General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI, 12 August 2009 – Connection between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the priesthood
The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, next Saturday, is at hand and we are in the context of the Year for Priest. I therefore wish to speak of the link between Our Lady and the priesthood. This connection is deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation. When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken “yes” of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the “yes” of one of his creatures; he waits for this “yes”. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.
Mary’s “yes” is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son’s becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.
Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the “beloved disciple” and thus also particularly of priests. Jesus says to Mary: “Woman, behold, your son!” (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19: 27). The Gospel tells us that from that hour Saint John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary “to his own home”. This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, “eis tà ìdia”, into the depths of his being. To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one’s own entire existence it is not something external and into all that constitutes the horizon of one’s own apostolate. It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them. In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world. Because of his identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel that he really is a specially beloved son of this loftiest and humblest of Mothers.
The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as to the perfect model for their existence, invoking her as “Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as Protectress of their ministry”. The Council continues, “priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship” (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18). The Holy Curé d’Ars, whom we are remembering in particular in this Year, used to like to say: “Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l’anima del Curato d’Ars, Turin 1967, p. 305). This applies for every Christian, for all of us, but in a special way for priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary will make all priests, in all the problems of today’s world, conform with the image of her Son Jesus, as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!