Woman, behold your son ... Behold your mother (John 19:25-27)
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would often say, when asked by non-Catholic Christians about the role of Mary, the Mother of God, in the economy of salvation, “No Mary, no Jesus.” As most of us know from our own experience of growing up, or being married with children, that at the heart of the family is the mother. She is often, especially in this age of disintegrating families, the core, the strength, the person in whom and through whom the family is united. Of course, the Church is a family. It is the family of God, which we enter by rebirth through the waters of Baptism. Hence, we not only speak of the Church as our mother, but of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mater Eccelsia, the Mother of the Church. As the Mother of Christ, she is the Mother of the Church, which is Christ’s Body.
In all this we more than see the dignity and the equality of women. In one of his weekly General Audiences several years ago in the catechesis that brought an end to his “journey among the witnesses of early Christianity mentioned in the New Testament,” Pope Benedict XVI discussed “the many female figures who played an effective and precious role in spreading the Gospel.” In accord, “with what Jesus himself said of the woman who anointed his head shortly before the Passion: ‘Truly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (Mt 26:13; Mk 14:9), their testimony cannot be forgotten” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 14 Feb. 2007).
Among these women, perhaps second only to the Blessed Virgin in prominence, stands St. Mary Magdalene, the patroness of my diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City. “Not only was she present at the Passion, but she was also the first witness and herald of the Risen One” (cf. Jn 20:1.11-18). “It was precisely to Mary Magdalene that St Thomas Aquinas reserved the special title,” apostolorum apostola, or, “apostle of the apostles.” It was of her that the Angelic Doctor wrote this lovely sentence: “just as it was a woman who was the first to announce the words of death, so it was a woman who would be the first to announce the words of life” (Super Ioannem, 2519).
From the very beginning “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). It is woman and man together, then, who make up the imago dei- the divine image.
As Church we witness eloquently to this equality, especially in her rites of Baptism and Matrimony. It is through the waters of Baptism that we are born into God’s family. Our Baptism has radical effects, which are written about beautifully by St. Paul: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).
In the Nuptial Blessing of the rite of Matrimony, after blessing the bride, the minister prays these words:
May her husband entrust his heart to her, so that, acknowledging her as his equal and his joint heir to the life of grace, he may show her due honor and cherish her always with the love Christ has for his Church (The Order of Celebrating Matrimony, sec. 74)The Code of Canon Law, in defining marriage, also makes clear the equality between woman and man: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life” (canon 1055 §1). Partners are equals.
Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, wrote:
The Church gives thanks for each and every woman.... The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine ‘genius’ which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness (sec. 31)Let us be thankful to the Lord for giving us, in his agony, his own Mother. Let us also thank him for guiding his Church and “generation after generation, availing himself equally of men and women who are able to make their faith and Baptism fruitful for the good of the entire Ecclesial Body and for the greater glory of God” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 14 Feb. 2007).