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Papal Library

Signum Magnum-Pope Paul VI-The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Signum Magnum Apostolic Exhortation Pope Paul VI The Great Sign May 13, 1967 Introduction Part I Part II To the catholic bishops of the world, Venerable brothers, health and apostolic blessings Introduction The great sign which the Apostle John saw in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun,(1) is interpreted by the sacred Liturgy,(2) not without foundation, as referring to the most blessed Mary, the mother of all men by the grace of Christ the Redeemer. The memory, venerable brothers, is still vivid in our mind of the great emotion we felt in proclaiming the august Mother of God as the spiritual Mother of the Church, that is to say, of all the faithful and of the sacred pastors, as the crowning of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, after having solemnly promulgated the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.(3) Great also was the happiness of numerous Council Fathers, as well as of the faithful, who were present at the sacred rite in St. Peter's basilica and of the entire Christian people scattered throughout the world. The memory came spontaneously to many minds of the first grandiose triumph achieved by the humble handmaid of the Lord(4) when the Fathers from East and West, gathered in an ecumenical council at Ephesus in the year 431 greeted Mary as Theotokos-genitrix of God. The Christian population of the illustrious city associated themselves with a jubilant impulse of faith with the exultance of the Fathers and accompanied them with torchlights to their dwellings. Oh! with how much maternal satisfaction the Virgin Mary must have looked on the pastors and the faithful in that glorious hour of the history of the Church, recognizing in the hymns of praise, raised in honor principally of the Son and then in her own, the echo of the prophetic canticle which she herself on the impulse of the Holy Spirit had raised to the Most High: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid; for, behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; because He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.(5) On the occasion of the religious ceremonies which are taking place at this time in honor of the Virgin Mother of God in Fatima, Portugal, where she is venerated by countless numbers of the faithful for her motherly and compassionate heart,(6) we wish to call the attention of all sons of the Church once more to the indissoluble link between the spiritual motherhood of Mary, so amply illustrated in the (council's) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church(7) and the duties of redeemed men toward her, the Mother of the Church. Once it is acknowledged, by virtue of the numerous testimonies offered by the sacred texts and by the holy Fathers and remembered in the constitution mentioned above, that Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer(8) has been united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie(9) and that she has a most singular role in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and of the Mystical Body,(10) that is to say, in the economy of salvation,(11) it appears evident that the Virgin is rightly honored by the Church with a special veneration,(12) particularly liturgical,(13) not only as the most holy Mother of God, who took part in the mysteries of Christ,(14) but also as the Mother of the Church.(15) Nor is it to be feared that liturgical reform, if put into practice according to the formula the law of faith must establish the law of prayer(16) may be detrimental to the wholly singular veneration(17) due to the Virgin Mary for her prerogatives, first among these being the dignity of the Mother of God. Nor is it to be feared that the greater veneration, liturgical as well as private, given to her may obscure or diminish the adoration which is offered to the Incarnate Word, as well as to the Father and to the Holy Spirit.(18) Accordingly, without wishing to restate here, venerable brothers, the traditional doctrine of the Church regarding the function of the Mother of God on the plane of salvation and her relations with the Church, we believe that, if we dwell on the consideration of two truths which are very important for the renewal of Christian life, we would be doing something of great utility for the souls of the faithful. Part I The first truth is this: Mary is the Mother of the Church not only because she is the Mother of Christ and His most intimate associate in the new economy when the Son of God took a human nature from her, that He might in the mysteries of His flesh free man from sin,(19) but also because she shines forth to the whole community of the elect as a model of the virtues.(20) Indeed, just as no human mother can limit her task to the generation of a new man but must extend it to the function of nourishing and educating her offspring, thus the blessed Virgin Mary, after participating in the redeeming sacrifice of the Son, and in such an intimate way as to deserve to be proclaimed by Him the Mother not only of His disciple John but-may we be allowed to affirm it-of mankind which he in some way represents,(21) now continues to fulfill from heaven her maternal function as the cooperator in the birth and development of divine life in the individual souls of redeemed men. This is a most consoling truth which, by the free consent of God the All-Wise, is an integrating part of the mystery of human salvation; therefore it must be held as faith by all Christians. But in what way does Mary cooperate in the growth of the members of the Mystical Body in the life of grace? First of all, by her unceasing prayers inspired by a most ardent charity. The Holy Virgin, in fact, though rejoicing in the vision of the august Trinity, does not forget her Son's advancing, as she herself did in the pilgrimage of the faith.(22) Indeed, contemplating them in God and clearly seeing their necessities, in communion with Jesus Christ, who continues forever and is therefore able at all times to intercede for them,(23) she makes herself their Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix and Mediatrix.(24) Of this intercession of hers for the People of God with the Son, the Church has been persuaded, ever since the first centuries, as testified to by this most ancient antiphon which, with some slight difference, forms part of the liturgical prayer in the East as well as in the West: We seek refuge under the protection of your mercies, oh Mother of God; do not reject our supplication in need but save us from perdition, O you who alone are blessed.(25) Nor should anyone believe that the maternal intervention of Mary would prejudice the predominant and irreplaceable efficacy of Christ, our Savior. On the contrary, it draws its strength from the mediation of Christ of which it is the luminous proof.(26) But the cooperation of the Mother of the Church in the development of the divine life of the souls does not come to an end with the appeal to the Son. She exercises on redeemed men another influence: that of example. An influence which is indeed most important, according to the well-known axiom: Verba movent, exempla trahunt (Words move, examples attract). In fact, just as the teachings of the parents become far more efficacious if they are strengthened by the example of a life conforming with the norms of human and Christian prudence, so the sweetness and the enchantment emanating from the sublime virtues of the immaculate Mother of God attract souls in an irresistible way to imitation of the divine model, Jesus Christ, of whom she was the most faithful image. Therefore the council declared: The Church, devotedly meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, enters more intimately into the supreme mystery of the Incarnation and becomes ever increasingly like her Spouse(27). Furthermore, it is well to bear in mind that Mary's eminent sanctity was not only a singular gift of divine liberality. It was also the fruit of the continuous and generous cooperation of her free will in the inner motions of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the perfect harmony between divine grace and the activity of her human nature that the Virgin rendered supreme glory to the Most Holy Trinity and became the illustrious ornament of the Church, which thus greets her

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