Sunday, May 31, 2015

Redemptoris Mater: An Introduction To Saint John Paul II's Encyclical On The Blessed Virgin Mary In The Life Of The Pilgrim Church

St. John Paul II at the dedication of the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace
On Sunday, November 14, 1999, Saint John Paul II dedicated the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace at the conclusion of a restoration project which began in late 1996.

In keeping with the theme of May dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I thought it fitting to close out the month by sharing my recent reading of Saint John Paul II's encyclical Redemptoris Mater; a reflection on the role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and on her active and exemplary presence in the life of the Church.

The encyclical was issued on March 25, 1987, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord as part of a preparation for the Marian Year in the Church—which began on June 7, 1987, on the Solemnity of Pentecost and ended on August 15, 1988, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—and in anticipation of the Bimillennial Jubilee of the birth of Christ in the year 2000. Redemptoris Mater was also written to honour to Mary's jubilee.

Like many of his writings St. John Paul II has enriched the reader's understanding of Mary with his extensive references that are sure to prompt many—especially Marian devotees—to add to them to their reading lists.

For those whose faith journey has recently begun and are new to the Blessed Virgin Mary, this encyclical will provide you with a complete understanding of Our Lady's role and presence in the Church.

Those who recite the Rosary will find this document to be a perfect compliment to the contemplative aspect of the Rosary Devotion; it is thoroughly identifies and explains the various aspects of Mary's life: Her lived Rosary.

Redemptoris Mater is thirty six pages and includes an: Introduction, Part I - Mary In The Mystery of Christ; Part II - The Mother Of God At The Center Of The Pilgrim Church; Part III - Maternal Mediation and a Conclusion.

Redemptoris Mater is characteristic of Saint John Paul II's pontificate, a clear continuity with his predecessors and the teachings of the Church. This encyclical references several sources, in particular the Second Vatican Council's document, Lumen Gentiumthe Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.

Reading Redemptoris Mater I could not help but think of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter Porta FIdei, issued for the Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013) in which he encouraged the faithful to rediscover Second Vatican Council's documents as a means of establishing a point of reference where, "...[W]e find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning." (5)

It also reminded me of how this compliments St. Louis De Montfort's guidance, who stated in his book, True Devotion To Mary, that the quickest and most surest way to Jesus, is through Mary. 

Some of the other sources cited by Saint John Paul II were Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Letter Marialis Cultus, on the right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Council of Ephesus (431) in which the truth of the divine motherhood of Mary (Theotókos-Mother of God) was solemnly confirmed as a truth of the Church's faithSt. Leo The Great (Pope 440-461) statement of Tradition, that "Mary's 'motherhood' of the Church is the reflection and extension of her motherhood of the Son of God," (24); and Pope Pius XII's definition of the Assumption to be a dogma of faith, that the immaculate Mother of God, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.

The Meaning of The Marian Year

Before writing about some of the content of Redemptoris Mater, I thought it best to elaborate on the meaning of the Marian Year so as to help you better understand why this encyclical was written.

The Marian Year was declared in part due to the special bond that exists between humanity and the Mother of God. It is a bond that was additionally recognized by one of Saint John Paul II's predecessors, Pope Pius XII, who in 1954, also proclaimed a Marian Year, "...[I]n order to highlight the exceptional holiness of the Mother of Christ as expressed in the mysteries of her Immaculate Conception (defined exactly a century before) and of her Assumption into heaven." (48) 

In declaring the Marian Year, Saint John Paul II followed the line of the Second Vatican Council, and in so doing, he wished to express the special presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of the Christ and his Church. He noted that this was a fundamental dimension of the Council's Mariology.

Building upon the Second Vatican Council, he also noted how the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, exhorted everyone to follow faithfully the teaching and guidelines of the Council. These two events, as Saint John Paul II stated, "...[E]mbody what the Holy Spirit himself wishes 'to say to the Church' in the present phase of history." (48) It was within this context that the Marian Year was declared with the goal of promoting a new and more careful reading of what the Council said about the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the mystery of Christ and of the Church.

Saint John Paul II emphasized that the contents of Redemptoris Mater "...[S]peak not only of the doctrine of faith but also of the life of faith, and thus of authentic 'Marian spirituality' seen in the light of Tradition, and especially the spirituality to which the Council exhorts us." (48) It is a Marian spirituality which has a rich source in the historical experience of individuals and Christian communities. Of the many witnesses and teachers of this spirituality, he particularly noted the example of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, "...[W]ho proposes consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary, as an effective means for Christians to faithfully live their baptismal commitments." (48)

The Marian Year was declared not only as a time to recall that Mary preceded Christ's entry into the history of human family, but to also emphasize the moment when the mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished, that human history entered into the "fullness of time," with the Church being the sign of that fullness. Here is what Saint John Paul II had to further say about this:
As the People of God, the Church makes her pilgrim way towards eternity through faith, in the midst of all the peoples and nations, beginning from the day of Pentecost. Christ's Mother-who was present at the beginning of "the time of the Church," when in expectation of the coming of the Holy Spirit she devoted herself to prayer in the midst of the Apostles and her Son's disciples-constantly "precedes" the Church in her journey through human history. She is also the one who, precisely as the "handmaid of the Lord," cooperates unceasingly with the work of salvation accomplished by Christ, her Son. 
Thus by means of this Marian Year the Church is called not only to remember everything in her past that testifies to the special maternal cooperation of the Mother of God in the work of salvation in Christ the lord, but also, on her own part, to prepare for the future the paths of this cooperation. For the end of the second Christian Millennium opens up as a new prospect. (49)
There is so much that one could write about when referencing Saint John Paul II's encyclicals and especially on the subject of Mary, that an entire blog could be dedicated to his enormous contributions. Redemptoris Mater is certainly no exception. Below is a brief description of what each of the three main sections include.

The first section, Part 1 - Mary In The Mystery Of Christ details many important points to consider and understand about Mary's life, her existence and role in the Church: in the plan of salvation, Mary holds a special place entrusted to her by the Father; a meditation on Mary's fullness of grace; the Annunciation as the revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation; a dedicated subsection entitled Blessed is she who believed; a reflection on Mary's motherhood that expands beyond the fleshly bond and extends to its greater significance, the spiritual bond which is developed from hearing and keeping God's word.

The second section Part II - The Mother Of God At The Center Of The Pilgrim Church, includes the Church's journey and the unity of all Christians in which Saint John Paul II deals with a matter that was very dear to him, the ecumenical effort, one made easier by the sharing of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches' reverence and devotion to Mary; a reflection on the "Magnificat" of the pilgrim Church that details Mary's constant presence on the journey of faith of the People of God; and the focus of today's post the subsection entitled, The Church, the People of God present in all the nations of the earth.

The third section, Part III - Maternal Mediation, emphasizes that the maternal role of Mary in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather it shows its power, it is mediation in Christ; Mary's role in the life of the Church and of every Christian; and the meaning of the Marian Year.

The Church, the People of God present in all the nations of the earth

Saint John Paul II begins this subsection from Part II by immediately quoting Lumen Gentium, "The Church 'like a pilgrim in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God,' announcing the Cross and Death of the Lord until he comes." (25) It is a quote that instills in the reader a sense of journey; one in which he drew a comparison between the old "Church of God," Israel's exile in the desert with the "new Israel," the "Church of Christ." He went on to further identify the Church of Christ, when he noted that:
Likewise the new also called the Church of Christ (cf Mt 16:18). For he has bought it for himself with his blood (Acts 20:28), has filled it with his Spirit, and provided it with those means which befit it as a visible and social unity. God has gathered together as one all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace, and has established them as Church, that for each and all she may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity." (25)
Building upon the sense of journey, Saint John Paul II referred to the Second Vatican Council's analogy of the Church's pilgrimage with the Israel of the Old Covenant journeying through the desert. He explained that the Church's journey or pilgrimage has an external character, one that is visible in the time and space in which it historically takes place. Yet the essential element of the pilgrimage is interior, "...[I]t is a question of a pilgrimage through faith, by the 'power of the Risen Lord,' a pilgrimage in the Holy Spirit, given to the Church as the invisible Comforter (parakletos)." (25)

It is in this journey through space and time and even more so the history of souls, that Mary is present, as the one who is "blessed because she believed," as the one who advanced in the pilgrimage of faith, sharing unlike any other creature in the mystery of Christ. Quoting the Council further, Saint John Paul II noted that, "Mary figured profoundly in the history of salvation and in a certain way unites and mirrors within herself the central truths of the faith. Among all believers she is like a 'mirror' in which are reflected in the most profound and limpid way 'the mighty works of God' "(25) 

Referring again to the "mighty works of God," Saint John Paul II pointed out that the Church became aware of them on the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles gathered together in the Upper Room, were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. It is at this moment, the beginning of the journey of faith, the Church's pilgrimage through the history of individuals and peoples, that Mary is present "prayerfully imploring the gift of the Spirit." (26) It is through this beginning that Saint John Paul II elaborated on Mary's role and journey
In a sense her journey of faith is longer. The Holy Spirit had already come down upon her, and she became his faithful spouse at the Annunciation, welcoming the Word of the true God, offering "the full submission of intellect and will...and freely assenting to the truth revealed by him," indeed abandoning herself totally to God through "the obedience of faith," whereby she replied to the angel: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." The journey of faith made by Mary, whom we see praying in the Upper Room, is thus longer than that of the others gathered there: Mary "goes before them," "leads the way" for them. The moment of Pentecost in Jerusalem had been prepared for by the moment of the Annunciation in Nazareth, as well as by the Cross. In the Upper Room Mary's journey meets the Church's journey of faith. (26)
Continuing with the sense of journey, Saint John Paul II further emphasized Mary's presence at the beginning of the long journey of faith, who was amongst the Apostles at Pentecost, those who became the "seed of the new Israel." (27) Mary was present as an exceptional witness to the mystery of Christ. The Church was assiduous in prayer together with her, and at the same time "contemplated her in the light of the Word made man." (27) He noted that "Mary belongs indissolubly to the mystery of Christ, and she belongs also to the mystery of the Church from the beginning, from the day of the Church's birth." (27) Here is what he had to say about the importance of Mary's faith and its special inheritance of the Church: 
It is precisely Mary's faith which marks the beginning of the new and eternal Covenant of God with man in Jesus Christ; this heroic faith of hers "precedes" the apostolic witness of the Church, and ever remains in the Church's heart hidden like a special heritage of God's revelation. All those who from generation to generation accept the apostolic witness of the Church share in that mysterious inheritance, and in a sense share in Mary's faith. (27)
The benefit to the many generations since Pentecost has not only been a sharing in Mary's faith, but recourse to it in support of individual faith and that of communities. Saint John Paul II noted that those who accept the mystery of Christ not only turn to Mary with veneration, but do so with confidence in her, seeking support for their own faith. He identified this lively sharing in Mary's faith as a determining factor that put Mary in a special place in the Church's pilgrimage.

Mary's presence in the Church's mission in the world today is to be found in many different expressions, just as it has always been throughout the Church's history. Mary's presence is revealed through the faith and piety of individuals, the traditions of Christian families (the "Domestic Church"), missionary communities, religious institutes and dioceses; at many great shrines where not only individuals or local groups, but nations and societies, even entire continents seek to meet the Mother of the Lord. Saint John Paul II drew examples from: the land of Palestine, the spiritual homeland of all Christians, the same homeland of the Saviour and his Mother; at Marian centers such as Guadalupe, Fatima, Lourdes and Jasna Gora.

In addition there is also what Saint John Paul II referred to as, "geography of faith and Marian devotion," which includes all special places of pilgrimage in which the People of God seek to meet the Mother of God in the hope of a strengthening of their own faith. (28)

I hope today's post has encouraged you to strengthen or begin your Marian devotion in the spirit of Saint John Paul II, whose own Marian devotion permeated his entire life and pontificate. 

Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.

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