Why do we call Mary the Mother of Mercy?
With both the Marian month of May and Mother’s Day on the horizon, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on this title.
St. Faustina Kowalska tells us she heard Mary refer to herself by this name: "I am not only the Queen of Heaven, but also the Mother of Mercy and your mother" (Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul, 330).
And Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of Mary using this title during his Angelus message shortly after celebrating Mass at Amman International Stadium during his Holy Land trip in May 2009.
"During the Mass, I spoke about the prophetic charism of women as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace," Benedict said. "The supreme model of womanly virtue is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace."
A Model for Mothers
The Mother of Mercy is the ultimate motherly model to follow, according to Catholic mothers.
Sarah Swafford, speaker and founder of EmotionalVirtue.com, believes this Marian title is a beautiful model and source of inspiration for moms.
"As mothers forming and shaping our children, we have to remember that no one is perfect — not our children, and certainly not us," says Swafford, who will appear on EWTN this summer in a miniseries on relationships.
"Mothers show mercy in the way that they are always there, ready to pick you up, dust you off, give you a hug and put you back on the right path again," she says, sharing how she assists her own children, who are 2, 6 and 8 years old.
Swafford says it’s important for mothers to also practice forgiveness with their children, offering understanding, patience, love and mercy.
"Whether it is in my home with my small children or in my ministry with teens and young adults, I always seem to find myself reaching out and whispering the same words that Our Lord and Mary whisper to us, ‘You are loved and forgiven; you can start over. Let’s do this together.’"
Lisa Hendey, author and founder of CatholicMom.com, concurs. The Mother of Mercy is the perfect spiritual intercessor for mothers in today’s busy and complex world, she says.
"In our role as moms, we are called not only to care for and nurture our families, but, often, to be there to pick up the pieces when things go awry," explains Hendey. "From teaching toddlers through time-outs to helping errant teens understand mistakes they have made and the ramifications for their souls, today’s moms aim to emulate and turn to Our Lady of Mercy, who intercedes on behalf of us in our most sinful, fragile state."
Mary’s Mercy Points to Jesus
St. John Paul II knew well the help our Mother of Mercy could and would give to those who asked her for it. In his 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), in the section titled "Mother of Mercy," he wrote:
"Mary is Mother of Mercy because her Son, Jesus Christ, was sent by the Father as the revelation of God’s mercy (John 3:16-18). Christ came not to condemn, but to forgive, to show mercy (Matthew 9:13). And the greatest mercy of all is found in his being in our midst and calling us to meet him and to confess, with Peter, that he is ‘the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16)."
Consequently, mothers act with great mercy when they lead their children to Jesus.
John Paul II also emphasized that Mary’s mercy is rooted in love. "Not having known sin, she [Mary] is able to have compassion on every kind of weakness. She understands sinful man and loves him with a mother’s love. Precisely for this reason, she is on the side of truth and shares the Church’s burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power."
The Power of Marian Prayer
Joan Maroney follows this example of Mary — and encourages others to do the same. She and her husband, Dave, founded and now direct Mother of Mercy Messengers, an official apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
They recommend praying the Chaplet of the 10 Evangelical Virtues of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, which focuses on the Blessed Mother’s example of purity, prudence, humility, faith, devotion, obedience, poverty, patience, mercy and sorrow.
Praying this chaplet "helps you grow in the virtues of the Blessed Mother," says Maroney, including growing in mercy.
She recalls a trip to the airport for a family vacation, when all the flights and schedules were a mess, and frustrated people were yelling at the workers behind the counter.
She and her husband exhibited mercy, which did not escape the notice of their 11-year-old daughter, Erika, who told her: "Mom, you were so calm. You really helped those people. Everyone else was yelling at them, but you helped them feel better and gave them relief."
Reflecting on that simple act of mercy, Maroney says, "We were witnesses of being merciful to others and putting ourselves in their situation. That spoke volumes to our kids."
This kind of mercy is reflected in a Marian prayer Hendey shares from the late Divine Word Father Lawrence Lovasik, which begins: "You are called the Mother of Mercy because God has given you power to deal with every sort of misery to which mankind is subjected. … It was his will that you dispense mercy by helping sinners, healing the sick, relieving the distressed and comforting the sorrowful everywhere."
"As a mom with young-adult sons, I turn to Our Lady of Mercy for her constant companionship," Hendey says. "Now that my boys are in college and outside our home, my role as a mother is to be an ever more vigilant prayer warrior for these young men. My teaching, feeding, nursing and care for them continues in new and ever evolving ways. This is my life’s greatest blessing. It is not without moments of pain and frustration, but in the end, I know that the mothering I give my children is a tiny gift I also offer to Our Lord."
Hendey says Mary’s example should be compelling to all women, not just those who have given birth, because each women has "the instinct to protect" the weak and the vulnerable.
Turning to Mary’s mercy was a mainstay for St. John XXIII, too. He often prayed the following prayer: "When I was a child, I learned to love you as a Mother, turn to you in danger and trust your intercession. You see in my heart the desire to know the truth, to practice virtue, to be prudent and just, strong and patient, a brother to all."
His current successor, Pope Francis, is always cognizant of Mary’s aid. As he tweeted in February, "Our Lady is always close to us, especially when we feel the weight of life with all its problems."
This sentiment is echoed by St. John Paul II in The Splendor of Truth: "At the end of these considerations, let us entrust ourselves, the sufferings and the joys of our life, the moral life of believers and people of goodwill … to Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy."
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.