POPE SAINT JOHN PAUL II
Continuing with Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Apostolic Letter of Saint Pope John Paul II released in 1988, it must be said that the role of the feminine in the economy of salvation, as seen most fully in Mary the Mother of God, sheds light on the meaning and value of femininity. The teaching of the Church that openness to life is essential for human marriage to blossom in spiritual growth for both men and women grows more evident when considered in light of the path that our Lord took to redeem us. His choice to come as a child of a human woman as the first act of “the new and eternal covenant” in conformity to the laws of the nature of motherhood, the value of fatherhood as seen in St. Joseph, within the sacramental bonds of a marriage, not only reveals His profound respect for marriage as He created it to be, it also redeems human marriage with His presence and salvific action.
“I have brought a man into being
with the help of the Lord (Gen:4-1).”
“Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person: and this is precisely the woman’s part. In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman discovers herself through a sincere gift of self. The gift of interior readiness to accept the child and bring it into the world is linked to the marriage union, which, as mentioned earlier, should constitute a special moment in the mutual self-giving both by the woman and the man….
[The exclamation quoted above from Genesis] “is repeated every time a new human being is brought into the world. It expresses the woman’s joy and awareness that she is sharing in the great mystery of eternal generation. The spouses share in the creative power of God! …
“The eternal mystery of generation, which is in God himself, the one and Triune God, is reflected in the woman’s motherhood and in the man’s fatherhood. …
“Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and understands with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the ‘beginning,’ the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb (Mulieris Dignitatem, VI:18).”
Motherhood and the New Covenant:
“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it (Lk 11:27-28).”
Thanks to Mary, to her openness to the gift of God in her Son, the gift of life from on high, our Lord Jesus Christ could say to His Father: “A body you have prepared for me. Lo, I come to do Your will, O God (Heb 10:57).”
To the exclamation of the woman in the Gospel who declared, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that you sucked!” Jesus responds with the words, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it (Luke 11:27-28).” In this Gospel incident, “Jesus confirms the meaning of motherhood in reference to the body, but at the same time He indicates an even deeper meaning, which is connected with the order of the spirit: it is a sign of the Covenant with God Who ‘is spirit’ (John 4:24).”
“The motherhood of every woman, understood in the light of the Gospel, is similarly not only ‘of flesh and blood:’ it expresses a profound ‘listening to the word of the living God’ and a readiness to safeguard this Word, which is ‘the word of eternal life.’”
The Motherhood of Mary at the Cross: Our Lady of Sorrows
The month of September is known as the month of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated on September 15th. The Paschal Mystery, and Mary’s participation in it, refocuses our attention on the spiritual motherhood accomplished at the Cross. “When a woman is in labor she is sorrowful, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world (John 16:21) …. these words indicate the link that exists between the woman’s motherhood and the Paschal Mystery. For this mystery also includes the Mother’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross …. But the words of the Gospel about the woman who suffers when the time comes for her to give birth to her child, immediately afterwards express joy: it is ‘the joy that a child is born into the world.’ This joy too is referred to the Paschal Mystery, to the joy which is communicated to the Apostles on the day of Christ’s Resurrection: ‘So you have sorrow now’ (these words were said the day before the Passion); ‘but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you (John 16:22-23).’”
The Spiritual Motherhood of the Saints
It is the experience of the great Saint Paul whom Saint John Paul II uses to illuminate the mystery of spiritual motherhood. Addressing the Galatians, St. Paul writes, “My little children, with whom I am again in labor (Gal 4:19).”
“The Gospel reveals and enables us to understand precisely this mode of being of the human person. The Gospel helps every woman and every man to live it and thus attain fulfillment. There exists a total equality with respect to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, with respect to the ‘mighty works of God’ (Acts 2:11). Moreover, it is precisely in the face of the ‘mighty works of God’ that Saint Paul, as a man, feels the need to refer to what is essentially feminine in order to express the truth about his own apostolic service …. in order to illustrate the Church’s fundamental mission, he finds nothing better than the reference to motherhood (Mulieris Dignitatem VI:22).”
Pope Saint John Paul II quotes from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council: “For in the mystery of the Church, herself rightly called Virgin and Mother, the Blessed Virgin came first as an eminent and singular exemplar of both virginity and motherhood. … The Son Whom she brought forth is He Whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren (Rom 8:29), namely, among the faithful. In their birth and development she cooperates with a maternal love. … Moreover, by contemplating Mary’s mysterious sanctity, imitating her charity, and faithfully fulfilling the Father’s will, the Church herself becomes a mother by accepting God’s word in faith. For by her preaching and by baptism she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God (Mulieris Dignitatem VI:22).”
Christ Is Bridegroom of the Church
The Roman Catholic Church is both Marian and Apostolic. Christ deliberately chose twelve men whom He distinguished from His other disciples, both men and women, by their consecration to the service of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. On the evening of the following Sunday, Easter Sunday, He breathed upon them, according to the Gospel of Saint John, thereby imparting to them the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained (John 20:23).” It was Christ Himself, the Redeemer of humanity, Who established the priesthood as definitely male.
The explanation for this, according to the established Tradition of the Church (please see the Declaration of Paul VI, Inter Insigniores) and the teaching of Saint John Paul II lies in the sovereign choice of Christ to retain the symbolism of the Bridegroom of the Church, Christ, Who alone is the Redeemer of the world and is male.
“As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and the Bride. The Eucharist makes present and realizes anew in a sacramental manner the redemptive act of Christ, Who ‘creates’ the Church, His body. Christ is united with this ‘body’ as the bridegroom with the bride. All this is contained in the Letter to the Ephesians. The perennial ‘unity of the two’ that exists between man and woman from the very ‘beginning’ is introduced into the ‘great mystery’ of Christ and of the Church. … Although the Church possesses a hierarchical structure, nevertheless this structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members. And holiness is measured according to the ‘great mystery’ in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom.’
“This concerns everyone in the Church, women as well as men. It obviously concerns those who share in the ministerial priesthood, which is characterized by service. In the context of the ‘great mystery’ of Christ and the Church, all are called to respond – as a bride – with the gift of their lives to the inexpressible gift of the love of Christ, Who alone, as the Redeemer of the world, is the Church’s Bridegroom. The ‘royal priesthood,’ which is universal, at the same time expresses the gift of the Bride (Mulieris Dignitatem VII 26 - 27).”