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Mary's Presence in the Upper Room at Jerusalem

General Audience — June 26, 1989

"All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts 1:14). In these simple words the author of Acts records the presence of Christ's mother in the upper room during the days of preparation for Pentecost.

In the previous reflection we entered the upper room and saw that the apostles, in obedience to Jesus' command prior to his departure to the Father, were assembled and "with one accord devoted themselves" to prayer. They were not alone, for other disciples, both men and women, were present with them. Among these persons pertaining to the original Jerusalem community, St. Luke, the author of Acts, also names Mary, Christ's mother. He names her among those present without adding anything special in her regard. We know, however, that Luke in his Gospel wrote at length about Mary's divine and virginal motherhood, on the basis of the information obtained by him in the Christian communities for a precise methodological motive (cf. Lk 1:1 ff.: Acts 1:1 ff.). This information was traced back at least indirectly to the earliest source of all data about Mary, namely, the mother of Jesus herself. Consequently, in Luke's twofold narrative, just as the coming into the world of God's Son is set in close relationship with the person of Mary, so now the birth of the Church is likewise linked with her. The simple statement that she was present in the upper room at Pentecost is sufficient to indicate to us the great importance attributed by Luke to this detail.

The Acts of the Apostles reveals Mary as one of those taking part in the preparation for Pentecost as a member of the first community of the Church which was coming into being. On the basis of Luke's Gospel and of other New Testament texts a Christian tradition on Mary's presence in the Church was formed, which the Second Vatican Council summed up by hailing her as a preeminent and wholly unique member of the Church (cf. LG 53), inasmuch as she is the mother of Christ, the Man-God, and therefore the mother of God. The Council Fathers recalled in the introductory message the words of the Acts of the Apostles which we have reread. It was as though they wished to emphasize that just as Mary was present at the beginning of the Church, so likewise they desired her presence in the assembly of the apostles' successors gathered together in the second half of the twentieth century in continuity with the community of the upper room. In coming together for the work of the Council, the Fathers also wished "to devote themselves with one accord to prayer with Mary the mother of Jesus" (cf. Acts 1:14).

At the annunciation Mary had experienced the descent of the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel had said to her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). Through the Spirit's coming down upon her, Mary was associated in a unique way with the mystery of Christ. In the encyclical Redemptoris Mater I wrote: "In the mystery of Christ she is present even 'before the creation of the world' (cf. Eph 1:4), as the one whom the Father 'has chosen' from eternity as mother of his Son in the Incarnation. And what is more, together with the Father, the Son has chosen her, entrusting her eternally to the Spirit of holiness" (RM 8).

In the upper room in Jerusalem, as the Paschal Mystery of Christ on earth reached its fulfillment, Mary together with the other disciples prepared for a new coming of the Holy Spirit which would mark the birth of the Church. It is true that she was already a "temple of the Holy Spirit" (LG 53) by her fullness of grace and by her divine motherhood. But she took part in the prayers for the Spirit's coming so that through his power there should burst out in the apostolic community the impulse toward the mission which Jesus Christ, on coming into the world, had received from the Father (cf. Jn 5:36), and on returning to the Father, had transmitted to the Church (cf. Jn 17:18). From the very beginning Mary was united to the Church as a disciple of her Son and as the most outstanding image of the Church in her faith and charity (cf. LG 53).

The Second Vatican Council emphasized this in the Constitution on the Church where we read: "By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with his singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church...the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion.... By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father" (LG 63).

Mary's prayer in the upper room in preparation for Pentecost has a special significance, precisely because of the bond with the Holy Spirit established at the moment of the mystery of the Incarnation. Now this bond comes up again, enhanced with a new reference point.

In saying that Mary "stands out" in the order of faith, the Council seems to hark back to Elizabeth's greeting to her cousin, the Virgin of Nazareth after the annunciation: "Blessed is she who believed" (Lk 1:45). The evangelist writes that "Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Lk 1:41) in replying to Mary's greeting and uttering those words. Moreover, according to the same Luke, "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" in the upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Therefore she also who "was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit" (cf. Mt 1:18) received at Pentecost a new fullness of the Holy Spirit. From that day onward her pilgrimage of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ was linked with the Church's own pilgrim journey.

The apostolic community needed her presence and that devotedness to prayer together with her, the mother of the Lord. It may be said that in that prayer with Mary, one perceives her special mediation deriving from the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As his mystical spouse, Mary implores his coming upon the Church born from the pierced side of Christ on the cross, and now about to be revealed to the world.

As can be seen, Luke's brief mention in Acts of the presence of Mary among the apostles and all those who "devoted themselves to prayer" in preparation for Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, has a very rich content.

In the Constitution Lumen Gentium the Second Vatican Council expressed this richness of content. According to this important conciliar text, she who in the midst of the disciples in the upper room devoted herself to prayer, is the mother of the Son, predestined by God to be "the first-born among many brethren" (cf. Rom 8:29). The Council however adds that she herself cooperated "in the regeneration and formation" of these "brethren" of Christ, with her motherly love. The Church in her turn—from the day of Pentecost—"by her preaching brings forth to a new and immortal life the sons who are born to her in baptism, who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God" (LG 64). The Church, therefore, by becoming herself a mother in this way, looks to the mother of Christ as her model. The Church's looking to Mary began in the upper room.