Wouldn’t the surest way be—iter para tutum!—the solemn and definitive proclamation of the dogma of her Spiritual Maternity, a joyous reality, believed, experienced and loved by the Christian people? And wouldn’t this act also be the great momentum of holiness and apostolic purpose needed by the Church?1

Thus spoke Bishop Jaime Fuentes of the Diocese of Minas, Uruguay, in his October 15, 2015, address to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, held at the Vatican from October 4 through October 25, 2015. Bishop Fuentes underscored the fundamental importance of the doctrine of Mary’s universal spiritual Motherhood in guiding the steps of the Church in the present age. Two statements by recent popes can help us better understand why the questions the Bishop has posed merit our serious consideration. Before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger had this to say: “The Church must relearn her ecclesial being from Mary.”2 More recently, Pope Francis stated the following: “She [Mary] is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization.”3

In this article we will examine an early writing of St. Francis of Assisi, the Salutatio Beatae Mariae Virginis (Salute to the Blessed Virgin Mary), as well as sources from the recent Magisterium of the Church, which, as we will see, lend support to these statements and the appeal made by Bishop Fuentes.

The Presence of the Spiritual Maternity in the Early Church

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his Letter to Pusey, remarks that:

I fully grant that devotion towards the Blessed Virgin has increased among Catholics with the progress of centuries; I do not allow that the doctrine concerning her has undergone a growth, for I believe that it has been in substance one and the same from the beginning.4

He identifies the “rudimentary teaching” to be: “She is the Second Eve.”5 This ancient title finds its biblical foundation in Christ as the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-18; 1 Cor. 15:45). Since the drama of Genesis cannot be conceived of without Eve, and Christ is the Second (New) Adam, for the typological relationship to be complete it is necessary for there to be a Second Eve who is the associate, help-mate, and complement of the New Adam. Newman writes: “We are able, by the position and office of Eve in our fall, to determine the position and office of Mary in our restoration.”6 Or, as St. Irenaeus writes, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”7

The Fathers also speak of Mary as Type of the Church. The first to write this was St. Ambrose: “… married but a virgin, because she is the type of the Church, which is also married but remains immaculate.”8 The first time the link between Mary and the Church is adverted to, it is to Mary as the Immaculate Virgin-Mother. This continues even today.9

It is essential to remember that when we speak of the Marian profile, dimension, mode, orientation, foundation, etc., we do not refer to a Platonic form or Jungian archetype, but to the effects of her personal activity and living presence in the Church. Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) remarked in 2003: “At the moment when she pronounces her Yes, Mary is Israel in person; she is the Church in person and as a person.”10

Also, we cannot forget that she was present—in act and fact—at the Church’s first moments. Recalling Newman’s statement above, we can look at the typological relationship between Eve and Mary “to determine the position and office of Mary”. For Adam and Eve, this is in the Garden of Eden, but for Jesus and Mary, it is a very different garden: Calvary.

At the Cross, Mary fulfills two typological relationships. First, since the Immaculate Conception is due to the foreseen merits of Christ, her preservative redemption is founded on Calvary, where the New Eve comes forth from the pierced side of the New Adam. Second, we see the inversion of the Fall, with Mary “uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth.”11

Mary comes forth from his side as the perfect fruit of His Redemption; and by her “consent … which she sustained without wavering beneath the Cross,”12 she actively collaborates with—but subordinate to—Jesus in the salvation of “the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17). On Calvary, we see Jesus as the One Mediator and Redeemer, Mary as the Immaculate Virgin-Mother of the Christus totus (whole Christ, Head and members), and John as the fruit and extension of the love between Jesus and Mary. Or, alternatively, Mary is the locus of love and mediates that love between the Head and Members. This is an ecclesial reflection of the Trinity which will endure in eternity. Father Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.I., writes:

The Church is obviously the new Eve. So too is Mary, but in a manner prior to, and on which the predication of that title to the Church depends… [The] Church as Mother of all the living is that as an extension of the true virgin earth or Mary. Mary is New Eve in and through the Church; the Church is mother and virgin only to the degree Mary is exercising her maternal mediation in every aspect of the life of the Church, a mediation which terminates at the unity of the Body, Head and members.13

Also, after the burial of Jesus, the whole of the Church was preserved in the Immaculate Heart of Mary who never faltered in fide or fiat. Hence, every Saturday is especially dedicated to Our Lady.

The Spiritual Maternity in the Salutatio Beatae Mariae Virginis of St. Francis

Hail, O Lady, holy Queen, Mary, holy Mother of God: thou art the Virgin made Church and the one chosen by the most holy Father in heaven whom he consecrated with his most holy beloved Son and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, in whom there was and is all the fullness of grace and every good. Hail, His Palace! Hail, His Tabernacle! Hail, His Home! Hail, His Robe! Hail, His Handmaid! Hail, His Mother! And hail all you holy virtues which through the grace and light of the Holy Spirit are poured into the hearts of the faithful so that in their faithless state you may make them faithful to God.14

In this prayer to Our Lady from the hands of St. Francis, he greets Our Lady as Virgo ecclesia facta, the “Virgin Made Church,” or, as Ignatius Brady translates it, “You have been made the Virgin Church.”15 In the thought of St. Francis, the Church is where Christ is present, and Christ is found only in the Church.16 If Christ is found in the Church, and He is found in Mary, then Mary is the Church qua person. In this prayer, Mary is “chosen by the most Holy Father” and “consecrated with his most holy beloved Son and with the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.” This prayer is thought to have been written for the dedication of St. Mary of the Angels (the Portiuncula), and so it is dedicated to the relationship between Mary and the Church. Of particular import is the term “consecrated” which implies that “here Francis thinks of Mary as church,”17 and that she was made such by the united work of the whole Trinity.

The phrase “Virgin made Church” can also be compared to the “Word made Flesh” of John 1:14. John 1:14–16 reads, “The Word was made flesh … full of grace and truth”; and the Salutation has “Virgin made Church … in whom there was and is all fullness of grace and every good.” We can see that the foundation of the relationship between Mary and the Church qua People of God is found at the Incarnation in Mary’s active fiat (yes) to the initiative of God.

Reflecting on the Marian and Ecclesial “parallelism,” Fr. Johannes Schneider writes:

To the fullness of grace and all good in Mary corresponds in the faithful the totality of the virtues; to the consecration with the presence of the Son and of the Holy Spirit corresponds grace and illumination via the Spirit; to the indwelling of grace in Mary corresponds the infusion of the virtues in the heart of believers. Just as in this way the “virgo” is made “ecclesia,” so the faithful, who hitherto because of their infecundity were de facto non-believers, are made true believers in God, viz., totally belonging to him. “Facta” and “faciatis” seem to connote the same work: the “building” of the Virgin into Church and of the non-believing into believing.

But in this case there is no question of pure parallelism: as Mary—so also believers! Those who from being non-believers are made believers find themselves rather in a relation of dependence in respect to the Virgin, who was made Church. This is not only because “ecclesia” in Mary is already universal via the communio Trinitatis [communion of the Trinity] as origin of the communio sanctorum [communion of the saints], but also because the Church of believers is formed by the Marian virtues, which originate with Mary as “mater eius.” That is to say, “mater eius,” on which follows, without interruption of continuity, “et vos omnes… virtutes,” determines this relation between “virgo ecclesia” and the “fideles.” Naturally “eius” identifies quite precisely Mary as Mother of Him who is present in her as “fullness of grace and all good.” But exactly as Mother of this personal fullness of grace, she makes “His” virtues, which are the property of Him “cuius est omne bonum” [to whom belongs all good], in a maternal way accessible to those who become believers: “fidelis Deo faciatis” [you may make them faithful to God] must, then, be interpreted on the basis of that spousal-fraternal-maternal relation with Christ, which Francis sees for all in whom the Holy Spirit prepares a house and abode…

For us there is treated here, not merely an exemplary relationship of the “virgo-ecclesia” with the “fideles”, but rather one of maternal causality, which is made evident in the transition from verse 5 to verse 6. With this, in fact, we find ourselves asserting the fundamental assumption of Johannine Mariology: if the prologue assures us that we have received grace on grace from the fullness of the Word made flesh (Jn 1:16), the same applies to the first messianic sign at Cana, where thanks to the maternal mediation there are made available the fullness of the good wine and the revelation of His glory, in such wise that the disciples become “believers” (Jn 2:1-12). And the final Marian sign makes of “mater eius” the “mater” par excellence, to give her to the beloved disciple as “mater tua,” so that he might take her “within his own” (his heart: Jn 19:25-27), and that she might transmit to him uninterruptedly and maternally the fullness of grace, namely her Son. The maternity of Mary comes thus to be broadened by the final messianic action of her Son in relation to the beloved disciple, who on his part represents the Church. Mary instead is the Church in an originating way, Church in her maternity; via the “mulier, ecce filius tuus–ecce mater tua” [“Woman, behold, your Son!”… “Behold, your Mother!”] (Jn 19:26) she becomes in relation to the disciple “Mother of the Church.” 18

In the phrase, Virgo ecclesia facta, St. Francis identifies the Spiritual Maternity of Mary as originating in her election and consecration by the whole Trinity. In Mary, the Church is fulfilled qua person, and the Church qua spiritual community follows as an extension of what Mary has already received and passes on as Mater Christi and Mater ecclesiae.

The intuitions of St. Francis were theologically developed by Bonaventure, Scotus, and many others into what is known as the “Franciscan School.” Centering on the Absolute Primacy of Christ, it argues God’s first intention in creating was to glorify something outside Himself, namely, the human nature of Christ, and, as a necessary corollary, His Mother Mary. St. Lawrence of Brindisi wrote: “Every gift, every grace, every good that we have and that we receive continually, we receive through Mary. If Mary did not exist, neither would we, nor would the world.”19 We can say: Because of Jesus, Mary; because of Mary, Jesus; because of Jesus and Mary, everything else.

The Spiritual Maternity of Mary in Current Times

At the beginning of this article, we reported the following quote from Cardinal Ratzinger, commenting on the Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater: “The Church must relearn her ecclesial being from Mary.” This quote seems to come out of nowhere when compared to the surrounding text:

The framework that the Pope has given the Marian year very pointedly underscores its intrinsic meaning. It begins with Pentecost. The icon of Pentecost is, as was said above, to become the icon of our identity and, therein, of our true hope. The Church must relearn her ecclesial being from Mary. Only a conversion to the sign of the woman, to the feminine dimension of the Church, rightly understood, will bring about the new opening to the creative power of the Spirit, and so to Christ’s taking form in us, whose presence alone can give history a center and a hope. The Marian Year closes with the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven and thus points to the great sign of hope—to the humanity already ransomed in Mary, which, at the same time, appears as the locus of ransom, of the ransom of all [emphasis added].20

In order for the “icon of Pentecost” to become our identity, we must relearn the “Marian Profile” of the Church. This is not the inclusion of women into the hierarchy—its “servant-leadership” is entrusted to those configured to Christ in a unique way by Holy Orders—but relearning that the Church is in a state of receptivity to the transcendent action of the Holy Spirit. He writes, “Where the Church is understood only institutionally… there is no room for the feminine dimension,” and a “superficial sociologization”21 cuts us off from the transcendent reality of the Church: we become, as Pope Francis warned, a “pitiful NGO.”22

In the corresponding texts of Redemptoris Mater, Pope John Paul II speaks of the meaning of the Marian Year. It was announced on January 1, 1987 (the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God), started on Pentecost, 1987, and ended on the Assumption, 1988.23 In preparing for the anniversary of the coming of Jesus, it commemorated the dawn of the fullness of time: the coming of Mary Immaculate.

By starting the Marian Year on Pentecost, we mark the manifestation of the Church qua People of God, and remember that Mary was present at Pentecost, but even more, “preceded” the Church qua People of God in a maternal role. He also writes that she is “the one who, precisely as the ‘handmaid of the Lord,’ cooperates unceasingly with the work of salvation accomplished by Christ, her Son.”24 Is this a restating of the Adam-Eve typology treated above? We also note the concurrence of the themes of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the coming of Mary; could this be a reflection of St. Maximilian’s teaching that Mary is the “visible term” of the mission of the Holy Spirit?

By ending the Marian Year on the Assumption, the Holy Father emphasizes the need for the Church to look to Mary, both as “Exemplar” and as a living and dynamic force in the life of the Church for the whole time of its pilgrimage. These dates—Pentecost and the Assumption—taken together, symbolize Mary’s presence in the Church from its very birth—qua People of God—until its culmination when it will share in the holiness, sanctity, and glory that the Mother of God now possesses. By ending with the final words of Lumen Gentium, he again underscores that this presentation is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.25

Immediately before his comments on the meaning of the Marian Year, he speaks of “authentic ‘Marian Spirituality’ … the spirituality to which the Council exhorts us” and points out in particular the “Consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary” of St. Louis de Montfort as an “effective means for Christians to live faithfully their baptismal commitments.”26 He also notes that there are new manifestations of this spirituality of Marian Consecration growing today.

One of these is the spirituality promoted by St. Maximilian Kolbe. This Saint—“among the great saints and enlightened spirits who have understood, venerated and sung the mystery of Mary”27—saw that the Franciscan Order, having fulfilled the task given to St. Francis of making known the Immaculate Conception, is now called to realize this Dogma in the life of the Church. Father Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.I., writes:

[Kolbe] called the attention of contemporary Franciscans to something most of them have consistently overlooked, namely, that golden thread running throughout the history of the Franciscan Order and constituting the key to its character and purpose. This is the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. On this basis he divided the history of the Order into two main periods, the first running from its foundation in 1209 to the solemn dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 by the Ven. Pius IX, soon to be beatified. This he called the first page of Franciscan history whose primary purpose was to promote the solemn dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception. That completed, a second page began, that treating the incorporation of that dogma into the life of the Church. … [this] means to live the mystery of the Coredemption in being conformed to Christ Crucified. In that way we discover what St. Bonaventure means when he says that the Virgin Mother is the form and exemplar of all holiness, that what is fully realized in her now is in the process of being realized in the Church and in the saints, viz.., being without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27).

…Seen from the vantage point of St. Francis’ vocation to repair the Church, the next step should be the dogmatic definition of the Coredemption and of its immediate corollary, the mediation of all graces.28

Returning to Redemptoris Mater, in between his comment on Pentecost and the Assumption, Pope Saint John Paul II writes that the Church is

… not only to remember everything in her past that testifies to the special maternal cooperation of the Mother of God … but also, on her own part, to prepare for the future the paths of this cooperation. For the end of the second Christian Millennium opens up as a new prospect.29

This passage was quoted in Bishop Jaime Fuentes’ October 15 intervention to the Synod on the Family, who then rephrased it thus: “In the mind of the Holy Pontiff, the Church would have to discover how to ‘make it easy’ for the Virgin to exercise her Maternity, which in her Immaculate Heart reaches all women and men on earth.”30 In this context, he suggested that the dogmatic proclamation of the Spiritual Maternity of Mary would bring the graces the Church needs in our difficult times, and requested the Holy Father to consult the “entire Church” regarding the prudence of defining this fifth and final Marian dogma. By “further incorporating” the dogma of the Immaculate Conception into the life of the Church in this way, we will experience the “New Pentecost” and “New Springtime” of the Church.

1 Mark Miravalle, “Synod Father Calls for Definition of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood,” at Mother of All Peoples (October 19, 2015), http://www.motherofallpeoples.com/2015/10/synod-father-calls-for-definition-of-marys-spiritual-motherhood/ .

2 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mary the Church at the Source (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005) 59-60.

3 Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World Evangelii Gaudium (November 24, 2013), 284.

4 John Cardinal Newman, The Mystical Rose ed. Joseph Regina (Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1996) 3.

5 Newman, The Mystical Rose, 8.

6 Newman, The Mystical Rose, 8.

7 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959A, quoted from CCC §494. It is noteworthy that this passage is the foundation for Mary as the “Undoer of Knots,” a devotion Pope Francis has encouraged.

8 Quoted from Mark Miravalle (ed), Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons. (Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship Publishing, 2007) 145.

9 cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2000), 773.

10 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Thoughts on the place of Marian doctrine and piety in faith and theology as a whole,” Communio, 30.1 (Spring 2003), 155.

11 Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium (November 21, 1964), 8.

12 Lumen gentium, 62

13 Peter Damian M. Fehlner, “Mater Unitatis,” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross III: Mater Unitatis, ed. Franciscans of the Immaculate (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2003), 10-11.

14 Saint Francis of Assisi, quoted from Etienne Richer, “Immaculate Coredemptrix Because Spouse of the Holy Spirit,” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross – IX: Mary: Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Coredemptrix, and Mother of the Church, ed. by the Franciscans of the Immaculate (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2010) 104-105.

Latin (same source): Ave Domina, sancta Regina, sancta Dei Genetrix Maria, quae es virgo ecclesia facta et electa a sanctissimo Patre de caelo, quam consecravit cum sanctissimo dilecto Filio suo et Spiritu sancto Paraclito, in qua fuit et est omnis plenitudo gratiae et omne bonum. Ave palatium eius; ave tabernaculum eius; ave domus eius. Ave vestimentum eius; ave ancilla eius; ave mater eius et vos omnes sanctae virtutes, quae per gratiam et illuminationem Spiritus sancti infundimini in corda fidelium, ut de infidelibus fideles Deo faciatis.

15 Ignatius Brady, Quoted from Edward J. Ondrako, “Virgin Made Church: Reflections on Mary in the Franciscan Tradition” in De Maria Numquam Satis, ed. Judith Gentle and Robert Fastiggi (New York, NY: University Press of America, 2009) 93.

16 This is the foundation for St. Francis’ insistence on being “in the church.” cf. Michael W. Blastic, “Mary the ‘Virgin Made Church’ in the Writings of Francis of Assisi (1182-1226),” Marian Studies 56, no. 6 (2005) 62-70.

17 L. Lehmann writes, “‘Consecrare’ once was the usual expression for the consecration of buildings, while the usual one for persons was ‘sanctificare’: here Francis thinks of Mary as church, as is also suggested by the designations ‘palatium’, ‘tabernaculum’, [and] ‘domus.’” Quoted from Johannes Schneider, Virgo Ecclesia Facta (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2004) 71 footnote 3.

18 Schneider, Virgo Ecclesia Facta, 84–85.

19 St. Lawrence of Brindisi, quoted from Arturo da Carmignano, St. Lawrence of Brindisi. trans. Paul Barrett, OFM Cap. (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1963), 129.

20 Ratzinger, Mary the Church at the Source, 59-60.

21 Ratzinger, Mary the Church at the Source, 55.

22 Pope Francis, Homily with the Cardinal Electors (March 14, 2013).

23 Pope John Paul II, Homily at the Mass for the XX Day of Peace (January 1, 1987). w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/it/homilies/1987/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19870101_giornata-pace.html .

24 Pope John Paul II, On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Pilgrim Church Redemptoris Mater (March 25, 1987) 49.

25 John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 50.

26 Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 48.

27 Pope Paul VI, Homily at the Beatification of St. Maximilian Koble (October 17, 1971).

28 Peter Damien M. Fehlner, “The Sense of Marian Coredemption in St. Bonaventure and Blessed John Duns Scotus.” Accessed on November 17, 2015, at www.piercedhearts.org/hearts_jesus_mary/heart_mary/marian_coredemption_fehlner.htm.

29 Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 49

30 Mark Miravalle, “Synod Father Calls for Definition of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood.”