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|THE HOLY PROTECTION OF THE THEOTOKOS
MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
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by Mary Cunningham (Ancient Faith Radio)
Pope Francis: Mary is the 'mother of forgiveness'
Pope Francis prays before a statue of Mary in St. Peter's Basilica. Credit: Lauren Cater/CNA.
Vatican City, Jan 1, 2016 / 12:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Reflecting particularly on Mary’s title as “mother of mercy,” Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Jan. 1.
“It is most fitting that on this day we invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary above all as ‘mother of mercy.’ The door we have opened is, in fact, a Door of Mercy,” Pope Francis said. “Those who cross its threshold are called to enter into the merciful love of the Father with complete trust and freedom from fear; they can leave this Basilica knowing that Mary is ever at their side.”
The Pope’s remarks came on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. As part of his celebration of the day, the pontiff opened the final holy door of the four major basilicas in Rome.
The other three major basilicas – St. Peter’s, St John Lateran, and St. Paul “Outside the Wall” –have already had their holy doors opened during the early days of the Jubilee of Mercy, an Extraordinary Holy Year called for by Pope Francis that began Dec. 8 with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016.
Pilgrims who pass through the holy doors in Rome or in their own dioceses have the opportunity to gain a plenary indulgence, if they meet certain conditions.
As he opened the holy door at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Pope Francis drew a connection between the Jubilee of Mercy and Mary, the mother of mercy.
“She is the Mother of mercy, because she bore in her womb the very Face of divine mercy, Jesus, …The Son of God, made incarnate for our salvation, has given us his Mother, who joins us on our pilgrimage through this life, so that we may never be left alone, especially at times of trouble and uncertainty.”
The Pope reflected on the lines of an ancient hymn: “Hail Mother of mercy, Mother of God, Mother of forgiveness, Mother of hope, Mother of grace and Mother full of holy gladness.”
“In these few words, we find a summary of the faith of generations of men and women who, with their eyes fixed firmly on the icon of the Blessed Virgin, have sought her intercession and consolation,” he said.
While the idea of “forgiveness” is misunderstood in the modern world, it is critical in the Christian faith, Pope Francis said.
“A person unable to forgive has not yet known the fullness of love. Only one who truly loves is able to forgive and forget,” he said, adding that at the foot of the Cross, Mary becomes for all people the mother of forgiveness, as she follows in the example of her Son who forgives those who are killing him.
“For us, Mary is an icon of how the Church must offer forgiveness to those who seek it,” Pope Francis continued.
“The Mother of forgiveness teaches the Church that the forgiveness granted on Golgotha knows no limits. Neither the law with its quibbles, nor the wisdom of this world with its distinctions, can hold it back. The Church’s forgiveness must be every bit as broad as that offered by Jesus on the Cross and by Mary at his feet. There is no other way.”
He also noted that Mary offers us the three-fold gift of her son: hope, grace and holy gladness.
“The gift that Mary bestows in offering us Jesus is the forgiveness which renews life, enables us once more to do God’s will and fills us with true happiness,” he said. “This grace frees the heart to look to the future with the joy born of hope.”
The pontiff emphasized the importance of forgiveness as “the true antidote to the sadness caused by resentment and vengeance.” Forgiveness brings peace and serenity by freeing the heart from resentment, he explained.
“Let us, then, pass through the Holy Door of Mercy knowing that at our side is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God, who intercedes for us,” Pope Francis said.
“Let us allow her to lead us to the rediscovery of the beauty of an encounter with her Son Jesus. Let us open wide the doors of our heart to the joy of forgiveness, conscious that we have been given new confidence and hope, and thus make our daily lives a humble instrument of God’s love.”
‘Mother of Mercy’ is fitting title for Virgin Mary
Q. In the “Salve Regina,” the “Hail, Holy Queen,” that concludes the church’s night prayer, we address the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Mother of Mercy.” Please comment on this title of hers.
A. Pope Francis concludes his promulgation of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy by turning to the Mother of Mercy: “Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception. Let us address her in the words of the ‘Salve Regina,’ a prayer ever ancient and ever new, so that she may never tire of turning her merciful eyes upon us, and make us worthy to contemplate the face of mercy, her Son Jesus” (no. 24).
The title “Mother of Mercy” is much loved by Christ’s faithful. It is thought to have been first given to the Blessed Virgin by St. Odo (d. 942), the Benedictine abbot of Cluny in France. It is a fitting title for Our Lady because she brought forth for us Jesus Christ, the visible manifestation of the mercy of the invisible God. Jesus Christ is truly the mercy of God made flesh, and so Mary is truly the “Mother of Mercy.”
Interceding for us
Mary is also the spiritual mother of all Christ’s faithful, the “most merciful, the most compassionate mother, the most tender mother, the most loving mother,” as St. Lawrence of Brindisi called her (“Mariale,” Second Sermon on the “Salve Regina”).
From her place in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary offers merciful intercession on behalf of her children on earth, just as she interceded on behalf of the bride and groom at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). The “mercy” that we seek from God is broader than forgiveness of sins; it is really God’s abundant blessings for body, soul and spirit, and we do well to ask our Mother Mary to pray for us in every need.
The “Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary” includes a set of prayers and Scripture readings for a Mass in honor of “Holy Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy.” The commentary on this Mass formulary explains that here she is celebrated as “a prophet extolling the mercy of God.” In her “Magnificat,” Mary twice praises God’s mercy: “He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation,” and “He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy” (Luke 1:50, 54).
Mary experienced how that promise of divine mercy was fulfilled in the saving death of her son, for at the foot of the cross, she beheld the wounds of Jesus and heard the words of forgiveness and mercy that he spoke. So we do well to pray as a Way of the Cross booklet bids us to at the fourth station: “O Mother of mercy, grant that we may always realize in ourselves the death of Jesus and share with him in his saving passion.”
The Mass in honor of “Holy Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy” also venerates her as “a woman who has uniquely experienced God’s mercy.”
The preface for this Mass declares that “she is the gracious queen who has herself uniquely known [God’s] loving kindness and stretches out her arms to embrace all who take refuge in her and call upon her help in their distress.”
These words echo those of St. John Paul II: “Mary is … the one who obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person.” (encyclical letter “Dives in misericordiae,” no. 9).
Mary is the image of the church, which rejoices to receive God’s mercy in her son during this jubilee year and to praise God’s mercy in company with her. As we look to her, our Mother of Mercy, may we “show ourselves merciful to others and receive [God’s] pardon toward us” (Prayer over the Offerings for the Mass in honor of “Holy Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy”).
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015