The Priesthood and Spiritual Maternity

The vocation to be a spiritual mother for priests is largely unknown, scarcely understood, and, consequently, rarely lived, notwithstanding its fundamental importance. It is a vocation that is frequently hidden, invisible to the naked eye, but meant to transmit spiritual life. Pope John Paul II was so convinced of its importance that he established a cloistered convent in the Vatican where nuns would pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.

~ Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity (2007)

The vocation of woman—intended by God from the very beginning—is to bear the image of divine action. Every mother fulfills this vocation because the soul of every child is infused by the hand of God. The Creator has fashioned the womb into the most beautiful of gardens, planting it between heaven and earth. As mother, she becomes a coworker with the Divine, cooperating with the providential designs of God, who has deigned that women should receive a most sublime vocation, namely, to deliver the precious gift of life to both manger and crib. One might even say that the secret desire of every feminine soul is to cooperate with the Divine, to offer herself as a total gift, to be nothing else but “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).

Since the vocation of every woman is to cooperate with the Divine, that is to say, to become a physical or spiritual mother, the Church has formally recommended the spiritual adoption of priests to feminine souls. The prototype of every woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, offered herself to the Creator as total gift, and thus became the Mother of God. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, as virgin and mother. In a similar way, any woman can offer herself as a gift to the Father in order to spiritually adopt “another Christ” (alter Christus). Whether in the Carmelite convent (St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus) or on a forgotten hospital bed (Bl. Alexandrina da Costa) or even amid Communist persecution (Anna Stang), women can adopt priests—either known or unknown—and accept every trial and make every sacrifice to support and to strengthen their mission.

In 2007, the Congregation for the Clergy published a little-known booklet entitled Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity. The document provides various statements and historical anecdotes, complemented by pictures, in order to illustrate the efficacious nature of spiritual maternity. Evidenced by the assortment of priests and religious who have experienced the graces of spiritual adoption, any woman can offer her trials and sacrifices for a specific priest or priests.

The booklet begins with a letter addressed to all diocesan ordinaries, written by Claudio Cardinal Hummes (then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy). In the letter, Hummes exhorts bishops to promote “proper cenacles in which clerics, religious and lay people … devote themselves to prayer, in the form of continuous Eucharistic adoration in a spirit of genuine and authentic reparation and purification.” In so doing, the Congregation intends to bring about

… a movement of prayer, placing … continuous Eucharistic adoration at the center, so that a prayer of adoration, thanksgiving, praise, petition, and reparation, will be raised to God, incessantly and from every corner of the earth, with the primary intention of awakening a sufficient number of holy vocations to the priestly state and, at the same time, spiritually uniting with a certain spiritual maternity—at the level of the Mystical Body—all those who have already been called to the ministerial priesthood and are ontologically conformed to the one High and Eternal Priest.

Throughout the history of the Church, women have accompanied priests through prayer, sacrifice, and acts of reparation, assisting them with their self-offering, prayer, and life of penance. Today, the vocation to be a spiritual mother for priests is timely, needed, and of the utmost importance. Nevertheless, it is a vocation that is frequently misunderstood and seldom lived. While I have often credited my aspiration to the priesthood and religious life to the prayers and sacrifices of my dear mother, I wish also to acknowledge those hidden women who have offered trials and sacrifices in support of my vocation. Let us pray that more women will spiritually adopt seminarians, priests, and bishops!

Image: El Greco, Christ Taking Leave of His Mother. Photo by Sharon Mollerus (CC BY 2.0).

From Dominicana Journal