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Redemptoris Mater - Pope John Paul II - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Redemptoris Mater Encyclical Letter Pope John Paul II on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Pilgrim Church Addressed by the Supreme Pontiff March 25, 1987 Introduction Part I Part II Part III Conclusion Venerable Brothers and dear Sons and Daughters, Health and the Apostolic Blessing. Introduction 1. The Mother of the Redeemer has a precise place in the plan of salvation, for when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' (Gal. 4:4-6) With these words of the Apostle Paul, which the Second Vatican Council takes up at the beginning of its treatment of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (1) I too wish to begin my reflection on the role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and on her active and exemplary presence in the life of the Church. For they are words which celebrate together the love of the Father, the mission of the Son, the gift of the Spirit, the role of the woman from whom the Redeemer was born, and our own divine filiation, in the mystery of the fullness of time.(2) This fullness indicates the moment fixed from all eternity when the Father sent his Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16) It denotes the blessed moment when the Word that was with God...became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:1, 14), and made himself our brother. It marks the moment when the Holy Spirit, who had already infused the fullness of grace into Mary of Nazareth, formed in her virginal womb the human nature of Christ. This fullness marks the moment when, with the entrance of the eternal into time, time itself is redeemed, and being filled with the mystery of Christ becomes definitively salvation time. Finally, this fullness designates the hidden beginning of the Church's journey. In the liturgy the Church salutes Mary of Nazareth as the Church's own beginning, (3) for in the event of the Immaculate Conception the Church sees projected, and anticipated in her most noble member, the saving grace of Easter. And above all, in the Incarnation she encounters Christ and Mary indissolubly joined: he who is the Church's Lord and Head and she who, uttering the first fiat of the New Covenant, prefigures the Church's condition as spouse and mother. 2. Strengthened by the presence of Christ (cf. Mt. 28:20), the Church journeys through time towards the consummation of the ages and goes to meet the Lord who comes. But on this journey-and I wish to make this point straightaway-she proceeds along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary, who advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and loyally persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross.(4) I take these very rich and evocative words from the Constitution Lumen Gentium, which in its concluding part offers a clear summary of the Church's doctrine on the Mother of Christ, whom she venerates as her beloved Mother and as her model in faith hope and charity. Shortly after the Council, my great predecessor Paul VI decided to speak further of the Blessed Virgin. In the Encyclical Epistle Christi Matri and subsequently in the Apostolic Exhortations Signum Magnum and Marialis Cultus(5) he expounded the foundations and criteria of the special veneration which the Mother of Christ receives in the Church, as well as the various forms of Marian devotion-liturgical, popular and private-which respond to the spirit of faith. 3. The circumstance which now moves me to take up this subject once more is the prospect of the year 2000, now drawing near, in which the Bimillennial Jubilee of the birth of Jesus Christ at the same time directs our gaze towards his Mother. In recent years, various opinions have been voiced suggesting that it would be fitting to precede that anniversary by a similar Jubilee in celebration of the birth of Mary. In fact, even though it is not possible to establish an exact chronological point for identifying the date of Mary's birth, the Church has constantly been aware that Mary appeared on the horizon of salvation history before Christ.(6) It is a fact that when the fullness of time was definitively drawing near - the saving advent of Emmanuel - he who was from eternity destined to be his Mother already existed on earth. The fact that she preceded the coming of Christ is reflected every year in the liturgy of Advent. Therefore, if to that ancient historical expectation of the Savior we compare these years which are bringing us closer to the end of the second Millennium after Christ and to the beginning of the third, it becomes fully comprehensible that in this present period we wish to turn in a special way to her, the one who in the night of the Advent expectation began to shine like a true Morning Star (Stella Matutina). For just as this star, together with the dawn, precedes the rising of the sun, so Mary from the time of her Immaculate Conception preceded the coming of the Savior, the rising of the Sun of Justice in the history of the human race.(7) Her presence in the midst of Israel-a presence so discreet as to pass almost unnoticed by the eyes of her contemporaries-shone very clearly before the Eternal One, who had associated this hidden daughter of Sion (cf. Zeph. 3:14; Zeph. 2:10) with the plan of salvation embracing the whole history of humanity. With good reason, then, at the end of this millennium, we Christians who know that the providential plan of the Most Holy Trinity is the central reality of revelation and of faith feel the need to emphasize the unique presence of the Mother of Christ in history, especially during these last years leading up to the year 2000. 4. The Second Vatican Council prepares us for this by presenting in its teaching the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and of the Church. If it is true, as the Council itself proclaims, (8) that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light, then this principle must be applied in a very particular way to that exceptional daughter of the human race, that extraordinary woman who became the Mother of Christ. Only in the mystery of Christ is her mystery fully made clear. Thus has the Church sought to interpret it from the very beginning: the mystery of the Incarnation has enabled her to penetrate and to make ever clearer the mystery of the Mother of the Incarnate Word. The Council of Ephesus (431) was of decisive importance in clarifying this, for during that Council, to the great joy of Christians, the truth of the divine motherhood of Mary was solemnly confirmed as a truth of the Church's faith. Mary is the Mother of God (= Theote³kos), since by the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived in her virginal womb and brought into the world Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is of one being with the Father.(9) The Son of God...born of the Virgin Mary...has truly been made one of us,(10) has been made man. Thus, through the mystery of Christ, on the horizon of the Church's faith there shines in its fullness the mystery of his Mother. In turn, the dogma of the divine motherhood of Mary was for the Council of Ephesus and is for the Church like a seal upon the dogma of the Incarnation, in which the Word truly assumes human nature into the unity of his person, without cancelling out that nature. 5. The Second Vatican Council, by presenting Mary in the mystery of Christ, also finds the path to a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Church. Mary, as the Mother of Christ, is in a particular way united with the Church, which the Lord established as his own body.(11) It is significant that the conciliar text places this truth about the Church as the Body of Christ (according to the teaching of the Pauline Letters) in close proximity to the truth that the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit was born of the Virgin Mary. The reality of the Incarnation finds a sort of extension in the mystery of the Church-the Body of Christ. And one cannot think of the reality of the Incarnation without referring to Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word. In these reflections, however, I wish to consider primarily that pilgrimage of faith in which the Blessed Virgin advanced, faithfully preserving her union with Christ.(12) In this way the twofold bond which unites the Mother of God with Christ and with the Church takes on historical significance. Nor is it just a question of the Virgin Mother's life-story, of her personal journey of faith and the better part which is hers in the mystery of salvation; it is also a question of the history of the whole People of God, of all those who take part in the same pilgrimage of faith. The Council expresses this when it states in another passage that Mary has gone before, becoming a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.(13) This going before as a figure or model is in reference to the intimate mystery of the Church, as she actuates and accomplishes her own saving mission by uniting in herself-as Mary did-the qualities of mother and virgin. She is a virgin who keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse and becomes herself a mother, for she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.(14) 6. All this is accomplished in a great historical process, comparable to a journey. The pilgrimage of faith indicates the interior history, that is, the story of souls. But it is also the story of all human beings, subject here on earth to transitoriness, and part of the historical dimension. In the following reflections we wish to concentrate first of all on the present, which in itself is not yet history, but which nevertheless is constantly forming it, also in the sense of the history of salvation. Here there opens up a broad prospect, within which the Blessed Virgin Mary continues to go before the People of God. Her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals and for communities, for peoples and nations and, in a sense, for all humanity. It is indeed difficult to encompass and measure its range. The Council emphasizes that the Mother of God is already the eschatological fulfillment of the Church: In the most holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph. 5:27); and at the same time the Council says that the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin, and so they raise their eyes to Mary, who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as a model of the virtues.(15) The pilgrimage of faith no longer belongs to the Mother of the Son of God: glorified at the side of her Son in heaven, Mary has already crossed the threshold between faith and that vision which is face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). At the same time, however, in this eschatological fulfillment, Mary does not cease to be the Star of the Sea (Maris Stella) (16) for all those who are still on the journey of faith. If they lift their eyes to her from their earthly existence, they do so because the Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29), (17) and also because in the birth and development of these brothers and sisters she cooperates with a maternal love.(18) Part I Mary in the Mystery of Christ 1. Full of Grace 7. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). These words of the Letter to the Ephesians reveal the eternal design of God the Father, his plan of man's salvation in Christ. It is a universal plan, which concerns all men and women created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26). Just as all are included in the creative work of God in the beginning, so all are eternally included in the divine plan of salvation, which is to be completely revealed, in the fullness of time, with the final coming of Christ. In fact, the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ-these are the next words of the same Letter-chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:4-7). The divine plan of salvation-which was fully revealed to us with the coming of Christ-is eternal. And according to the teaching contained in the Letter just quoted and in other Pauline Letters (cf. Col. 1:12- 14; Rom. 3:24; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:18-29), it is also eternally linked to Christ. It includes everyone, but it reserves a special place for the woman who is the Mother of him to whom the Father has entrusted the work of salvation.(19) As the Second Vatican Council says, she is already prophetically foreshadowed in that promise made to our first parents after their fall into sin-according to the Book of Genesis (cf. 3:15). Likewise she is the Virgin who is to conceive and bear a son, whose name will be called Emmanuel-according to the words of Isaiah (cf. 7:14).(20) In this way the Old Testament prepares that fullness of time when God sent forth his Son, born of that we might receive adoption as sons. The coming into the world of the Son of God is an event recorded in the first chapters of the Gospels according to Luke and Matthew. 8. Mary is definitively introduced into the mystery of Christ through this event: the Annunciation by the angel. This takes place at Nazareth, within the concrete circumstances of the history of Israel, the people which first received God's promises. The divine messenger says to the Virgin: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you (Lk. 1:28). Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be (Lk. 1:29): what could those extraordinary words mean, and in particular the expression full of grace (kecharitome©ne)?(21) If we wish to meditate together with Mary on these words, and especially on the expression full of grace, we can find a significant echo in the very passage from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above. And if after the announcement of the heavenly messenger the Virgin of Nazareth is also called blessed among women (cf. Lk. 1:42), it is because of that blessing with which God the Father has filled us in the heavenly places, in Christ. It is a spiritual blessing which is meant for all people and which bears in itself fullness and universality (every blessing). It flows from that love which, in the Holy Spirit, unites the consubstantial Son to the Father. At the same time, it is a blessing poured out through Jesus Christ upon human history until the end: upon all people. This blessing, however, refers to Mary in a special and exceptional degree: for she was greeted by Elizabeth as blessed among women. The double greeting is due to the fact that in the soul of this daughter of Sion there is manifested, in a sense, all the glory of grace, that grace which the Father...has given us in his beloved Son. For the messenger greets Mary as full of grace; he calls her thus as if it were her real name. He does not call her by her proper earthly name: Miryam (= Mary), but by this new name: full of grace. What does this name mean? Why does the archangel address the Virgin of Nazareth in this way? In the language of the Bible grace means a special gift, which according to the New Testament has its source precisely in the Trinitarian life of God himself, God who is love (cf. 1 Jn. 4:8). The fruit of this love is the election of which the Letter to the Ephesians speaks. On the part of God, this election is the eternal desire to save man through a sharing in his own life (cf. 2 Pt. 1:4) in Christ: it is salvation through a sharing in supernatural life. The effect of this eternal gift, of this grace of man's election by God, is like a seed of holiness, or a spring which rises in the soul as a gift from God himself, who through grace gives life and holiness to those who are chosen. In this way there is fulfilled, that is to say there comes about, that blessing of man with every spiritual blessing, that being his adopted sons and Christ, in him who is eternally the beloved Son of the Father. When we read that the messenger addresses Mary as full of grace, the Gospel context, which mingles revelations and ancient promises, enables us to understand that among all the spiritual blessings in Christ this is a special blessing. In the mystery of Christ she is present even before the creation of the world, as the one whom the Father has chosen as Mother of his Son in the Incarnation. And, what is more, together with the Father, the Son has chosen her, entrusting her eternally to the Spirit of holiness. In an entirely special and exceptional way Mary is united to Christ, and similarly she is eternally loved in this beloved Son, this Son who is of one being with the Father, in whom is concentrated all the glory of grace. At the same time, she is and remains perfectly open to this gift from above (cf. Jas. 1:17). As the Council teaches, Mary stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently await and receive salvation from him.(22) 9. If the greeting and the name full of grace say all this, in the context of the angel's announcement they refer first of all to the election of Mary as Mother of the Son of God. But at the same time the fullness of grace indicates all the supernatural munificence from which Mary benefits by being chosen and destined to be the Mother of Christ. If this election is fundamental for the accomplishment of God's salvific designs for humanity, and if the eternal choice in Christ and the vocation to the dignity of adopted children is the destiny of everyone, then the election of Mary is wholly exceptional and unique. Hence also the singularity and uniqueness of her place in the mystery of Christ. The divine messenger says to her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High (Lk. 1:30-32). And when the Virgin, disturbed by that extraordinary greeting, asks: How shall this be, since I have no husband? she receives from the angel the confirmation and explanation of the preceding words. Gabriel says to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Lk. 1:35). The Annunciation, therefore, is the revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation at the very beginning of its fulfillment on earth. God's salvific giving of himself and his life, in some way to all creation but directly to man, reaches one of its high points in the mystery of the Incarnation. This is indeed a high point among all the gifts of grace conferred in the history of man and of the universe: Mary is full of grace, because it is precisely in her that the Incarnation of the Word, the hypostatic union of the Son of God with human nature, is accomplished and fulfilled. As the Council says, Mary is the Mother of the Son of God. As a result she is also the favorite daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace, she far surpasses all other creatures, both in heaven and on earth.(23) 10. The Letter to the Ephesians, speaking of the glory of grace that God, the Father...has bestowed on us in his beloved Son, adds: In him we have redemption through his blood (Eph. 1:7). According to the belief formulated in solemn documents of the Church, this glory of grace is manifested in the Mother of God through the fact that she has been redeemed in a more sublime manner.(24) By virtue of the richness of the grace of the beloved Son, by reason of the redemptive merits of him who willed to become her Son, Mary was preserved from the inheritance of original sin.(25) In this way, from the first moment of her conception-which is to say of her existence-she belonged to Christ, sharing in the salvific and sanctifying grace and in that love which has its beginning in the Beloved, the Son of the Eternal Father, who through the Incarnation became her own Son. Consequently, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the order of grace, which is a participation in the divine nature, Mary receives life from him to whom she herself, in the order of earthly generation, gave life as a mother. The liturgy does not hesitate to call her mother of her Creator (26) and to hail her with the words which Dante Alighieri places on the lips of St. Bernard: daughter of your Son.(27) And since Mary receives this new life with a fullness corresponding to the Son's love for the Mother, and thus corresponding to the dignity of the divine motherhood, the angel at the Annunciation calls her full of grace. 11. In the salvific design of the Most Holy Trinity, the mystery of the Incarnation constitutes the superabundant fulfillment of the promise made by God to man after original sin, after that first sin whose effects oppress the whole earthly history of man (cf. Gen. 3:15). And so, there comes into the world a Son, the seed of the woman who will crush the evil of sin in its very origins: he will crush the head of the serpent. As we see from the words of the Protogospel, the victory of the woman's Son will not take place without a hard struggle, a struggle that is to extend through the whole of human history. The enmity, foretold at the beginning, is confirmed in the Apocalypse (the book of the final events of the Church and the world), in which there recurs the sign of the woman, this time clothed with the sun (Rev. 12:1). Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word, is placed at the very center of that enmity, that struggle which accompanies the history of humanity on earth and the history of salvation itself. In this central place, she who belongs to the weak and poor of the Lord bears in herself, like no other member of the human race, that glory of grace which the Father has bestowed on us in his beloved Son, and this grace determines the extraordinary greatness and beauty of her whole being. Mary thus remains before God, and also before the whole of humanity, as the unchangeable and inviolable sign of God's election, spoken of in Paul's Letter: in Christ...he chose us...before the foundation of the world,...he destined be his sons (Eph. 1:4, 5). This election is more powerful than any experience of evil and sin, than all that enmity which marks the history of man. In this history Mary remains a sign of sure hope. 2. Blessed is she who believed 12. Immediately after the narration of the Annunciation, the Evangelist Luke guides us in the footsteps of the Virgin of Nazareth towards a city of Judah (Lk. 1:39). According to scholars this city would be the modern Ain Karim, situated in the mountains, not far from Jerusalem. Mary arrived there in haste, to visit Elizabeth her kinswoman. The reason for her visit is also to be found in the fact that at the Annunciation Gabriel had made special mention of Elizabeth, who in her old age had conceived a son by her husband Zechariah, through the power of God: your kins woman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a Son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible (Lk. 1:36-37). The divine messenger had spoken of what had been accomplished in Elizabeth in order to answer Mary's question. How shall this be, since I have no husband? (Lk. 1:34) It is to come to pass precisely through the power of the Most High, just as it happened in the case of Elizabeth, and even more so. Moved by charity, therefore, Mary goes to the house of her kinswoman. When Mary enters, Elizabeth replies to her greeting and feels the child leap in her womb, and being filled with the Holy Spirit she greets Mary with a loud cry: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! (cf. Lk. 1:40-42) Elizabeth's exclamation or acclamation was subsequently to become part of the Hail Mary, as a continuation of the angel's greeting, thus becoming one of the Church's most frequently used prayers. But still more significant are the words of Elizabeth in the question which follows: And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Lk. 1:43

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