Bishop's Interview: Honoring Mary, all mothers during May
Editor: Traditionally we as Catholics honor Mary, the mother of God, in the month of May. Why is this?
Bishop Vásquez: In the U.S., mothers are honored on the second Sunday of May. So, as we celebrate our own mothers on Mother’s Day, it is fitting that during the month of May we also celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus and the mother of the church. To be clear, we, as Catholics, love and honor Mary, but we worship God. We revere Mary because of her special role in salvation history as the mother of Christ.
“Predestined from eternity … the Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord … she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace,” according to Lumen Gentium (61).
During the month of May, in our parishes and in our homes, we are encouraged to pray to Our Blessed Mother asking her intercession. Some of the practices that the church recommends to honor Mary include praying the rosary, praying the Regina Coeli, praying litanies to Mary, consecrating ourselves to Mary and wearing the brown scapular or other Marian medals.
Editor: Mary plays a large role in our faith, so let’s go through some of those frequently asked questions. The first being that Mary was born without sin. How do we know this?
Bishop Vásquez: Primarily, we know this through faith and tradition. There is no place in Scripture that explicitly says Mary was born without sin, but it is inferred in the New Testament in the Gospel of Luke 1:28 and recited in the prayer, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace…” The church’s understanding is that Mary was kept pure and immaculate from sin from the moment of her conception.
This was solemnly defined in 1854, when Pope Pius IX proclaimed “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
What the dogma of the Immaculate Conception says is that Mary has this most special privilege given to her by God. Original sin is something we all inherit, but Mary was preserved from sin by God’s grace. We believe that Mary was as the Angel Gabriel proclaims in the Gospel of Luke “full of grace;” therefore, she was free from sin throughout her life. This grace that was extended by God to Mary is very unique, which is one of the reasons she is special to us as Catholics.
Editor: Another question that comes up often is Mary’s assumption into heaven and thus calling her the Queen of Heaven. Tell us about that.
Bishop Vásquez: The Assumption of Mary is another one of the dogmas of the church that was solemnly defined in 1950 by Pope Pius XII and more clearly defined in Lumen Gentium (59): “Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, on the completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe ...”
The Assumption of Mary, which we celebrate as a church on Aug. 15, is a wonderful tradition. Mary is the greatest of all saints, the mother of Jesus, our Savior and Lord, so we believe that God allowed Mary to experience heaven immediately upon her death.
It is important that we distinguish between the Ascension of Jesus Christ and the Assumption of Mary. We believe that Jesus gloriously ascended into heaven under his own power. Whereas Mary was assumed into heaven meaning she was taken into heaven not under her own power but by the power of God.
Editor: Cultures around the world celebrate Mary in a variety of ways. There have been many apparitions to the different cultures. Why do you think this is?
Bishop Vásquez: God has allowed Mary to appear to people throughout time in different parts of the world. This is a grace given to certain individuals, including the well-known apparitions to San Juan Diego, St. Bernadette and the three children at Fatima. In these apparitions, certain common elements are found. First, in all these apparitions, Mary speaks about her Son, Jesus Christ, as the one who saves and redeems us. Also, Mary desires that all come to know and trust Jesus.
As I’ve said, God allows Our Lady to appear to people in various times and places and for particular reasons. Mary has great affinity for us, her children, and particularly for the poor and those who are suffering. God allows her to be present to them and to bring them the message of hope, which is Jesus Christ. Typically, her message is one of encouragement and forgiveness of sin and repentance which leads us to celebrate the sacrament of penance. Her words always reflect God’s mercy and love for us.
In these Marian apparitions such as Guadalupe in Mexico, Lourdes in France or Fatima in Portugal, Mary invites us to come and experience the presence of God by drawing close to her. As any good mother, Mary loves her children and desires good things for them. She unites herself with those who are suffering and God uses her to convey his consolation, mercy and love for all. Mary’s love for Jesus, as she accompanied him throughout his life and journeyed with him to his passion and suffering on the cross, is extended to us as well. These apparitions are a sign that Mary never abandons us; she wants to be close to us in our moments of suffering.
Editor: As you mentioned before, May is also a time when we honor our earthly mothers. How can we better do that in today’s society?
Bishop Vásquez: Pope Francis has spoken at length about the importance of mothers in the world today. Last January in his catechesis on the family, he thanked all mothers for the sacrifices they make for their children. “A society without mothers would be a dehumanized society, for mothers are always … witnesses of tenderness, dedication and moral strength. Mothers often pass on the deepest sense of religious practice: in a human being’s life, the value of faith is inscribed in the first prayers, the first acts of devotion that a child learns,” Pope Francis said.
The church considers motherhood an esteemed vocation that God has given to certain women. Mothers teach their children the very fundamentals of our faith: to know God, to love him, to serve him and to follow him. Our society needs to honor, appreciate and love our mothers. We must continue to pray for all mothers and give them strength and encouragement on a daily basis.
Editor: What is your prayer for us during the month of Mary?
Bishop Vásquez: May we come to love Mary, the mother of God, more because in loving her we will grow more deeply in love with her Son, Jesus Christ. I pray in a special way for all mothers, living and deceased.