Mary is the Mother of the Church, not a Father

We Catholics assert boldly that Mary is both Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. See, e.g., Catechism of the Catholic Church 963. Protestants sometimes ask, “Why did Mary not teach or direct the early Church in the New Testatment, if she is indeed the Mother of the Church?” The question is a good one, for it calls for an examination of familial roles in the Church.

The answer is profoundly simple. Mary’s role was and is Mother of the Body of Christ but not a father. Mary’s actions reflected true obedience and a proper understanding of her calling as the Mother of God and Mother of the Church. Mary bore the Body of Christ with her own body, and nourished the Church with her prayers [Acts 1:14]. However, Mary was fully subject to Joseph during his lifetime and to the Apostles after the Ascension.

Mary has both ecclesial and eschatological significance. Her ecclesial significance is that she typifies the Church, i.e., what can be said of Mary can be said of the Church. Mary bore Jesus Christ, is the Mother of the Body of Christ, and was subject to Joseph. The Church continues to bear Christ to the world, is the mother to the faithful, and is subject to the Magisterium in union with the Holy Father, the Pope. In a very real sense, then, Mary’s maternity of Christ and of the Church exemplifies the Church’s role in the salvation of the world. Her eschatological significance is that Mary’s espousal to the Holy Spirit foretells and typifies the marriage supper of the Lamb, where the Church is eternally united to Christ, her Bridegroom. Cf. Revelation 19:6-9.

Likewise, Joseph’s role in the Holy Family is mirrored in the Church. In the Holy Family, Joseph was the earthly father of Jesus and through Joseph the Body of Christ inherited the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. It was Joseph to whom the angel appeared to warn of danger and to direct the Holy Family where to go. See Matthew 2:13-23. Joseph taught Jesus to be a carpenter. See Mark 6:3. Mary was obedient to Joseph, and as Jesus grew up, Jesus was obedient to both his parents in all things. E.g., Luke 2:51.

The Church is organized in exactly the same manner as the Holy Family. Women cannot be bishops or, by implication, priests. “Bishops, who by divine institution succeed to the place of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, are constituted pastors in the Church, so that they are teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship, and ministers of governance.” [Code of Canon Law, Canon 375, ยง1]. Paul speaks directly and forcefully about whether women may teaching or govern the Church: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” [1 Timothy 2:12]. For these reasons, and others, the ministerial priesthood is reserved exclusively to men. For a brief summary of the doctrine, see “Ten Frequently Asked Questions About the Reservation of Priestly Ordination to Men”, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (1998).

Jesus did not leave us fatherless [John 14:18], but gave us the Holy Spirit to guide and teach the Church through the Apostles (see, e.g., Acts 2:4). “[Y]ou are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:18-19]. Indeed, the last words of Jesus to the Eleven make clear the Apostolic mission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20.

Jesus selected only men as apostles, for the role of the Apostles and their successors is that of a father. As Paul said, “For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me.” 1 Corinthians 4:15-16.

The Pope, as Bishop of Rome and the Holy Father, is the successor to Peter. As such, the Pope’s leadership of the Church is primary to this day. Likewise, through his prayerful intercession, Joseph continues to watch over and guide the Body of Christ, the Church.