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Messaggi Don Orione
Autore: Aurelio Fusi

Thoughts of Fr Aurelio Fusi on the name of the English Missionary Delegation 'Mother of The Church'.



Fourteen communities and residences spread over seven countries now make up the new Don Orione entity: The Missionary Delegation “MARY, MOTHER OF THE CHURCH”.
When a child is born, the parents think of a name by which to call him, choosing from among all the best options. In the same way, the birth of the last born of the Little Work called for a name. After consulting the interested confreres, the Superiors decided to call it: Mary, Mother of the Church[1].


A brief history of this marian title

This is an old marian title, with regard to its meaning, but new in its formulation and especially in its use. It is an old title, because it is strictly linked with the more lofty title of Mary, Mother of God; in fact, given her divine motherhood, and as an extension of this attribute, the Virgin has become the mother of all those who believe in her Son, and through baptism are caught up in the whirlwind of love of the Trinity and in the life of the Church. Christians have always believed in the spiritual motherhood of Mary and have called on her as Mother of the faithful or Our Mother, in order to underline the personal relationship with each one of them.

Even though not always explicitly, but following the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers recognised the Motherhood of Mary concerning the work of Christ and, therefore, of the Church. Saint Ireneus, for instance, says that Mary is “cause of salvation of mankind” [2] and her most pure breast “gives new birth to men in God” [3]. Saint Ambrose affirms that “a Virgin gave birth to the salvation of the world, a Virgin gave life to all things” [4]. In the theology of the Fathers there clearly appears the motherly role of Mary, non only towards Christ but also towards the Church. A mother knows that she cannot limit her task to generate only one new man, but must also see to the feeding and upbringing of her offspring: this is also the way for the Blessed Virgin Mary. After having taken part in the redemptive sacrifice of her Son, she continues still, from heaven, to fulfil the role of a mother and to co-operate to the birth and to the development of divine life in individual souls and in the Church[5].  

This marian attribute was rarely used in the past: recently it has gained ground in the pronouncements of the Magisterium and in the devotion of the Christian people: it expresses the maternal relationship of the Virgin with the Church, as it is illustrated in some texts of the New Testament. Before the Second Vatican Council, the expression Mother of the Church is found in the Magisterium of Pope Leo XIII, who states that Mary has been “in all truth Mother of the Church” (Acta Leonis XIII, 15, 302). Later, the title was frequently used in the teachings of John XXIII and even more by Paul VI. Paul VI desired that the Council should define Mary with this new title; in fact, however, the constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 53 affirms its meaning in an unmistakable way, but merely states that “ The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honours her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother. ” But Pope Paul VI, at the end of Vatican II and in the presence of the Council Fathers, officially pronounced the declaration: “Mariam Sanctissimam declaramus Matrem Ecclesiae” [6].

It is interesting, at this point, to recall how Pope Benedict XVI – who was a “peritus” at the Council – remembers the occasion, as he himself stated on December 8 last: “I will never forget the moment in which, hearing his words: “Mariam Sanctissimam declaramus Matrem Ecclesiae” – “we declare Mary Most Holy Mother of the Church”, immediately the Fathers rose from their seats and applauded standing, honouring in this way the Mother of God, our Mother and the Mother of the Church. In fact, with this title, Paul VI was summing up the marian teaching of the Council and provided the key to its understanding. Mary is not just related in a unique way to Christ, the Son of God who, as a man, wanted to become her son. Being totally united to Christ, She also totally belongs to us. Yes, we can say that Mary is near to us as no other human being can be, because Christ is man for men and the whole of his being is a “being for us” [7].

The liturgical celebration of Mary “Mother of the Church” has been assigned to the 11th of October and there are no less than three sets of liturgical texts for the Eucharistic celebration.


The thinking to saint Luigi Orione.

Not only the Fathers of the Church and the Magisterium, but the saints also have prayed to Mary as the Mother of the Church. Among these there is also our founder, don Orione, who, speaking of the event of Pentecost, stated: “Our Blessed Lady was there and acted as Mother of all those disciples of her Son; from that moment she was like the Mother of the Church, guiding it, protecting it, comforting it in the person of the Vicar of Christ…” [8].  

It is worth noticing that in this page Don Orione joins Mary with Peter, almost as if stressing their complementary roles in the birth of the Church. In the Upper Room, Mary has the role of guiding and protecting Peter, whose institutional service is also that of guiding and, in a certain way, of protecting. “Our Blessed Lady was there, at the head of the Apostles. She was a spiritual head, because Peter was there, whose primacy was given to him by Jesus Christ”. And then he adds further: “She who is the Mother of Jesus, and is our Mother, must be, especially in this age, mother of the Church accomplishing the work of restoration and universal peace which calls the sinners, the lukewarm and those who, for historical, religious and political reasons are not united to the Church of Rome, to the faith of Peter…may she speak with a mother’s voice to all the souls who need, or who feel a secret need, to return to Christ and to his Church, of which the Mother is Our Blessed Lady” [9].

In this page, Don Orione points, with words of contemplation rather than of theology, to that section of the doctrine of ecclesiology which was developed by the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar: the marian principle and the petrine principle in the Church. Even if Mary is not among the disciples that Jesus has sent to announce the Gospel, her role in the mystery of salvation and the institutional role of Peter are complementary: the service of the one and of the other are strictly necessary for the Church. We must not, therefore, understand the Petrine service and that of Mary, as two independent and parallel ecclesial ministries, but, on the contrary, they are strictly connected. In fact, just as Peter’s profession of faith at Cesarea of Philippi (Cf. Mt 16, 16), guarantees the faith of the pilgrim Church across the centuries, so that Fiat of Mary, uttered in the simplicity of Nazareth (Cf. 1, 38), is an example of faithfulness for the entire Christian people. Just like Paul wanted to be called a minister of Christ (Cf. 1 Cor 9,1; 2 Cor 1,1), so Mary is and wants to be called “the handmaid of the Lord” (Lc 1,38). There is a similarity of imitation or of exemplarity between the Virgin and the two great apostles which highlights the fact that Mary is an image not only of the Church as a whole, but also of the hierarchy [10].  

Finally, in the thinking of Don Orione, there is pointed out another similarity: Mary and Peter oversee, with different tasks and ways, the drive towards uniting the Church, in order to make it one flock under one shepherd. Mary is one of the principal agents of Ecumenism: she always points to Christ and to Peter whose faith is the standard for all Christians.

The child-like devotion to Mary makes don Orione understand that which Paul VI would later state in Marialis cultus: “the veneration for the humble handmaid of the Lord… will become, even though slowly, not an obstacle, but a means and point of encounter for the union of all those who believe in Christ” (no. 33). Don Orione has left us some beautiful words of this same belief [11]. In 1924, speaking at Campocroce, our Founder commented: “The East separated itself from the Pope, but did not separate itself from Our Blessed Lady, who is working miracles through her sacred images. Maybe this will be a bridge for a possible union with the dissidents” [12].  

Once again then, as it happens with other marian titles employed by our founder, his devotion to Our Blessed Lay and the titles with which he addresses her, are the fruit of a solid doctrine, in keeping with the tradition and the way of the Church.


Mary assumed into heaven is the key to understand her motherhood of the Church

Since Mary was assumed into heaven, her spiritual motherhood transcends space and time and belongs to the universal history of the Christian people. The Mother of the Lord is always near to the life of the Church; she cares for it and helps as a mother, with a boundless love, in the birth and development of the divine life in the hearts of believers. “By the goodwill of the all wise God, this truth is an integral part of the mystery of salvation, it must, therefore, be firmly believed by all Christians”[13].  

Theologically, the assumption represents the key for interpreting and understanding the motherhood of Mary on the Church and its characteristics. The Virgin, in fact, in her glorious state, is not subject any more to the limits of space and time and, just like the risen Christ, can make herself present everywhere. Therefore, the one way to reach a sound theological understanding of the motherhood of Mary is to recognise objectively her assumption, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, that is in the integrity of her person; freed from the conditions of time and space, she acts in a positive and practical way towards the growth of the Church, in every aspect of its life. Just like the presence of the Lord, including the sacramental presence, is brought about in the Spirit and through the Spirit, so too the presence of the Virgin, conformed to her risen Son in the glory of the assumption, is brought about in the Holy Spirit. It is a pneumatic presence, a true charism of the Spirit, made possible by the glorious state of Mary.

Finally, the presence of Mary is a typical presence, stronger than the simple idea of a model and of example. “It means that the archetype, Mary, commits herself personally to accomplish in the other members of the Church what Christ has typically realised in her” [14]. The type, therefore, does not refer to a fixed image to be observed and to imitate, but contains in itself a dynamic urge, a saving and transforming strength.

Sustained and comforted by this presence, we continue with joy our daily journey, reassured that the Mother from heaven guides and protects us.

Hail Mary, Mother of the Church, and onwards!


[1] Cf. F. PELOSO, Letter of presentation of the new Missionary Delegation, 4th August 2006.

[2] IRENEUS, Ad.Haer. 3,22,4; PG 7,959.

[3] Ibid., 4,33,11; PG 7,1080

[4] AMBROSE, Ep. 63,33; PL 16,1198

[5] Cf. PAUL VI, Ap. Exhort. Signum Magnum, 13 May 1967, AAS 59 (1967) 467-468.

[6] PAUL VI, All. ad Conciliares Patres, Post duos menses, 21 November 1964: AAS 56 (1964) 1015

[7] BENEDICT XVI, Homily on the Fortieth Anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, 8th December 2005.

[8] L. ORIONE, Don Orione in the light of Mary, 483.

[9] Id.

[10] Cf. A. FUSI, Ha creduto meglio degli altri, (She believed better than the others did) Milan, 1999, 194-196.

[11] PELOSO F. Devozione mariana, il profumo della pietà (Marian devotion, the perfume of piety). (Messages of Don Orione, n.70), especially p.30-34; Id, Don Orione, a truly ecumenical spirit, Rome, 1997, p.87-90.

[12] Meetings, p.66.

[13] PAUL VI, Signum magnum, 468. John Paul II, in the Enc. Redemptoris Mater gives the whole chapter II over to the theme of the Mother of God in the middle of the pilgrim Church and stresses that Mary is a model, above all concerning the ecumenical question.

[14] E. SCHILLEBEECKX, Mary, Mother of Redemption, Catania, 1970, 136-137.

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