At the beginning of last week’s bulletin article, I wrote about the transition in leadership in the Church that took place in 2005, following the death of Pope St. John Paul II who had served the Church as the Successor to St. Peter for more than two-and-a-half decades. During his pontificate, this great pope made a significant impact on the Church and the world. I recently watched the video footage of his first words as pope from the loggia of St. Peter’s as he addressed the crowd gathered in the square below. In his off-the-cuff remarks, he said: “I was afraid to receive this appointment, but I did it in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and with total trust in His Mother, our Most Holy Lady.” This total trust in Mary would be a thread that would run through his entire pontificate. In fact, his papal motto was: Totus tuus, Mater Ecclesiae (Totally yours, Mother of the Church).
In virtually every major document that he wrote, he connected the topic with the Blessed Virgin Mary, seeing in her the model for our lives as followers of her Son. In his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church), he devotes the final chapter to Mary, calling her the “Woman of the Eucharist.” In some ways, we can see this section as a summation of his two great loves as a priest, bishop, and pope – the Eucharist and Mary. It is therefore fitting for us to hear from his writings on these two loves as we continue to reflect on the Eucharist, especially on this Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.
The Holy Father writes the following about Mary’s inseparable union with the Eucharist:
Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting – like John – the one who is given to us anew as our Mother. It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us. Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist. If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist. This is one reason why, since ancient times, the commemoration of Mary has always been part of the Eucharistic celebrations of the Churches of East and West. (EE, 57)
It can be a very fruitful practice for us, when we are at Mass, to call to mind Mary’s presence among us. That is not too difficult for us at the Cathedral, for as we look to the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated, Mary looms large in the background in the beautiful mosaic at the high altar. The next time you are at Mass, keep this connection in mind, especially as the Word becomes flesh among us once again at the Consecration. As Our Lord is lifted up, notice Mary looking with love upon her Son, the Bread of Life, and upon all of us, her children, as we prepare to receive Him into our hearts in Holy Communion. Then, when we receive Him, let us ask Mary to help us receive His graces with the same openness that she had to the Lord in her life. Perhaps we can use a portion of the prayer the Church gives to us to be prayed after receiving Holy Communion:
I ask you, most dear Mother, to obtain for me forgiveness of all my sins, the grace of serving Jesus most faithfully from now on, and the gift of final perseverance, so that with you I may praise Him forever. Amen.