At Pentecost, Mary Immaculate Reveals the Church Immaculate
“There is no Church without Pentecost. And there is no Pentecost without the Virgin Mary.” —Pope Benedict XVI
By Fr. Dwight Longenecker
One of the details we overlooked when we were Protestants is Mary the Mother of the Lord being present with the apostles at Pentecost. Of course it’s there in the Catholic paintings of the scene, but we missed it.
We missed it because we had a general blind spot about Mary. She had virtually nothing to do with our version of Christianity. It was like we were even a little bit embarrassed that she had to show up at Christmas time.
We had a church without Mary, but to be frank, we also had a church without the apostles. The Pentecost story reveals the profound truth that you cannot have the apostolic Church without Mary at the center of it.
Why is Mary the Mother of the Church? Because Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ and the Church is the Body of Christ. Mary’s first ‘yes’ to the Holy Spirit paved the way for our ‘yes’ to the Holy Spirit. Because she was overshadowed and filled with the Holy Spirit and bore God’s Son, we too can be overshadowed and filled with the Holy Spirit and bear God’s Son to the world.
Mary as Spouse of the Holy Spirit is the forerunner of the nuptial relationship between Christ and his Church as taught by St. Paul in Ephesians 5. Christ is the bridegroom. We are the bride. Similarly, the Holy Spirit was the bridegroom and Mary the bride in the spousal relationship that brought forth the Son of God into the World.
This nuptial relationship between Christ and his Church is active on both the individual and corporate levels. To Christ we are bride and he is bridegroom, and similarly the whole Church is bride and he is bridegroom. Having the woman Mary at the heart of this mystery reinforces and empowers the nuptial imagery of the Church being the bride of Christ.
Just as a marriage must be consummated and man and wife become one flesh, so in a sacramental way, Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride are to be united in a bond of everlasting love, and this love must be fruitful. The Church hears the command of God to Adam and Eve — the first bride and groom — to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’
So the relationship between Christ and his Church must also bear fruit. This is the root command, the power and the drive for the Church to evangelize. We are to ‘go and bear much fruit’. This fruit is the fruit of souls who are won for Christ through the nuptial and mystical union he shares with his body, his bride — the Church.
Mary’s presence reminds us also that while the Church is a mother she is also a virgin. St. Paul also says in Ephesians 5 that the Church will be presented to the groom as “glorious, and without spot or wrinkle.” Mary Immaculate reveals the Church Immaculate.
Finally, this wedding is completed and consummated in heaven. There St. John tells us that all Love is completed at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
This nuptial union is driven, enlivened and enabled by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only the fire of love of the Holy Spirit allows this union between Christ and his Church to come to fulfillment and bear the rich fruit he commands.
June means Pentecost and June is the time of the year for weddings. So, Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth and renew the mystical marriage between Christ and his Church.