Honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary during the month of May

The following originally appeared in the parish bulletin on May 12, 2013

I want to wish each mother here a happy Mother’s Day! As we do every year, during the Masses today we will have the Church’s blessing specifically composed for mothers on Mother’s Day. People observe this day in different ways: they make a phone call if their mother lives far away, they pray and perhaps visit the cemetery if they have already commended their mothers to God, or they visit or eat with or come to Mass with the woman who brought them into this world. We can all be grateful for our mothers.

Mother’s Day falls during May, which happens to be the month in which we usually honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s not that a Marian feast falls during May, or that we have any record of something in Our Lady’s life that had to do with May. Instead, it’s probably that in the Northern half of the world, where Christianity began, May is when all things seem to be coming to life. It can be mild and lovely in May, and so it’s natural for us to associate this time with the one who brought the Savior into the world.

Almost 1,600 years ago, during a debate about Jesus, the bishops of the Church were trying to find a title for Mary that would speak to the identity of Jesus. Some suggested “Mother of Christ,” fearful of the implications of the title that eventually won out. This dramatic title is “Mother of God,” or Theotokos in the original Greek. The title announces that Mary really gave birth to the human being who was also God.

Our former Holy Father Benedict XVI spoke about this title during a general audience January 2, 2008:

All the other titles with which the Church honors Our Lady then derive from the title “Mother of God,” but this one is fundamental. Let us think of the privilege of the “Immaculate Conception,” that is, of Mary being immune to sin from conception: she was preserved from any stain of sin because she was to be the Mother of the Redeemer. The same applies to the title “Our Lady of the Assumption:” the One who had brought forth the Savior could not be subject to the corruption that derives from original sin. And we know that all these privileges were not granted in order to distance Mary from us but, on the contrary, to bring her close; indeed, since she was totally with God, this woman is very close to us and helps us as a mother and a sister. The unique and unrepeatable position that Mary occupies in the Community of Believers also stems from her fundamental vocation to being Mother of the Redeemer. Precisely as such, Mary is also Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Rightly, therefore, on 21 November 1964 during the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI solemnly attributed to Mary the title “Mother of the Church.”

[You might realize that this is also the name given to the Burnsville parish that was carved out of St. Peter’s parish shortly after that proclamation in 1964.]

Last Saturday, May 4, I was able to concelebrate at a wonderful event. It was the day on which the third-year seminarians at The Saint Paul Seminary were ordained to the diaconate.

 Perhaps you are aware that after the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church restored the permanent diaconate, allowing those dioceses that wished to do so to develop a formation program and ordain men who were either married or unmarried to serve as deacons. In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis our first permanent deacons were ordained in 1978. This marked the end of a long period in which the only deacons were those seminarians who were close to becoming priests. Our current practice today is that after a very intensive period of preparation lasting four years, men who are going to serve permanently as deacons are ordained in the month of September.

The men who are preparing for ordination as priests also serve as deacons, but only for a limited period of time. For example, I was ordained a deacon in November 1996, only six months before I was ordained a priest. Our practice in this Archdiocese has changed, though, to allow a year and a month of diaconal ministry for seminarians before they are ordained to the priesthood. Because they are on their way to becoming priests, they are called “transitional deacons.” In my time there was an effort to downplay diaconal ordination for seminarians. It took place at St. Mary’s Chapel at the seminary, which was only large enough to allow for a handful of guests for each of us. Last Saturday the diaconal ordination was at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, and it was a glorious celebration of the Eucharist in the presence of perhaps 1500 people. There were five men ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and two men ordained for the Archdiocese of Kampala in Uganda. The men make a series of promises that include the commitment to celibacy. Archbishop Nienstedt asked: “In the presence of God and the Church, are you resolved, as a sign of your interior dedication to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind?” Each of the men answered, “I am.” It is a powerful witness to the Kingdom of Heaven, where, as Jesus said, people “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25). Celibacy points to something even better than the best things of this earthly life.

I have been asked to allow one of the new deacons to serve here at St. Peter’s this summer, and I look forward to introducing him to you soon.

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