Feast of Pentecost, 1987

Pastoral Letter on Our Lady

It is almost a year since I joined you to share your hopes and dreams, your cares and your needs as servants of this local Church. We have been in communication often, thank God, in the course of these eleven months. I have met and talked with many of you and listened to your hearts, and have tried to respond, the best I could, to the concerns which you have shared with me. I am grateful to you that you have received me so warmly, accepted me in your service and supported me in your prayers. In a special way, I thank you for the prayers that have been offered for me on the occasion of my tenth anniversary as a Bishop which I celebrate this month.

This is the first time that I am writing to you in the form of a brief pastoral letter. I use this form now both at the request of the newly-appointed Archdiocesan Committee for the Marian Year - the worldwide celebration of our Church which begins June 7 - and because it seemed so appropriate that this first pastoral of mine might speak of Mary the ever blessed Virgin Mother of God, of her whom we hail as the gate through which the Savior saw fit to enter the confines and the confusion of our mortal world. Pope John Paul II's Encyclical on the Mother of the Redeemer, in which he set the theological foundations for the Holy Year, speaks of Our Lady in the sacred scriptures and in the life of the Church.

In a beautiful reflection, the Holy Father writes of her early years of childhood and youth, of those mystery years when quietly and gently - and unbeknownst to her - the Almighty Father was preparing Mary to become the mother of His divine Son. These are the years before the fullness of time had arrived, the years in which she, who was immaculately conceived, must constantly have grown in virtue and holiness so that at their conclusion, the angel might truly greet her in the words of the Gospel "hail full of grace". As the Father of Creation looked upon the human race in these days before the Incarnation, she must have shone like a flawless diamond among her neighbors and companions, brilliant as the morning star, awesome as an army in battle array!

In those days, before the Holy Spirit came upon her and the Word became flesh within her womb, she was the extraordinary witness to the faithfulness of the promise which God had made that He would redeem the world and open up again the gates of heaven. In the obscure village of Nazareth, living totally in the presence of God, quietly and simply, never ever dreaming of the role that she would be asked to play in the history of the world's salvation, Mary is the bridge between the expectations of Israel and the fulfillment which takes place in Jesus. In these years, as she grows in wisdom and in grace until the fullness of time, she teaches us that life's greatest gift is to live in the friendship of God.

Ever since the early days of our holy Church, Christians have loved the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this we have fittingly followed the example of her Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who must have loved His mother with a love we cannot begin to describe. We reverence her virtues, we venerate her holiness, we are inspired by the wonder of her life, by her closeness to God, by her mysterious participation in the drama of our salvation. We realize fully well that she is just a human being like ourselves, but it is this which makes her all the more approachable, the more understanding, the more near to us in our troubles and our joys.

The ancient Fathers of the Church taught that it is in our relationship with Mary that we often find the test of faith of the true Christian. For that reason they would praise her as one who has destroyed all the heresies of the world. Indeed the way we look at Mary is a sign of the way we look at Christ, her son. Those who deny that she is truly the Mother of God either make Jesus a mere man or fall into the old rejected heresy of Adoptionism. Those who would see her as more than a human being attack the essential humanity of her Son, who takes His sacred humanness from her alone. She is the standard on which our Christology must stand or fall. She is God's mother and our own.

Her closeness to the Trinity as the well beloved daughter of the Father, the faithful Spouse of the Spirit, the Mother of the Son, is both the source of her great power and the model of our own relationship with God. Mary's example of prayerfulness calls us to conversation with the Lord. Her example of courage challenges us to valiant Christian living. Her gentleness and love inspire us to overcome our pride and sinfulness, our sin.

As we draw close to the two thousand years of the Christian era, Pope John Paul II calls us to concentrate our vision on Mary, who two thousand years ago was preparing for the coming of the Messiah, never dreaming that He would come into the world as her own beloved son. We too must prepare for the wonders of the third millennium of the good news of our salvation. We now know more than Mary did in the dark days before the Incarnation. We know that He has come, the Messiah and Lord.

We know the message of love and peace He brought with Him, and that He put the red seal of His blood on it to ratify it in His Passion. We know that He has risen for our justification and that He will come again, that He has sent His Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of our sins. We know that He has willed to be present still in His Church and in the power of His sacraments. In a special way we know that He has given us His mother to be our model and our hope, the cause of our joy and the refuge of sinners.

Let us turn to her with ever more determined steps and call on her powerful intercession. After all, she is the great patroness of the Church of Newark. It is then into these mother's hands that I entrust all our hopes and dreams, our needs and burdens, the weaknesses and the failings of this Archdiocese, as well as its strength and its glories. May she turn her eyes of mercy towards us and, after this our exile, show unto us Jesus, the blessed fruit of her virginal womb. Amen.

The Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick, Ph.D
Archbishop of Newark

Related Links :
Ineffabilis Deus (On the Immaculate Conception; Pius IX, 1854)
Supremi Apostolatus Officio (On Devotion of the Rosary; Leo XIII, 1883)
Deiparae Virginis Mariae (Query on the Assumption; Pius XII, 1946
Fulgens Corona (Proclaiming a Marian Year; Pius XII, 1953)
Ad Caeli Reginam (Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary; Pius XII, 1954)
Signum Magnam (On Our Lady; Paul VI, 1967)
Marianus Cultus (On Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; Paul VI, 1974)
Redemptoris Mater (On the Blessed Virgin Mary; John Paul II, 1987)
The Great Sign - Mary, Mother of the Church - Pope Paul VI
On Prayers to Mary for Peace - Paul VI, September 1966

Archbishop McCarrick's Pastoral Letters