Behold Your Mother: Woman of Faith

A Pastoral Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
November 21, 1973

Brief History
Link to Complete Document

Brief History
Behold Your Mother is a pastoral letter addressed to the dearly beloved of the Church in the United States. The bishops promulgated the document on November 21, 1973, the ninth anniversary of Lumen Gentium, The Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. As the document states, the bishops wished to share with the American people their "faith in the truths concerning her." (BYM 1) At the same time, the bishops wished "together with you to express publicly our filial love for her." (BYM 1)

The introduction speaks of Mary's "privileged position in the Church" and upheld the teachings of the popes and councils. (BYM 1) Mary's "special the mystery of the salvation of the human race" is reaffirmed, and devotion to her is encouraged in a time when "the Church seeks to adapt herself to the widespread social and cultural changes of our time." (BYM 2)

The intent of the document is to explain Lumen Gentium, chapter 8, which Behold Your Mother called "a beautiful spiritual shrine in which the Mother of Jesus is honored and from which she continues to speak to us with a mother's loving concern." (BYM 3) The American bishops reaffirm chapter 8 in Behold Your Mother as a synthesis of Catholic teaching in terms of Mary's place "in the mystery of Christ and his Church." (BYM 3)

In a sense, the bishops' initial statement is a manifest of Marian devotion in the United States. The text follows:

(7) Dearly beloved brothers and sisters, this is the faith we share with you:

(8) We honor Mary as the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. We recognize her unique and exalted role in the redemption her son brought to men. We love Mary. We try to imitate her virtues of faith, purity, humility and conformity to the will of God, which are part of the very texture of the Gospel message.

(9) We acknowledge that devotion to Mary, the joyful duty of all of us, has a special function in exalting the dignity of woman and fostering respect for her person. We believe in the power of Mary's intercession to bring us, as individuals and as a community, under the influence of Christ's redeeming mercy.

(10) With all the affection of our hearts and the full submission of our minds to the truths of our holy Faith, we repeat the Church's familiar words in praise of the Mother of Jesus:

Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.

(11) United with our Holy Father, we proclaim once more the preeminent position of Mary in "the mystery of Christ and the Church." We urge the restoration and renewal of the ancient love of Christendom for the Mother of the Lord as a tribute to lay tenderly at her feet. In this Holy Year, we pray that she may fill the hearts of all men with peace and lead them to know and love Jesus Christ, her son, and to share in the abundant fruits of his redemption.

After the initial eleven articles of the introduction, the document covers five major areas:

Our Lady in the Bible;
The Church's Understanding of the Mystery of Mary;
Mary, Mediatrix and Spiritual Mother;
Mary in Our Life; and
Mary, Mother of the Church.

There is also a valuable appendix: Mary's Place in American Catholic History.

As stated above, the document is intended to express and explain counciliar teaching. With the exception of articles 54, 59, 60 and 69, all other articles of Lumen Gentium, chapter 8 are specifically quoted and developed, as is Lumen Gentium 46. Articles 13, 18, and 103 of Dei Verbum, The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, are quoted. The title, Mother of the Church, is also explained, and Mense Maio is mentioned. There is a wide range of sources, for example, the Fathers of the Church, John Henry Newman, and contemporary theologians.

Behold Your Mother devotes the first half of the document to doctrine and scripture, the second part treats Marian devotion and pastoral concerns in the following articles:

Mary and the Priesthood, 119-122
Mary and Religious Men and Women, 123-128
Mary and Family Life, 129-142
Mary and Dignity of women, 141-142
Mary and Youth, 143-144
Mary and Single Life, 145-146
Introduction 1-11
I. Our Lady in the Bible 12-37
II. The Church's Understanding of the Mystery of Mary 38-64
III. Mary, Mediatrix and Spiritual Mother 65-80
IV. Mary in Our Life 81-112
V. Mary, Mother of the Church 113-146
Conclusion 146
Appendix: Mary's Place in American Catholic History 53-55
Link to complete document
For Review of Chapter I. and II. See: Behold Your Mother-Woman of Faith
This document can be found via interlibrary loan.
USCC Publication No. 068-0, 1973

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