2010-12-31 GENERAL HOUSE

Impulse and fruitfulness of the Church?s mission

The third icon von Balthasar presents for our contemplation, also described in the feminine key, shows Mary as « Mother of God » and « Mother of the Church » and has as central motif the Church’s fruitfulness through its mission. « Pentecost shows the face of the Church as family united to Mary, reanimated by the powerful outpouring of the Spirit and ready for the Gospel mission1. » Mary united to the Apostles reflects the whole life of the Church radiating Christ in the world. The whole Church sees in Mary what it is and what it is called to be.

This tableau shows us how the Church can be at once, like Mary, the Bride turned towards the Bridegroom, and the Virgin Mother open to all. Only the Spirit can explain how this is so2. Von Balthasar speaks of the « ministry » of Mary as of a ministry of virginal and conjugal motherhood in the Church.

This vision of Mary is manifested through the vision of the woman of the Apocalypse who cries out in the pain of childbirth. « The representation we find in Apoc. 12 of the woman crying out in the pangs of childbirth constitutes a point of departure for the reflections of  von Balthasar, an attempt to explain the continuing maternity of the Church and in the Church, maternity expressed by the Marial principle3. » This Biblical figure is referred to  Mary who gives birth to Jesus at Bethlehem and to her role in the birth of the mystical body on Calvary, at the foot of the cross.

At the Council of Ephesus, Mary was named « Mother of God » (Théotokos). This is a title recalling Luke’s definition of her as « Mother of the Lord » (Lk 11:43). This title calls our attention to the fact that the maternal dimension of Mary’s faith constitutes a unique and highly significant archtype. Mary, in giving birth to the Son in a corporal and spiritual manner, becomes the universal mother of all believers. Paul VI proclaimed Mary « Mother of the Church » : « For the glory, therefore, of the Virgin and our own consolation, We proclaimMary most holy, Mother of the Church, that is to say of the whole people of God, faithful as much as pastors, who invoke her as their very loving Mother4. » Mary is the prototype of the Church by virtue of her  virginal faith and by virtue of her fruitfulness.

« It is Christ and not Mary who, by his Passion, creates the Church. But she has part as instrument of this creation. Her presence by the cross, her solidarity amidst the abandonment of the cross, show the measure where her gift is universalized to the point of becoming the universal principle of maternal womb for every Christian life giving grace5. »

In the event of Christ’s death on the cross, the Spirit prepared Mary for a new maternity, that of his mystical body. At Pentecost the Spiritus Creator poured the maternity from its receptacle, Mary, into the Church. It is the Spirit who maintains the Church in her exclusive  Marial and conjugal response to Christ and in her Marial and maternal growth in the world.

The  apocalyptic image of the woman in the desert

One should be able to see Mary in her authentic children: it is in them that the invisible realities become visible. Mary’s motherhood continues where we too become « mothers » of Christ.

It can be seen how this Marial principle is acting in the Church, in her maternity and in her holiness. Despite all adversities, the Church is not attacked by the dragon in what constitutes her feminine core of holiness of life. It is within this core, writes von Balthasar, that the rock of Peter is safeguarded; it is there that it acquires new energy6. Mary makes her own the prayers and works of the Church, and this fills us with confidence in the face of trials.

Under the mantle of Mary

Urs von Balthasar makes use of the image7 of the German mystics of Mary’s mantle to express the apostolic and fruitful character of love in the Church. The image shows how the Church is united under a single cloak which enfolds all her children. The flow of apostolic and fruitful love characterizes the Marial principle, and this leads von Balthasar to write that we take refuge under Mary’s large mantle and under the smaller cape of the  saints. This cape forms the true material of the maternity of the Church, for we are  envelopped and  enfolded in a maternal love. The image of the mantle is inspiring for von Balthasar, for it refers to a world which is not closed upon itself.

Our Christian faith journey is characterised by a Trinitarian dynamism in which we grow day by day. Our Christian life is the participation of a creature in the life of the Trinity.

« The model of this unceasing and repeated birth of God in the heart of the believer is, according to Cyril, the unique incarnation of the Logos born of the Virgin Mary. According to what has just been said, the sanctification of man is an imitation of the birth of Christ from Mary, which continues ceaselessly in the mystical body of Christ8. »

Von Balthasar thinks that our age is the one open to the discovery of the possibility of giving birth to Christ from the heart of the Mother Church.

Saint Hippolytus goes so far as to say that « the Logos is born without interruption in a new way in the Church and, thanks to her, in the heart of believers and outside9. » The whole Church « which is with child » engenders the mystical body in the multiplicity of her members.

The Word, engendered in the heart of the Father, is implanted by baptism in the heart of believers who, as a result, through the Spirit and the maternity of the Church-Mary, are worked on and fashioned by the Spirit of the Logos.

The Marial mission of the Church is to give birth to paradise by the Word. The Word allows itself to be fashioned and take form in the totality of the Church as body-bride and in its individual members, the believers. And in Christ we find ourselves in the bosom of the Father. We take part in a living manner in the always new mystery of Christmas10. The birth of this « paradise » man is a living participation in the Christmas mystery.

 Sanctification in the mystical body of Christ appears as a continual imitation of the birth of Christ in the womb of Mary. We are beginning to glimpse something of our participation in the generation of the Logos on the part of Mary.


This article continues those published on 20 and 31 May, 20 June, 17 and 26 November and10 December 2010

1 John-Paul II, Apostolic letter  Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, n° 23.

2 Urs von Balthasar, Spiritus Creator, 98.

3 For this paragraph, cf. “Marie aujourd’hui”, 5-16; Le Salut comme drame trinitaire: la Théodramatique, IV, 439-440.

4 Paul VI, Closing address of the third session of Vatican Council II, when he proclaimed Mary « Mother of the Church ».

5 Urs von Balthasar, Verbi Sponsa, 205.

6 Marie aujourd’hui, 22; Théodramatique, IV, 439-440.

7 « María nella dottrina », 18; Sponsa Verbi, 219; Marie aujourd’hui, 66-68.

8 Théodramatique, V, 454; cf. HUGO RAHNER, Die Gottgeburt: die Lehre der Kirchenväter von der Geburt Christi in den Herzen der Gläubigen, en Zeitschhrift für katholische Theologie 59 (1935) 333-418.

9 Antichr., 61.

10 Théodramtique, II, 325.


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