Mary and the Early Church

Post Date: May 5, 2023
Author: Laura Stephens

As the amazing miracle of Jesus’s Resurrection penetrated the hearts of the Apostles and disciples, the work of the Early Church began first timidly and then boldly.  Christ continued to appear to the disciples and Apostles for 40 days after His Resurrection. He taught, loved, healed their hearts, commissioned them to be His leaders, and showed them what they were to do for His Church. During this time Jesus was preparing the Church for when He would return to the Father in Heaven. 

Jesus’s deep love for the Church continues to be felt and shown in the evangelization that the Early Church accomplished. Their efforts were not done alone. On the cross, Jesus gave the Church for all time to the love and protection of His own Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus also promised an Advocate in the Holy Spirit to guide all on their faith journey and to keep the Church faithful to Jesus. 

After the Gospels, Mary is only mentioned once in the Acts of the Apostles, which has some of the stories of the early Church.

When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:13-14

This reference to Mary may seem simple but is a strong statement of Mary’s continual presence with the Early Church. Though Scripture does not give details, I can only imagine the maternal care and guidance she gave to the Apostles.

Marian devotion was developed from the Apostolic times first with the Apostles and those who lived alongside Mary. Love of Mary continued to be shared and developed throughout the growth of the Church.

The oldest historical evidence we have of Marian devotion among early Christians comes from the catacombs. These tombs of the Christian dead, scattered throughout the Mediterranean world, bear witness to their affection for Mary, their hope in her intercession, and their confidence in her place in heaven. As early as the end of the first century after Christ, they began including Mary in frescoes on the walls of the Roman catacombs. At times she is shown with her son; at other times she appears alone. Common images include Mary as the model of virginity and Mary as the orans — the woman at prayer. Scenes of Mary at the Annunciation and the Nativity are also on the walls. (Meet Mary)

Frescos of Mary were painted in the catacombs to inspire and remind the faithful of her presence. There was no written Gospel at this time for them to read and remember Mary’s role in salvation history and in the development of the Church; so these pictures spoke to their hearts of the love of Jesus and Mary.

One of the most significant frescoes is in the catacombs of St. Agnes in Rome. There, Mary stands between Peter and Paul, her arms outstretched to both. Dating back to the first years of Christianity, whenever Peter and Paul appear together in religious imagery, they are symbolizing the one Church of Christ, a Church of authority and of evangelization, a Church for both Jew and Gentile. Mary’s prominent position between the two illustrates the Apostolic Church’s understanding of her as “Mother of the Church.” (Meet Mary)

In the midst of the place where the Christians gathered, especially at the time of the persecutions, the early Christians looked to Mary for strength and guidance. Mary was not just Jesus’ Mother but a Mother for the whole family of God. A Mother to call upon, look to, and to ask intercession for.

The many images of Mary, and their location within the catacombs, also make it clear that the early Christians saw Mary not simply as a historical person, but as a source of protection and intercession. This symbolic use of her image points to the reality of their relationship with her. In seeing her as the Mother of the Church, they saw her relating to them, to all Christians, as any good mother would: protecting them, teaching them, and helping them by her prayers. (Meet Mary)

Mary was instrumental in the Early Church as she kept the Church faithful to Her Son and obedient to Her Spouse, the Holy Spirit. As we begin this month of May which is dedicated to Mary, let us renew within our hearts a great love and appreciation for Mary and the Early Church.

Here are some suggestions for this month:

  • Continue to or start praying a daily Rosary so you can meditate with Mary on the life of Jesus.
  • Stop at noon each day or before bedtime to pray the Regina Caeli (O Queen of Heaven) This replaces the Angelus during Easter and is a beautiful prayer honoring Jesus and Mary.
  • Plant a Mary Garden gathering ideas from this past blog Flowers and a Crown

References:

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

Author: Laura Stephens

Meet Mary quotes retrieved from https://spiritualdirection.com/2020/05/06/meet-mary

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