Homily for Mary Help of Christians Year A 2020
25 May 2020
At their recent conference, the Australian Catholic Bishops entrusted Australia afresh to Mary Help of Christians. They asked that we join them in prayer today, the feast of Mary Help of Christians, Patron of Australia.
Before joining them in prayer, let me offer a word of history and a word of theology.
First the word of history.
The pioneer priest John Joseph Therry who had arrived in Sydney in 1820 had a great devotion to Mary. He placed the site of St Mary’s Cathedral under the protection of the ‘Help of Christians’. Australia’s first Catholic Bishop was an English Benedictine John Bede Polding. He also had a great devotion to Mary. Long before the Pope had declared the doctrine of the immaculate conception, Polding had asked that he be permitted to mention it in the preface of masses offered in Australia.
In 1842, the colonial authorities acquiesced to Rome appointing Catholic bishops for Adelaide and Hobart. Polding was elevated to being an ‘archbishop’. This proved a bit much for the Anglican bishop Broughton who saw this as ‘an act of invasion and intrusion on the part of the Church of Rome’. In September 1844, Polding convened Australia’s first Provincial Council attended by 46 clerics. By this time Polding’s Benedictine dream was starting to give way to the mission and vision of the itinerant Irish clergy who were bringing confession and communion to Catholics spread across the outback. They had no dream of singing in choir, living a monastic life at St Mary’s. The Synod fathers named Mary, Help of Christians, the Patroness of Australia. This distinctively Catholic action would not have done anything to foster better ecumenical relations in the emerging British colonies. But it might have helped forge a more united mission amongst the diverse group of Catholic clergy.
Now the word of theology.
At the Second Vatican Council, the Church fathers debated long and hard where to place Mary in their theological scheme of things. Instead of a separate document on Mary, they decided to place a chapter on ‘the Role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and the Church’ in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium).
Then and since, there was discussion about the desirability of describing Mary as co-Redemptrix. The Council fathers wisely rejected the idea. Instead, they declared (LG62), ‘By her maternal charity, Mary cares for (us), who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until (we) are led into the happiness of (our) true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under (various titles such as) Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.’
With this background of a little history and theology, let’s happily join our bishops in prayer on this national feast day, entrusting our country to Mary Help of Christians:
O Immaculate Mary, Help of Christians, Queen of heaven and
earth, and tender Mother of humanity, at this time when a
pandemic threatens all your children, we entrust to you our
nation, Australia, and all who live in this country.
We commit to your intercession all the members of our
community, beginning with the weakest ones, from the unborn
to the sick, the disabled and the elderly.
We commit to you our families, our young and old, and all who
are vulnerable, those who are quarantined or anxious.
We entrust to your Immaculate Heart those who have lost their
livelihood or employment, our pastors and other essential
service workers, and our leaders at this time.
We implore your intercession especially for the protection of
doctors and nurses and those who minister to the contagious
sick in this crisis.
Reign over us, Mother of God, and teach us how to make the
Heart of Jesus reign and triumph in us and around us, as it has
reigned and triumphed in you!
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).