Catholics get chance to celebrate, think about Mary with new feast day

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Detroit

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Catholic Church doesn’t often add new
celebrations to its pretty full liturgical calendar, but this year’s new feast
day, Mary, Mother of the Church on May 21, has Catholics gearing up to mark the
day or at least think a little more about Mary.

The new
feast day, which will be celebrated annually the day after Pentecost, was
announced in a March 3 decree by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Sacraments. The decree said the pope approved the celebration because he
thought it might “encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the church
in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian

That line
struck Father Chuck Barthel, pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in St.
Louis, when he first read it and he has continued to go back to it as he
considers the feast with particular significance for his parish.

a renewed and deeper understanding of Mary’s nurturing and caring side is
something he said the church, especially in today’s climate, could certainly use.

His parish
is one of a handful of churches in the U.S., along with a Benedictine Abbey in
Richmond, Virginia, named Mary, Mother of the Church. For this year’s
celebration of the new feast day, the St. Louis church is not planning anything
big, but plans to celebrate on the actual day — when he said parishioners can
“enjoy each other’s company” — not during Pentecost weekend when
there is already a lot going on.

pastor said he hopes to give parishioners a prayer card for the occasion and
the parish will host a hospitality event after the morning liturgy and will
have evening prayer that night followed by dessert.

parish — where Father Barthel was initially assigned more than 28 years ago as
an associate pastor and now has returned less than a year ago — was founded in
1971 and initially was staffed by Redemptorist priests. The parish, which
opened so soon after the Second Vatican Council, took its name from the title given to Mary by Blessed
Paul VI in 1964.

Falcao Dodd, director of academic programs for the International Marian
Research Institute at the University of Dayton, Ohio, wrote a paper about this Marian
title in 2006. Her research shows that a bishop in the 1100s called Mary, Mother
of the Church and Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on the rosary said that Mary at
Pentecost was “in very truth, the mother of the church, the teacher and
queen of the apostles.”

And in
1981, the title “Mother of the Church” was given another boost when St. John Paul
II had a mosaic commissioned for the outside wall of his papal apartment called
“Mater Ecclesiae” (“Mother of the Church”) in gratitude for his recovery
after being shot in St. Peter’s Square. Then, and other times, the pope spoke
of Mary as a mediator, or someone who intercedes for us, said Falcao Dodd.

idea of Mary interceding for the church, as a mother does for her children, is
important for Catholics to consider, especially as this new feast falls so soon
after Mother’s Day, said Falcao Dodd. She also said it is key to understand its
placement right after Pentecost, noting that at the time of the original
Pentecost, Mary “did what a mother would do — she prayed with and for her
children in the upper room.” And at Jesus’ crucifixion, when he publicly announced
to the disciple John, “behold your mother” about Mary. John,
symbolizes all of us, the church, Falcao Dodd said.

Auxiliary Bishop
Gerard W. Battersby of Detroit said Mary’s presence at the
foot of the cross and with the early church at Pentecost, is an example of what
it means to be a disciple.

He said
this image of a mother with her children “on this pilgrim journey” is
important for the church today, especially as the pope is calling Catholics to a
new evangelization and to unleash the Gospel message. “It’s important for
us to understand the church is Marian; this is not just a pleasant sentiment
added on,” he said, stressing that Mary is a guide for the church today.

think this is a time of special grace,” the bishop told Catholic News
Service May 2, noting that Mary’s job has always been to point to Jesus.

Detroit Archdiocese is celebrating the new feast day with a May 21 Mass at Old
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Detroit concelebrated by Bishop Battersby, Bishop
Donald F. Hanchon, another Detroit auxiliary bishop, and several archdiocesan
priests. After Mass, there will be a May Crowning and procession through the
streets with a statue of Mary carried by Catholic school students.

In some
parts of the world this feast day isn’t new. The church calendars of Poland,
Argentina, St. Peter’s Basilica and some religious orders have already set
aside the Monday after Pentecost as the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

When Father
Barthel thinks about another day to honor Mary, he said he is reminded of the
hospital ministry he did as a seminarian when a patient who was Episcopalian
asked him if it was OK if she prayed to the Blessed Mother.

said her reason for doing this, which the priest has never forgotten years
later, was: “Sometimes you just need a woman to talk to.”

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Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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