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Priests Must Foster Devotion to Mary

General Audience — June 30, 1993

The biographies of saintly priests always document the great role they attributed in their spiritual life to Mary. To the "written lives" corresponds the experience of the "lived lives" of so many dear, venerable priests whom the Lord appointed as true ministers of divine grace among the people entrusted to their pastoral care, or as preachers, chaplains, confessors, professors, writers. Spiritual directors and masters insist on the importance of devotion to our Lady in the priest's life, as an effective support on the path of sanctification, a constant comfort during personal trials and a powerful strength in the apostolate.

The 1971 Synod of Bishops also passed on these expressions of Christian Tradition to priests today when it recommended: "With his mind raised to heaven and sharing in the communion of saints, the priest should very often turn to Mary, the Mother of God, who received the Word of God with perfect faith, and daily ask her for the grace of conforming himself to her Son" (Ench. Vat., IV, 1202). The profound reason for the presbyter's devotion to Mary most holy is based on the essential relationship established in the divine plan between the Mother of Jesus and the priesthood of her Son's ministers. We want to reflect on this important aspect of priestly spirituality and draw practical conclusions from it.

Mary's relationship to the priesthood derives primarily from the fact of her motherhood. Becoming the Mother of Christ by her consent to the angel's message, Mary became the Mother of the high priest. This is an objective reality: by assuming a human nature in the Incarnation, the eternal Son of God fulfilled the necessary condition for becoming the one priest of humanity through his death and resurrection (cf. Heb 5:1). We can marvel at the perfect correspondence between Mary and her Son at the moment of the Incarnation. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews reveals to us that when he "came into the world," Jesus gave a priestly orientation to his personal sacrifice and said to God: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.... Then I said, 'Behold, I come to do your will, O God'" (Heb 10: 5-7). The Gospel tells us that at the same moment the Virgin Mary expressed the same attitude, saying: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).

This perfect correspondence shows us that a close relationship has been established between Mary's motherhood and Christ's priesthood. By that very fact a special bond exists between the priestly ministry and Mary most holy.

As we know, the Blessed Virgin fulfilled her role as mother not only in physically begetting Jesus but also in his moral formation. In virtue of her motherhood, she was responsible for raising the child Jesus in a way appropriate to his priestly mission, the meaning of which she learned from the message of the Incarnation.

In Mary's consent we can recognize an assent to the substantial truth of Christ's priesthood and the willingness to cooperate in fulfilling it in the world. This lays the objective basis for the role Mary was called to play also in the formation of Christ's ministers, sharers in his priesthood. I called attention to this in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis: every aspect of priestly formation can be referred to Mary (cf. n. 82).

We know further that our Lady fully lived the mystery of Christ, which she discovered ever more deeply through her personal reflection on the events of her Son's birth and childhood (cf. Lk 2:19; 2:51). With mind and heart she strove to fathom the divine plan in order consciously and effectively to cooperate in it. Who today better than she could enlighten the ministers of her Son, leading them to fathom the "unspeakable riches" of his mystery in order to act in conformity with his priestly mission?

Mary was uniquely associated with Christ's priestly sacrifice, sharing his will to save the world by the cross. She was the first to share spiritually in his offering as sacerdos et hostia, and did so most perfectly. As such, she can obtain and give grace to those who share in her Son's priesthood on the ministerial level, the grace moving them to respond ever more fully to the demands of spiritual oblation that the priesthood entails: in particular, the grace of faith, hope and perseverance in trials, recognized as a challenge to share more generously in the redemptive sacrifice.

On Calvary Jesus entrusted a new motherhood to Mary when he said to her: "Woman, behold your son!" (Jn 19:26). We cannot overlook the fact that when this motherhood was proclaimed, it was in regard to a "priest," the beloved disciple. In fact, according to the Synoptic Gospels, John too received from the Master at the supper on the previous night the power to renew the sacrifice of the cross in his memory. With the other apostles he belonged to the group of the first "priests"; now at Mary's side he replaced the one, supreme priest who was leaving the world. Certainly, Jesus' intention at that moment was to establish Mary's universal motherhood in the life of grace for every disciple, both then and for all ages. But we cannot ignore the fact that this motherhood took on a concrete, immediate form in relation to an apostle-priest. And we can think that Jesus' gaze extended beyond John to the long series of his priests in every age until the end of the world. As he did for the beloved disciple, he made that entrustment to Mary's motherhood for them in particular, taken one by one.

Jesus also said to John: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19:27). To the beloved disciple he entrusted the task of caring for Mary as his own mother, of loving her, venerating her and protecting her for the remaining years of her life on earth. But this was in the light of what was written for her in heaven, where she would be assumed and glorified. These words are the origin of Marian devotion; the fact that they were addressed to a priest is significant. Can we not then draw the conclusion that the priest is charged with promoting and developing this devotion and that he is the one primarily responsible for it?

In his Gospel John thought it important to stress that "from that hour the disciple took her into his home" (Jn 19:27). Thus he responded immediately to Christ's invitation and took Mary with him, with a reverence appropriate to the circumstances. I would like to say that in this respect too he appeared as a true priest, certainly a faithful disciple of Jesus.

For every priest, taking Mary into his own home means finding a place for her in his own life, remaining in habitual union with her in his thoughts, feelings, zeal for the kingdom of God and for devotion to her (cf. CCC 2673-2679).

What should we ask of Mary as "Mother of priests"? Today, perhaps more than at any other time, the priest must ask Mary especially for the grace of knowing how to accept God's gift with grateful love, fully appreciating it as she did in the Magnificat--the grace of generosity in self-giving, in order to imitate her example as a "generous Mother"; the grace of purity and fidelity in the obligation of celibacy, following her example as the "faithful Virgin"; the grace of burning, merciful love, in the light of her witness as the "Mother of mercy."

The presbyter must always remember that in the difficulties he will meet he can count on Mary's help. In her and to her he confides and entrusts himself and his pastoral ministry, asking her to make it yield abundant fruit. Finally, he looks to her as the perfect model of his life and ministry, because she is the one, as the Council says, who "was led by the Holy Spirit to dedicate herself totally to the mystery of man's redemption. Let priests love and venerate with filial devotion and veneration this mother of the eternal high priest, Queen of Apostles and protector of their own ministry" (PO 18).

I urge my brothers in the priesthood to nourish this "true devotion to Mary" and to draw its practical consequences for their life and ministry. I urge all the faithful to join us priests in entrusting themselves to our Lady and in invoking her graces for themselves and for the whole Church.