3 Things Benedict XVI Taught Me About the Blessed Virgin Mary

Without Mary, there would be no Church, or reverence for women, or holy priests.

Juan Martín Cabezalero, “The Chasuble of St. Ildephonsus,” ca. 1670
Juan Martín Cabezalero, “The Chasuble of St. Ildephonsus,” ca. 1670 (photo: Public Domain)

I’m a Catholic woman who often identifies more with Martha than Mary. Three lessons I’ve learned from Pope Benedict XVI’s writings on Mary, the Mother of God, are part of his legacy to the Church, and integral to my scholarship and teaching.

First lesson: No Mary, no Church.

While activism abounds in the academy, the Church alone can offer spiritual healing.

“Producing the world oneself,” Benedict XVI cautioned in his book Mary: Church at the Source, leads to a shallow activism that refuses to bow down and pray for God’s grace.

“When making becomes autonomous,” Benedict XVI wrote, “the things we cannot make but that are alive and need time to mature can no longer survive. … What we need then, is to abandon this one-sided, Western activist outlook, lest we degrade the Church to a product of our design and creation.”

No Mary, no foundation. That’s why Benedict XVI calls Mary the soil of the Church.

The Church is a home. No Mary, no home for the wounded.  No Mary, and the Church becomes nothing but a political organization.

Second lesson: No Marian devotion, no reverence for women and mothers.

What are we to make of the fact that Jesus spent decades subject to the authority of the home?

We are born into families; the faith is passed on person to person; the Church herself has personality as the bride of Christ.

“Only the Marian dimension secures the place of affectivity in faith and thus ensures a fully human correspondence to the reality of the incarnate Logos,” Benedict XVI wrote. Only a faith that is both rational and affective will lead us out of gender warfare and back to embracing “the living mystery of maternity and of the bridal love that makes maternity possible.”

Marian affection ensures the bond with God is also from the heart. All women — those with children and those without — are called to spiritual motherhood, an often-quiet moral power men should revere.

Third lesson: No Mary in liturgy and no Marian feasts, no holy priests.

Priests need to be encouraged to celebrate the Eucharist as central to everything else they do. Liturgy is not about the priest, it’s about the Eucharistic feast. And the liturgical calendar is filled with Marian feasts — the Assumption, the Queenship of Mary, etc. Liturgical hymns like Alma Redemptoris Mater sing doctrine — reminding us that the Church’s teachings are meant to be a jubilant worship of praise.

It would be a mistake to characterize Benedict XVI as someone who opposed Church activism for the oppressed. As he wrote in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), the charitable work of the Church is complementary to its calling to be a home, a place of hospitality and worship at the feet of Jesus.

That’s why it is so important that Benedict XVI explained why Catholic reverence for Mary is so crucial for harmony in the Church, the home and society. Much like me, my students have learned from Mary that to care for the lonely, the addicted, the abused and neglected, the sick and suffering, requires not only action but also a profound life of prayer.