By Rachele Smith

The Catholic Commentator

For many non-Catholics, and even for some who practice the faith, Mary’s role in the church has often raised confusion. 

These questions, which include “Why is Mary so special?” and “Why do some people call her mother?” take on new significance this month, especially as Americans prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day and the faithful across the world plan special activities for the centennial anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.

Dina Dow, director of the diocese’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, said Mary has been seen as the Mother of God, the “Theotokos,” which is Greek for “God-Bearer” or “Mother of God”

since the beginning of the church.

It was Mary’s “Fiat” or her “Yes,” the giving of her complete self to God and his will in carrying Jesus, that Mary fulfills all that was promised to Eve, the original Mother, who chose her own path away from God, she explained. 

“Mary was Jesus’ first disciple,” Dow said, adding, “Her ‘Yes’ was our salvation. It was our redemption fulfilled.” 

Mary’s special place in God’s plan was also discussed by St. John Paul II.

In his last encyclical released April 17, 2003, “On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church” (“Ecclesia De Eucharistia”), the saintly pope conveyed the similarity between Mary’s “Fiat” at the Annunciation and the “Amen” of the believer who receives Communion.

“Mary became in some way a tabernacle, the first tabernacle in history, in which the son of God was adored by (St.) Elizabeth. And Mary’s gaze contemplating the face of the newborn Christ, cradling him in her arms, is the model that should inspire us, when we receive eucharistic Communion.”

Many faiths recognize the importance of Mary’s role in mankind’s salvation. But why do some people refer to her as “My mother” or “Momma Mary”?

Father Brent Maher, pastor of St. Ann Church in Morganza, said to answer that question, you need to return to the foot of the cross.

According to the Gospel of (St.) John, it was there, during Jesus’ last moments on the cross, that our savior provides for his mother, ultimately providing a mother for all.

“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ ” (Jn 19: 26-27)

“The church has always understood from the beginning that John represented all of us, so it is all of us that takes Mary into our homes. And she becomes the gift of a mother to all of us,” he explained

Dow noted that as Jesus’ children “we are born of faith through baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, and (as such) Mary becomes our mother as well because we are heirs to him and to his kingdom.”

“What mother doesn’t know her son?” she asked, in explaining why Mary is a great intercessor for her children.

“A lot of people say, ‘If you want to get to know someone, ask his mom.’ So, for us to truly understand Jesus and to know who he really is, we go to his mother and ask Mary and through her intercessions and prayers, we fully know Jesus through her,” said Dow, noting how Mary will always lead others to her son.

“Look at the rosary. It’s all about Jesus and reflecting on his life,” she added. 

By demonstrating her love for her son and her love for her children, which Dow explains was shown at the foot of the cross with Mary’s ability to forgive those who rejected her son, the Blessed Mother even uses her last words quoted in Scripture to continue to draw others to Christ.

Dow explains the last words Mary spoke were at the wedding at Cana. Here, she tells her son about the need for more wine, indicating her concern for the family. She then instructs others nearby by saying, “Do whatever he tells you to do,” words that have since been seen as directed toward all of her children. 

Yet, while Mary’s prayers and her guidance are important, Dow explained, “We don’t adore Mary; adoration is only saved for our heavenly father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We throw all of ourselves at him in adoration and praise. But we venerate Mary; we honor her out of respect because her yes was our salvation, and we ask her to pray for us and show us her son.” 

Throughout the centuries, Mary has continued to instruct her children by appearing to believers in various places around the world.

On May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal. Dressed in resplendent white with a crown of gold, she urged the children to pray and say the rosary. She returned to the children over the course of the next six months, always on the 13th day. On her last visit in October, the “Miracle of the Dancing Sun” occurred to help non-believers understand the importance of Our Lady of Fatima’s messages, which included a warning of God’s threatened punishment and included three secrets.

During Mary’s visit at Fatima, the world was engulfed in World War I, yet many believe her apparitions were a warning for the fallen to return to Christ and that her messages foreshadowed World War II and the spread of communism. 

Today, many continue to follow Our Lady of Fatima adhering to her instructions to pray the rosary.

Father Maher explained that while it is good to listen to Mary’s messages, her apparitions are considered private revelations by the church, meaning they are not required to be professed in faith.

“The church holds on to the fact that the public revelation of Jesus is in the Scriptures. That is our salvation. So, even if we don’t follow the apparitions, it’s not like we are missing pieces of the revelation of God,” he said. 

According to Father Maher, private revelations typically hold a message for one person or a group of people for a specific time or place. He noted Mary’s apparitions, which focus on prayer, fasting and saying the rosary, tend to be reminders for her children, similar to the way most moms remind their own children about daily chores and other activities.

Father Maher explained that his own devotion in honoring Mary began when he was a seminarian and noticed that Our Lady was just “always around.” At the request of a fellow seminarian, he joined in a Marian consecration and since that time, has found joy in reflecting on the “eternity of Mary as the mother of my savior, (who is) my life, my hope, my salvation. She is the mother of my joy.”

If you would like to read more about the Blessed Mother, Father Maher and Dow recommend several books, including “Hail Holy Queen” by Scott Hahn; “Thirty Three Days to Morning Glory” by Father Michael Gaitley MIC; “Miracles of Mary” by Michael Durham; “Mary: The Church at the Source” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI); and Hans Urs von Balthasar and St. John Paul II’s March 25, 1987 encyclical on Mary, “The Mother of the Redeemer” (“Redemptoris Mater”).

Our Lady of Fatima Celebrations May 13

St. Joseph the Worker Church in Pierre Part

Procession from church at 3:15 p.m., Rosary 4 p.m., May Crowning and Mass on Virgin Island 4:30 p.m.

St. Ann Church in Morganza

Mass and rosary  4:30p.m

St. Thomas More Church in Baton Rouge

Mass, rosary and viewing of the film  “The 13th Day”  4 p.m.