Commercially speaking, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. But celebrating it does not have to be confined to a single day of the year. Every day can be Mother’s Day if we honor our heavenly Mother and, by extension, our earthly mothers.
“One of the things forgotten by a lot of Catholics is May is the month of Mary,” says Helen Hull Hitchcock, founding director and president of Women for Faith & Family. “This entire month is named after Mary and is dedicated to Mary. The celebration of motherhood is also in this month, and that’s for a very good reason. There’s a strong connection between the two.”
Most people are unaware of the religious connection, Hitchcock explains. In fact, while today Mother’s Day isn’t a religious holiday per se, its origins were.
Since medieval times, May and devotion to Mary were connected, according to the University of Dayton’s Marian Library. Some of the earliest traces go back to the 13th century in Spain. As this devotion spread and developed, Mary was honored with special devotions on every day in May, a custom originating in Italy in the 1780s, then extending as a Marian devotion far and wide by the next century, especially from 1830 on in Europe.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that Mother’s Day was celebrated in the United States. But that first official celebration, in 1908, was a religious one. Anna Jarvis, the founder and promoter, wanted this official day in memory of her mother, whom she had taken care of for quite a number of years. Jarvis requested the celebration in the Methodist church in West Virginia where her mother had taught Sunday school for more than two decades. Jarvis then spent years promoting Mother’s Day to honor mothers, but she was appalled by the growing commercialization, which she never intended.
Mary and Mothers
Father Michael Freihofer makes the connection between mothers and the Blessed Mother often in his homilies to parishioners and a large tourist population in Granby, Colo., where he is pastor of a parish composed of three churches — St. Ann, St. Bernard and Our Lady of Snow.
He explains: “When I preach I say: Every child deserves to feel God’s love through their biological father and the Blessed Mother’s love through their biological mother.”
Father Brian McSweeney, pastor of Our Lady of Loretto Parish in Cold Spring, N.Y., makes the natural tie-in. He explains the relationship builds out of the understanding of our own mother.
“When we can understand that honor and respect due to our own mother, by extension we should understand the love and respect we owe to our heavenly Mother,” he says. “If we love our earthly mothers, how much more should we honor our heavenly Mother?”
The Catechism (963) notes: “She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ … since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head,” quoting from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church).
“Mary has truly become the Mother of all believers,” writes Pope Benedict XVI in his 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est (On Christian Love). “Men and women of every time and place have recourse to her motherly kindness and her virginal purity and grace, in all their needs and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their moments of loneliness and their common endeavors. They constantly experience the gift of her goodness and the unfailing love which she pours out from the depths of her heart.”
So how can we confine honoring a Mother like this to only a few days, or even a month?
Father McSweeney says we have a great model for honoring her as we come to understand how Christ honored his mother. “If it’s good enough for Jesus,” he says, “it should be good enough for us.” It was none other than Jesus who gave Mary to John — and us — from the cross.
John Paul II emphasized this truth in his 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Pilgrim Church), when he wrote: “t is also true of every disciple of Christ, of every Christian. The Redeemer entrusts his mother to the disciple, and at the same time he gives her to him as his mother. Mary’s motherhood, which becomes man’s inheritance, is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual.”
Father Lance Harlow, pastor of St. Charles Catholic Church in Bellows Falls, Vt., and author of Echo of God (EchoOfGod.com) points out, “By an extraordinary grace, she has become our mother and queen with an intimate knowledge of each of her children.”
So one big way we can honor our Blessed Mother that carries through the entire year is to spend time with her. “How do you know you love someone?” asks Father Freihofer. “You want to spend time with him or her. That fosters a sense of thanksgiving because it’s really hard to love what you don’t know.”
Father Freihofer points out one important way to spend time with Mary is through Marian devotions, especially the Rosary. “It honors her because she asks us to pray the Rosary,” he says. “Jesus in private revelations even asked us to pray the Rosary.”
St. Louis de Montfort teaches us that the best way to reach Jesus is through his mother, notes Father McSweeney. The more we honor her, the closer we come to her Son, so this should be part of our daily life on our spiritual journey.
To honor their heavenly mother daily, his parishioners pray the Rosary before the morning Mass, and they attend the weekly Miraculous Medal novena.
For those who can’t attend daily Mass, Father McSweeney advises, “Every family should say the Rosary every day. It’s a great treasure out there that a lot of people don’t take advantage of.”
Then there’s meditating by using a scriptural Rosary or meditating on Scripture passages. Father Freihofer suggests asking the Holy Spirit to make us small and humble and then asking our Blessed Mother to hold our hand and take us to the foot of the cross to be cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus.
Reflecting on a connection with both mothers, Father Freihofer uses a personal example of how his mother, Carol, offered up her own sacrifices for her three children, as Mary does for her spiritual children.
Remembering these sacrifices mothers make, he advises: “We can thank our own mothers on Mother’s Day by praying to the Blessed Mother to help them and return the favor to them. We can pray then for our own mothers to become more like the Blessed Mother.”
Hitchcock notes that even women who don’t have children of their own can relate to our Blessed Mother. For example, there are religious who dedicate their lives caring for the people in the Church, and many Catholic women are deeply involved in the pro-life movement, caring in a motherly way for human life, whether children or an elderly relative or friend. She remembers all women in a Mother’s Day prayer (see WF-F.org/Mothers.html).
If there’s any doubt we should keep the honor of Mother’s Day going all year long, both for our Blessed Mother and our natural mothers, Father Harlow offers us one more consideration connecting our two mothers.
“We must also remember that by baptism our mothers were incorporated into the Kingdom of God and were anointed as ‘priest, prophet and king,’ thereby becoming princesses in the Kingdom,” Father Harlow says. “As such, we should never forget the deference which we owe our mothers as ‘princesses.’
“Mother’s Day takes on a whole new dimension when we understand that Our Lady’s intimate and royal dignity has been transferred to that of our own mothers — by nature and by grace.”
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.