Pope john paul ii's sixth encyclical letter, issued on the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) in 1987, presaging the Marian year (Pentecost 1987 to Assumption 1988). In the introduction (nos. 1–6), Pope John Paul emphasizes the fact that the mystery of Christ is indissolubly united with that of Mary as the God-Bearer (theotokos), solemnly defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431. This dogma is essentially and primarily a christological doctrine in which Mary is portrayed as the "spotless" and perfect archetype of the Church from the moment of her Immaculate Conception. On the threshold of the new millennium or 2,000th birthday of the Son of God incarnate, the Holy Father reflects on the salvation history of the Bible in the light of a meditation on Mary's unique role in our redemption as a "New Eve" or companion of Christ.
The first of the three sections, "Mary in the Mystery of Christ," constitutes a biblical reflection upon what Vatican II aptly described as Mary's "pilgrimage of faith" (lumen gentium 58). The pope points out that this "pilgrimage" represents a constant focus for the Church and, in a sense, for all humanity. He pursues the same christocentric and ecclesiotypical Mariology as taught in chapter 8 of Lumen gentium. Just as Christ cannot be contemplated apart from the redemptive activity from which his mystical body originated, so Mary must be considered closely connected with the Incarnation and the Redemption if she is to be viewed as the archetype of the Church uniquely redeemed by her Immaculate Conception and the consummation of the whole Body of Christ in her glorious Assumption. The pope begins by citing the Pauline writings on the divine plan of salvation; the unique relationship between Mary and her Son in this story of grace thus becomes the focus of his meditation on the texts from the Synoptics, John, and Acts that concern Mary.
In the second section, "The Mother of God at the Center of the Pilgrim Church," the pope speaks of Mary's indissoluble link to the mystery of the Church born on the first Pentecost, called by Christ to give apostolic witness to all nations (Matt. 28:19–20). He devotes special attention to the ecumenical issues concerning Mary, especially with respect to the East, longing for the time when both the East and the West will be the one Church again breathing with "both lungs" (no. 34). He sees this as also helping the dialogues between the Catholic Church and the churches and ecclesial communities of the West. This will lead to the one Church of Christ singing her Magnificat, which continuously "re-echoes" in her heart as she recites the Canticle of Mary at Vespers each day.
In the third section, "Maternal Mediation," the pope is careful to affirm Mary's salutary influence upon each one of us by her maternal mediation and intercession. He develops what Vatican II calls her spiritual motherhood, "a motherhood in the order of grace" (Lumen gentium 62). As in the case of the intercessory role of all the saints in heaven, it is entirely dependent upon and subordinate to the unique mediation of Christ. Mary's maternal mediation finds its origin in her "fullness of grace," embodied in her total selfgiving to God at the Annunciation. Perfected through her Assumption into glory, it extends as far as the redemptive work of her Son. Furthermore, since motherhood is always a personal relation, the maternal mediation of Mary is a way for every Christian to enter into a more intimate and immediate encounter with Christ. The special meaning of the Marian Year, beginning on Pentecost and ending on the feast of the Assumption, is that the Church should reflect on what the mystery of Mary reveals about the Church's mission and hope.
Mary's mediation is the effective maternal presence sharing in the many complex problems of our lives. She is invoked to transform the Church through her role of relating us more closely to the incarnate and saving Christ.
Bibliography: For the text of Redemptoris Mater, see: Acta Apostoliae Sedis 79 (1987): 361–433 (Latin); Origins 16, no. 43 (April 9, 1987) 745–766 (English); The Pope Speaks 32 (1987): 159–197 (English). For commentaries and summaries of Redemptoris Mater, see: Mary: God's Yes to Man—John Paul's Encyclical "Redemptoris Mater," introduction by j. ratzinger, commentary by h. von balthasar (San Francisco 1988). f. m. jelly, o. p., "Ecumenical Aspects of Redemptoris Mater, " Marian Studies 39 (1988): 115–129.
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