Mary, Mother of the Church and Spiritual maternity for priests 

This year June 1, the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church sets the tone for a month traditionally devoted to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy. With this new memorial we can perceive Our Lady’s maternal influence over the Church and the priesthood. In this article we will meditate on Mary, Mother of the Church as the Spiritual mother of priests and how we can share in her Spiritual maternity by our sacrifice and prayers for priests, in order to extend Christ’s mission and increase vocations in the Church.

St. John Vianney, a saintly model for priests, would often say, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” This love of the heart of Jesus became a reality first by Mary’s “fiat” in His Incarnation and then by Christ’s institution of the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist. After giving Himself in the Eucharist, “after giving us all He could, Jesus Christ wishes in addition to bequeath us His most precious possession, His Blessed Mother.” Before consummating His self-sacrificing love to the Father, Jesus gave us His mother to be our mother. It was to John the Beloved Apostle that Mary first extended her Spiritual maternity. St. John represents all the faithful, but most especially Mary’s priest-sons who are called by their vocation to be “alter Christus,” other Christs, mediators with the one Mediator “in persona Christi” (acting in the person of Christ). 

The Virgin Mother, the mediatrix of all graces, bestows the graces needed by the priest to grow in his vocation. She conforms each priest to Christ in His threefold anointing of priest, prophet and king. Mary is the model and mold for the celibate priest striving to live Christ’s chastity, poverty, and obedience. Only with Mary can the priest learn to continuously live the priesthood faithfully. Mary helps a priest to practice the faith he preaches. “Christians are losing their faith because their priests lack it. It is by the power of faith that the masses will be converted, that obstacles will be overcome, and its enemies defeated” (Father Emile Neubert, S.M). 

At Mary’s side, contemplating the face of Christ with the Holy Rosary, priests can consult with Mary before their actions. With Mary, they can meditate on the Word of God and gather from it the fruit by which to instruct and feed souls. With Mary by their side, priests can live modestly and chastely. With Mary’s obedience of faith at the Annunciation and at the cross, the priest can embrace every mysterious blessing and cross with a “Magnificat” of thanksgiving and life in supernatural faith. 

Essentially, it is not humanly possible to live the priestly vocation in all its splendor and integrity without the omnipotent intercession and grace mediated by Mary. Mary ensures that the priest is a model of self-denial and availability who according to Pope Pius XII: “in all his activities seeks nothing but the good of souls, and looks toward no one but Christ to Whom he consecrates his energies and his whole self.” The Blessed Virgin Mary’s role is to help the priest become a husband to the Church and a Spiritual father — a strong father, even in his weakness. She does this at the cross by drawing the priest out of his own pain to offer pure masculine love for the Church. This scene becomes an icon of the relationship between the priest and the Church. 

The priest hands himself over to the Church in her suffering and need — to have his life shaped by hers. Mary enters into the sacrifice of her Son to experience the mystical crucifixion of each priest in imitation of Christ. Mary assists the priest in the refinement of his will, in the purification of his heart, in the conformity of his mind to God. Mary aids the priest in living chastely and growing in charity, wisdom, and fortitude for a martyrdom of love. Through the maternal mediation of Mary, the priest becomes the sacrifice that offers the perfect Sacrifice; the priest becomes the love that offers love. With Mary Immaculate, the priest becomes what he offers, a pure, holy and immaculate victim.

The lay faithful can cooperate with Mary, in taking priests into their heart. In union with Mary, we can support our priests, bishops and the Holy Father by our prayers, our hidden sacrifices, our encouragement and support. Some practical ways we can demonstrate our Spiritual maternity for priests are offered by the Crusade for Priests. Although it is true the faithful have a right and sometimes a duty to express to their shepherds their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church (cf. Can. 212), without prayer to Mary, our opinions easily become uncharitable and unconstructive criticism or mere gossip. We can “adopt” or pray for a particular priest or bishop one finds especially troubled or troubling. 

Unlike uncharitable criticism and gossip, Spiritual adoption is not only more effective but requires greater sacrifice. Think of Mary’s prayer for Peter after his three-fold denial of Jesus and his conversion to lead the Church as the rock and Vicar of Christ. The faithful can and must support and pray especially for newly-ordained priests who at the beginning of their ministry experience at times lack of experience, isolation, disillusionment and the temptation to leave soon after their ordination. Many young priests need the encouragement of knowing their flocks are there to support them, even when they have to teach hard truths or make unpopular decisions. 

Other suggestions: Offer up a portion of your sufferings such as sickness, hardships, sleepless nights or other crosses for priests. Pray for the souls of priests in purgatory and ask them to intercede for their fellow priests on earth. Offer up at least one Rosary a day for priests, preferably in a church before the Blessed Sacrament with others. Fast with prudence and the approval of a priest or Spiritual director for the sanctification and conversion of priests, especially those in the state of mortal sin and in the grip of the devil. If you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of Christ our High Priest in and with the Church, offer it up in reparation for all priests who have stopped praying their Office. Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily and make the Stations of the Cross on Fridays for priests. Visit a sick person in a hospital or nursing home in reparation for priests who have failed to console the sick and offer them the grace and consolation of the Sacraments. Make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament at least once a week for priests who have stopped believing in the Real Presence. Make a Communion of reparation each week to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to repair the irreverence of priests and in expiation for the sacrilegious Masses offered by priests in the state of mortal sin. There are many other means to offer prayers and reparation but what needs to be stressed at the present moment is the critical necessity for all of us to do something extra not only for the sanctification of priests but in reparation for the sins of those priests who have failed Our Lord. 

As we enter the New Pentecost for priests and the era of a New Evangelization, let us redouble our prayers and sacrifices for priests cooperating with Mary’s Spiritual maternity. The priesthood is the soul of the Church upon which the faithful depend, so let us unite more fervently with Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of the Clergy to pray for those who give us Christ in the Holy Eucharist and wash us in His Precious Blood!

In the next article we will meditate on Mary, Mother of the Church in her role as Mother of Mercy and Reconciler of Sinners.

Anchor guest columnist Grace Small and her husband Bill are parishioners of St. Vincent’s Parish in Attleboro and have recently made their solemn profession as Third Order Franciscans of the Immaculate on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. They are also attending classes with TINE at the Pastoral Center in Braintree, toward a certificate in Catechetical Studies.

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