elsewhere, John Paul II developed a very profound theology of this relationship between Mary's divine motherhood and Christ's priesthood from which we learn that to pray for priests means to turn to Mary.
Mary's Maternity in Relation to the Priest
By her fiat in answer to the message of the Angel Gabriel, Mary consented to become the Mother of the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ. At that very moment of the Incarnation, Jesus also began His priestly oblation to the Father. The letter to the Hebrews places the following words of the Psalms in Jesus' mouth at the Incarnation: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a Body You prepared for Me… Then I said, 'Behold, I come to do Your will, O God'" (Heb 10:5-7). Thus Mother and Son, Mary and the High Priest, were united from the very beginning in the priestly, sacrificial self-offering to the will of the Father. Our Lady pronounced her fiat to all the suffering involved with being Mother of the Redeemer saying, "Be it done unto me according to your word"; while Jesus consented to His priestly mission from the Father saying, "Behold I come to do Your will". John Paul II sees in this "perfect correspondence" between Mother and Son "that a close relationship has been established between Mary's motherhood and Christ's priesthood" (Gen. Audience, June 30, 1993). Mary stands behind her Son and dedicates herself totally to His priestly mission as Mediator and Redeemer of all men. Her dedication, however, did not end with Jesus' death on the cross. This bond continues and is extended throughout the centuries between Mary and every priest who participates in the ministerial priesthood of Christ. As Mother of Christ, Mary is in a special way the Mother of each and every priest. She takes each priest into her care, just as she cared for Jesus.
In her role as Mother, which was a real motherhood in every sense, Mary was particularly concerned with the "moral formation" of Jesus: "In virtue of her motherhood, she was responsible for raising the child Jesus in a way appropriate to His priestly mission" (ibid.). In the same way, Mary concerns herself with every vocation, the path of every seminarian and the spiritual growth of every priest. "Every aspect of priestly formation can be referred to Mary, the human being who has responded better than any other to God's call… Mary was called to educate the one Eternal Priest, who became docile and subject to her motherly authority. With her example and intercession the Blessed Virgin keeps vigilant watch over the growth of vocations and priestly life in the Church" (JPII, Pastores dabo vobis, 82).
Beneath the Cross of Christ, Mary participated more fully than any other person in the redemptive sacrifice of her Son. For with Him she said "yes" to the Father's will to the death of Jesus for the salvation of all men. For this reason, beneath the Cross she also became the spiritual Mother of every disciple of Christ, of every member of her Son's Body, when Jesus said to St. John: "Woman, behold your Son" (Jn 19:26) (cf. John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer, 44). But in a particular way, St. John as Apostle, Bishop and priest represents all priests of Christ. Jesus, the High Priest, having completed His sacrificial offering, was returning to the Father. But He left to His Mother—and in her, to the Church—St. John and all priests, who would make His ministry and His sacrifice present to every generation. Beneath the Cross, Mary became in a particular way, therefore, the Mother of Priests.
Moreover, just as at every Eucharist the priest makes present the sacrifice of Calvary, so too at every Eucharist, every aspect of this mystery, including the mystery of Mary's spiritual motherhood, is made present. For just as at every Eucharist the Sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented in an unbloody manner, so too at every Eucharist Jesus says to us: "Behold your Mother". "Experiencing the memorial of Christ's death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting—like John—the one who is given to us anew as our Mother… Mary is present, with the Church and as Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist" (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 57). And just as the priest, acting in persona Christi, shares most profoundly in His sacrifice, so too is he closest to this mystery of Mary's maternity.
At every Eucharist, therefore, we want to be conscious of Mary's maternal presence, of the sacrifice she freely and lovingly made, that we might be united with her Son. We want to confidently entrust ourselves and our spiritual needs to her as to our loving Mother. But also—and this is very important—we want to entrust at every Holy Mass our priests to her maternal care: the celebrant, our Pastor, our Bishop, fallen priests, holy priests, over-burdened priests, despairing priests, all priests. We pray that Mary take them into her loving care and form them in the image of Jesus.
The Priest's Obligation Towards Mary
Let us pray that every priest find in Mary his strength and consolation. For the life and the spirituality of a priest cannot be considered complete if it does not take into serious consideration this testament of Christ crucified: "Behold your Mother". Jesus wanted to confide to his beloved disciple and, through him, to all priests, the work of Redemption. John Paul II addressed the following words to a group of priests:
Perfect devotion to Mary, that is, the true knowledge of her and confident surrender to her, grows with our knowledge of Christ and our confident surrender to His person. What is more, this perfect devotion [to Mary] is indispensable to anyone who intends to give himself without reserve to Christ and to the work of Redemption. ...The more my inner life has been centered on the mystery of Redemption, the more surrender to Mary...has seemed to me the best means of participating fruitfully and effectively in this reality, in order to draw from it and share with others its inexpressible riches.
Priests who find themselves among the most beloved disciples of Jesus must welcome Mary into their lives as their Mother: she is to be the object of their continual attention and prayer.
The Blessed Virgin is for each priest the Mother who leads him to Christ. Like Our Lord Himself the priest has to enter the school of Mary. Like her, who "pondered all these things in her heart" (Lk 5:19), he learns from her to ponder ever more profoundly in the depths of his heart the mystery of Christ, the mystery into which—through his priestly ordination—he has been ontologically incorporated. (By his ordination, the very being of the priest is conformed to Christ. The priest stands and acts in the person of Christ, literally and actually. This is why the priest says at the Mass: "This is My Body... This is My Blood".) Like Mary who "strove to fathom the divine plan in order consciously and effectively to cooperate in it" (Gen. Aud., June 30, 1993), the priest who is formed by her will put all his natural and supernatural gifts of grace into the service of Christ's priestly mission, the salvation of souls.
From the "strong Woman" who pronounced her "fiat" every day, in every trial, on every occasion when the men took up stones or sought to kill her Son until the definitive sacrifice on the Cross, from this Woman priests who are devoted to her draw the courage and strength to be victims with the Divine Victim. For priests, "as sharers in the one priesthood of Christ, …must also share in His mission of Redemption, that is, to be victims with Him, wholly consecrated and offered to the service and salvation of men" (Pope Paul VI to Lenten preachers, Feb. 20, 1971). The priest must give up having a family of his own, a career, his own plans for life in order to follow the sacrificial Lamb, often amidst persecution, ingratitude, calumny or humiliation. In all this, he is sustained by the faith and trust of our Blessed Mother, she who goes always before us on the pilgrimage of faith (cf. Lumen Gentium, 61). In virtue of her own life of continual sacrifice accepted in dark faith and unwavering trust, Mary has won for priests the grace "to respond ever more fully to the demands of spiritual oblation that the priesthood entails: in particular, the grace of faith, hope and perseverance in trials, recognized as a challenge to share more generously in the redemptive sacrifice" (Gen. Aud., June 30, 1993).
"What should we ask of Mary as Mother of Priests?" asks Pope John Paul II. For them we
...must ask Mary especially for the grace of knowing how to accept God's gift with grateful love, fully appreciating it as she did in the Magnificat—the grace of generosity in self-giving, in order to imitate her example as a "generous Mother"; the grace of purity and fidelity in the obligation of celibacy, following her example as the "faithful Virgin"; the grace of burning, merciful love, in the light of her witness as the "Mother of mercy". (Gen. Aud., June 30, 1993)
From these reflections we can understand why the pontificate of John Paul II was so fruitful. He had dedicated his entire pontificate to Mary, Mother of Priests—Totus tuus! We too, therefore, want to dedicate and entrust all priests to her maternal care and beg of her the grace of many and holy vocations in the service of Christ and His Church. Let us pray for those who are not devoted to Mary that they might receive the grace to understand that fruitfulness in priestly ministry depends essentially on the priest's loving relationship to the Mother of Christ. Let us pray for those priests who are already devoted to Mary that their loving relationship may continue to grow deeper every day of their priestly life. Let us daily entrust all our priests to Mary, when we pray the Rosary and especially at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where her maternal love is made so distinctly present.
Fr. Wolfgang Seitz, ORC
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