Most people are aware that Pope John Paul II credited Mary’s intercession for sparing his life when four bullets from a would-be assassin struck him while he was blessing pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. A year to the day later, the pope placed one of those bullets in Mary’s crown at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima in Portugal. This leaves little doubt as to the real, practical and powerful grace of Mary’s maternity toward priests.
The renowned Mariologist Fr. Emile Neubert, S.M., in his wonderful book Mary and the Priestly Ministry, helps us to understand Mary’s spiritual maternity, which stems from her “cooperation in the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the distribution of grace.” Let us note how Mary, in these three functions, becomes the Mother of priests:
- The Incarnation sets special grounds for Mary’s motherhood of priests. Mary provided the material cause of Christ’s priesthood. Mary then carried all her Son’s future priests in her womb along with Him. She did not know them individually at that time, but she wished for them what Jesus wished for them at that time, and loved them with the same special love her Son had for them.
- Our Mother Mary’s special role in the Redemption: If Mary, in the Incarnation, conceived us spiritually, as it were, then in the mystery of the Redemption she gave us birth. At the foot of the Cross, Christ confided Mary to John, who was a priest, and it is to priests, above all, that Christ gives His Mother because He has a greater love for them and they have a greater need of her.
- Our Mother Mary’s special role in the distribution of grace: Mary has a special love for priests: if maternity consists essentially in giving and in nurturing life, can any human maternity be understood apart from such a love? Mary loves all the faithful with incomparable love. But she loves priests with an altogether unique love because she sees in the priest a greater resemblance to the image of her Son than in any other Christian of equal holiness.
Mary’s femininity draws out the best of the priest’s masculinity
That we might better understand the essence of spiritual motherhood of priests, we can reflect upon Jesus’s entrustment of His Mother Mary and John the Beloved to each other. Fr. John Cihak, reflecting on the scene at the foot of the Cross, develops the complementary of the feminine heart of Mary which calls forth the best of the masculine heart of John for their mutual support:
[At the foot of the Cross]…pondering the eyes of Our Lady and St. John as they meet in their mutual agony. Neither of them seems to have Jesus anymore. At that moment she needs St. John; she also allows him to help her. She is so alone at the moment. She who is sinless allows her great poverty of spirit to need this man and priest beside her. Her feminine complementary draws out the best in St. John’s masculine heart. The need for his support and protection must have connected to something deep within him as a man. How does he help her? St. John says that he then took her “into his own” (in Greek, eis ta idia). What does this mean? “His house,” as many translations read? “His things”? What about “everything that he is”? Perhaps it indicates that he takes her into his life as a priest.
She also is supporting him. He is depending on her in that moment for he too is so alone. I wonder if he felt abandoned by the other apostles. She leads the way in sacrificing herself, for her feminine heart is more receptive and more attuned to Jesus’s. She is not only present but leads the way for him, helping the priest to have his own heart pierced as well. There is much here to ponder as she engages his masculine love. He gives himself over to her, to cherish her and console her. At this moment she needs him and needs him to be strong, even if she is the one really supporting him.
The Blessed Virgin Mary’s role is to call out of the priest this celibate agape to help him 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 in the midst of her own pure feminine love. 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. At the foot of the Cross the Church agonizes in labor to give birth to the members of the mystical body.
(Monsignor John Cihak, “The Blessed Virgin Mary’s Role in the Celibate Priest’s Spousal and Paternal Love”)
The DNA of the Incarnate Word remains with Mary just as the DNA of any child remains with his mother. Mary’s Child is the Eternal High Priest sent by the Father for the redemption of humanity. Mary’s heart goes out to the priest because she sees the indelible image of the Eternal High Priest that is conferred upon him by the sacrament of Holy Orders. She who was mystically crucified with Jesus is mystically united to the priest by an act of God’s will to which she is completely surrendered.
What Mary did for Jesus on earth she does for the priests who continue the unbroken lineage of the Eternal High Priest. She loves, encourages, protects, feeds, embraces, cleans, delights, teaches, and keeps him company. She who did not leave her Son at the foot of the Cross remains with the priest for his singular mission. Mary experienced her Son’s Crucifixion mystically with her steadfast fiat. She knows how to lead the priest to victory through the Cross. 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. She who experienced the mystical Crucifixion of Jesus will help each priest to do the same for the joy of the kingdom of God.
The priest needs the love of Mary’s feminine heart to bring him to the fulfillment of the masculine ideal: to protect humanity from all that is detrimental to salvation. Jesus, the New Adam, is the Redeemer and protector of the human family. The priest is the protector of all that belongs to Christ: men, women, and children, heaven and earth. The priest is at his best when, like Christ, he guards the dignity and vocation of every man, woman, and child.
God chose Mary to be a guardian of the priest’s dignity and vocation. The Mother gently moves the priest to be transfigured into Christ. Through the maternal mediation of Mary, the priest becomes the sacrifice that offers the perfect Sacrifice; the priest becomes the love that offers Love.
Prayer for Priests
O Jesus, our great High Priest, hear my humble prayers on behalf of Thy priests. Give them deep faith, a bright and firm hope and a burning love which will ever increase in the course of their priestly life. In their loneliness, comfort them. In their sorrows, strengthen them. In their frustrations, point out to them that they are needed by the Church; they are needed by souls; they are needed for the work of redemption.
O Loving Mother Mary, Mother of Priests, take to your heart your sons who are close to you because of their priestly ordination and because of the power which they have received to carry on the work of Christ in a world which needs them so much. Be their comfort, be their joy, be their strength, and especially help them to live and to defend the ideals of consecrated celibacy. Amen. (John J. Cardinal Carberry)
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.