In Roman Catholic Mariology, Mother of the Church (Latin: Mater Ecclesiae) is a title officially given to Mary by Pope Paul VI. The title first appeared in the 4th century writings of Saint Ambrose of Milan, as rediscovered by Hugo Rahner. It was also used by Pope Benedict XIV in 1748 and then by Pope Leo XIII in 1885. Pope John Paul II placed it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis inserted a feast by this title into the Roman Calendar on 6th June.
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
Pope John Paul II
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. 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.”
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI referred to the Credo of Pope Paul VI and stated that it sums up all of the scriptural texts that relate to the matter. Pope 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. 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
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. 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. Pope Francis hoped this devotion “might encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful.”
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. Mary is our mother too—Mother to the Church and mother to us personally. We need to be reminded of how Mary heard the shepherds running in from the fields with the good news that they heard the angels sing that night, and she kept these things and “pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) We need the reminder of how Mary told the servers at a wedding in Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) We need our Mother to remind us of the magnificent mystery of our Church but also to move us into action. We honor Mary as Mother of the Church on the day after Pentecost, reminding us that Mary was present with the disciples on Pentecost. Mary prayed with the first Christian community, awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit for all believers. Mary prayed with them as the Holy Spirit descended. And Mary, our dear Mother, continues to pray for us
-Fr. Leslie Gomes