Two quotations in The Manual refer to Mary, the Mother of God as ‘mother of priests’. The first, on the cover comes from the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion (1858 – 1922)
“Mary is in a special manner Queen and Mother of priests.
Because of their resemblance to her divine Son,
Our Lady sees Jesus in each one of them.
She loves them not only as members of the mystical body,
but on account of the priestly character imprinted on their souls,
and for the sacred mysteries which they celebrate in persona Christi.”
“Inasmuch as priests can be called, by a very special title, sons* of the Virgin Mary, they will never cease to love her with an ardent piety, invoke her with perfect confidence, and frequently implore her strong protection.”
These are the earliest references to Mary under the title “Mother of priests” found so far, if you come across any more please pass on the references.
In the twentieth century there are a number of papal messages that refer directly or obliquely to the concept of Mary as mother of priests:
Benedict XVI, General Audience, Wednesday, 12 August 2009
This address is given the title “Mary as the Mother of Priests” on the EWTN web site here.
Pope Saint John Paul II composed this prayer for priests which uses the title “Mother of Priests” for the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Mother of Jesus Christ and Mother of Priests, [Mater Iesu Christi et Mater sacerdotum]
accept this title which we bestow
to celebrate your motherhood
and to contemplate with you the priesthood
of your Son and of your sons,
O holy Mother of God.
O Mother of Christ,
to the Messiah-Priest you gave a body of flesh
through the anointing of the Holy Spirit
for the salvation of the poor and
the contrite of heart;
guard priests in your heart and in the Church,
O Mother of the Saviour.
O Mother of Faith,
you accompanied to the Temple the Son of Man,
the fulfilment of the promises given to the fathers;
give to the Father for His glory
the priests of Your Son,
O Ark of the Covenant.
O Mother of the Church,
in the midst of the disciples in the upper room
you prayed to the Spirit
for the new people and their shepherds;
obtain for the Order of Presbyters
a full measure of gifts,
O Queen of the Apostles.
O Mother of Jesus Christ,
you were with Him at the beginning
of His life and mission,
you sought the Master among the crowd,
you stood beside Him when He was lifted up from the earth
consumed as the one eternal sacrifice,
and you had John, your son, near at hand;
accept from the beginning those who have been called,
protect their growth,
in their life ministry accompany your sons,
O Mother of Priests.
A short study here, examines the role of Mary as Mother of Priests in the teachings of John Paul II and highlights the following addresses:
The very first of his letters to priests on Holy Thursday 1979 where he invokes Mary as the Mother of priests:
“Mother of Priests
Dear Brothers, at the beginning of my ministry I entrust all of you to the Mother of Christ, who in a special way is our Mother: the Mother of Priests. In fact, the beloved disciple, who, as one of the Twelve, had heard in the Upper Room the words “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19), was given by Christ on the Cross to his Mother, with the words: “Behold your son” (Jn 19:26). The man who on Holy Thursday received the power to celebrate the Eucharist was, by these words of the dying Redeemer, given to his Mother as her “son”. All of us, therefore, who receive the same power through priestly Ordination have in a certain sense a prior right to see her as our Mother. And so I desire that all of you, together with me, should find in Mary the Mother of the priesthood which we have received from Christ. I also desire that you should entrust your priesthood to her in a special way. Allow me to do it myself, entrusting to the Mother of Christ each one of you—without any exception—in a solemn and at the same time simple and humble way. And I ask each of you, dear Brothers, to do it yourselves, in the way dictated to you by your own heart, especially by your love for Christ the Priest, and also by your own weakness, which goes hand in hand with your desire for service and holiness. I ask you to do this.
The Church of today speaks of herself especially in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium. Here too, in the last chapter, she proclaims that she looks to Mary as to the Mother of Christ, because she calls herself a mother and wishes to be a mother, begetting people for God to a new life (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Chapter VIII). Now, dear Brothers: how near you are to this cause of God! How deeply it is imprinted upon your vocation, ministry and mission. In consequence, in the midst of the People of God, that looks to Mary with immense love and hope, you must look to her with exceptional hope and love. Indeed, you must proclaim Christ who is her Son; and who will better communicate to you the truth about him than his Mother? You must nourish human hearts with Christ: and who can make you more aware of what you are doing than she who nourished him? “Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary”. In our “ministerial” priesthood there is the wonderful and penetrating dimension of nearness to the Mother of Christ. So let us try to live in that dimension. If I may be permitted to speak here of my own experience, I will say to you that in writing to you I am referring especially to my own personal experience.” (11) Source
Pastores Dabo Vobis which is the source of the prayer above and where John Paul II describes Mary as “Mother and Teacher of our priesthood” and where he talks of the task of Mary who “was called to educate the one eternal priest, who became docile and subject to her motherly authority.” He refers to the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests of Vatican II Presbyterorum Ordinis. Which exhorts priests to “love and venerate with filial devotion and veneration this mother of the Eternal High priest, Queen of Apostles and Protector of their own ministry.” (18).
John Paul II’s Letter to priests on Holy Thursday 1998 was the inspiration for parts of our own Sodality prayer written by Fr Clive Hillman, the whole passage is worth quoting:
“The priest is called to match the fiat of Mary at all times, allowing himself to be led by the Spirit as she was. The Virgin will support him in his choice of evangelical poverty and will prepare him to listen humbly and sincerely to his brothers and sisters, that he may recognize in the drama of their lives and in their aspirations the “groans of the Spirit” (cf. Rm 8:26). She will enable the priest to serve them with enlightened discretion, that he may teach them the values of the Gospel. She will make him diligent in searching for “the things that are above” (Col 3:1), that he may witness convincingly to the primacy of God. The Virgin will help the priest to welcome the gift of chastity as the expression of a greater love which the Spirit awakens so that the love of God may come to birth in a host of brothers and sisters. She will lead him down the ways of evangelical obedience, that the Paraclete may draw him, beyond all his own plans, towards total acceptance of the mind of God.
Accompanied by Mary, the priest will be able to renew his consecration day after day; and the time will come when, trusting the guidance of the Spirit whom he has invoked on his journey as man and as priest, he will set forth upon the ocean of light which is the Trinity.” (Source)
Finally on June 30, 1993 Pope Saint John Paul II made these extensive comments on Mary as Mother of priests:
“The biographies of saintly priests always document the great role they attributed in their spiritual life to Mary. To the “written life” corresponds the experience of the “lived lifes” true ministers of divine grace among the people entrusted to their pastoral care, or as preachers, chaplains, confessors, professors, writers. Spiritual directors and masters insist on the importance of devotion to our Lady in the priest’s life, as an effective support on the path of sanctification, a constant comfort during personal trials and a powerful strength in the apostolate.
The 1971 Synod of Bishops also passed on these expressions of Christian Tradition to priests today when it recommended: “With his mind raised to heaven and sharing in the communion of saints, the priest should very often turn to Mary, the Mother of God, who received the Word of God with perfect faith, and daily ask her for the grace of conforming himself to her Son” (Ench. Vat., IV, 1202). The profound reason for the presbyter’s devotion to Mary most holy is based on the essential relationship established in the divine plan between the Mother of Jesus and the priesthood of her Son’s ministers. We want to reflect on this important aspect of priestly spirituality and draw practical conclusions from it.
Mary’s relationship to the priesthood derives primarily from the fact of her motherhood. Becoming the Mother of Christ by her consent to the angel’s message, Mary became the Mother of the high priest. This is an objective reality: by assuming a human nature in the Incarnation, the eternal Son of God fulfilled the necessary condition for becoming the one priest of humanity through his death and resurrection (cf. Heb 5:1). We can marvel at the perfect correspondence between Mary and her Son at the Incarnation. Indeed, the Letter of the Hebrews reveals to us that when he “came into the world,” Jesus gave a priestly orientation to his personal sacrifice and said to God: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me…. Then I said, ‘Behold, I come to do your will, O God'” (Heb 10:5-7). The Gospel tells us that at the same moment the Virgin Mary expressed the same attitude, saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).This perfect correspondence shows us that a close relationship has been established between Mary’s motherhood and Christ’s priesthood. By that very fact a special bond exists between the priestly ministry and Mary most holy.As we know, the Blessed Virgin fulfilled her role as mother not only in physically begetting Jesus but also in his moral formation. In virtue of her motherhood, she was responsible for raising the child Jesus in a way appropriate to his priestly mission, the meaning of which she learned from the message of the Incarnation.In Mary’s consent we can recognize n assent to the substantial truth of Christ’s priesthood and the willingness to cooperate in fulfilling it in the world. This lays the objective basis for the role Mary was called to play also in the formation of Christ’s ministers, sharers in his priesthood. I called attention to this in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis: every aspect of priestly formation can be referred to Mary (cf. n. 82).We know further that our Lady fully lived the mystery of Christ, which she discovered ever more deeply through her personal reflection on the events of her Son’s birth and childhood (cf. Lk 2:19; 2:51). With mind and heart she strove to fathom the divine plan in order consciously and effectively to cooperate in it. Who today better than she could enlighten the ministers of her Son, leading them to fathom the “unspeakable riches” of his mystery in order to act in conformity with his priestly mission?
Mary was uniquely associated with Christ’s priestly sacrifice, sharing his will to save the world by the cross. She was the first to share spiritually in his offering as sacerdos et hostia, and did so most perfectly. As such, she can obtain grace to those who share in her Son’s priesthood on the ministerial level, the grace moving them to respond ever more fully to the demands of spiritual oblation that the priesthood entails: in particular, the grace of faith, hope and perseverance in trials, recognized as a challenge to share more generously in the redemptive sacrifice.On Calvary Jesus entrusted a new motherhood to Mary when he said to her: “Woman, behold your son!” (Jn 19:26). We cannot overlook the fact that when this motherhood was proclaimed, it was in regard to a “priest,” the beloved disciple. In fact, according to the Synoptic Gospels, John too received from the Master at the supper on the previous night the power to renew the sacrifice of the cross in his memory. With the other apostles he belonged to the group of the first “priests”; now at Mary’s side he replaced the one, supreme priest who was leaving the world. Certainly, Jesus’ intention at that moment was to establish Mary’s universal motherhood in the life of grace for every disciple, both then and for all ages. But we cannot ignore the fact that this motherhood took on a concrete, immediate form in relation to an apostle-priest. And we can think that Jesus’ gaze extended beyond John to the long series of his priests in every age until the end of the world. As he did for the beloved disciple, he made that entrustment to Mary’s motherhood for them in particular, taken one by one.Jesus also said to John: “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19:27). To the beloved disciple he entrusted the task of caring for Mary as his own mother, of loving her, venerating her and protecting her for the remaining years of her life on earth. But his was in the light of what was written for her in heaven, where she would be assumed and glorified. These words are the origin of Marian devotion; the fact that they were addressed to a priest is significant. Can we not then draw the conclusion that the priest is charged with promoting and developing this devotion and that he is the one primarily responsible for it?In his Gospel John thought it important to stress that “from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:27). Thus he responded immediately to Christ’s invitation and took Mary with him, with a reverence appropriate to the circumstances. I would like to say that in this respect too he appeared as a true priest, certainly a faithful disciple of Jesus.For every priest, taking Mary into his own home means finding a place for her in his own life, remaining in habitual union with her in his thoughts, feelings, zeal for the kingdom of God and for devotion to her (cf. CCC 2673-2679).What should we ask of Mary as “Mother of priests”?
Today, perhaps more than at any other time, the priest must ask Mary especially for the grace of knowing how to accept God’s gift with grateful love, fully appreciating it as she did in the Magnificat— the grace of generosity in self-giving, in order to imitate her example as a “generous Mother”; the grace of purity and fidelity in the obligation of celibacy, following her example as the “faithful Virgin”; the grace of burning, merciful love, in the light of her witness as the “Mother of Mercy.”The presbyter must always remember that in the difficulties he will meet he can count on Mary’s help. In her and to her he confides and entrusts himself and his pastoral ministry, asking her to make it yield abundant fruit. Finally, he looks to her as the perfect model of his life and ministry, because she is the one, as the Council says, who “was led by the Holy Spirit to dedicate herself totally to the mystery of man’s redemption. Let priests love and venerate with filial devotion and veneration this mother of the eternal high priest, Queen of Apostles and protector of their own ministry” (PO 18).
I urge my brothers in the priesthood to nourish this “true devotion to Mary” and to draw its practical consequences for their life and ministry. I urge all the faithful to join us priests in entrusting themselves to our Lady and in invoking her graces for themselves and for the whole Church.” (Source)
St Thérèse of Lisieux’s Prayer for Priests
O Holy Father, may the torrents of love flowing from the sacred wounds of Your Divine Son bring forth priests like the beloved disciple John who stood at the foot of the Cross; priests, who as a pledge of Your own most tender love, will lovingly give Your Divine Son to the souls of men.
May your priests be faithful guardians of Your Church, as John was of Mary, whom he received into his house. Taught by this loving Mother who suffered so much on Calvary, may they display a mother’s care and thoughtfulness towards Your children. May they teach souls to enter into close union with You through Mary who, as the Gate of Heaven, is specially the guardian of the treasures of Your Divine Heart.
Give us priests who are on fire, and who are true children of Mary, priests who will give Jesus to souls with the same tenderness and care with which Mary carried the Little Child of Bethlehem.
Mother of sorrows and of love, out of compassion for your beloved Son, open in our hearts deep wells of love, so that we may console Him and give Him a generation of priests formed in your school and having all the tender thoughtfulness of your own spotless love. Amen.
[*Please note that where texts refer to a male only priesthood they have not been altered. Members of the Sodality understand these as referring to all priests regardless of gender.]