Tuesday, March 12 has arrived. The Cardinals will commence the conclave in which the new Holy Father will be elected. Over the ensuing day(s), the Cardinal electors will cast their ballot. Once a 2/3 majority has been reached, the Cardinal Deacon will proclaim a great joy, Habemus Papam. In their remarks before teh Urbi et Orbi blessing, our most recent Holy Fathers, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both referenced Mary in their remarks. As we await the announcement of the next Habemus Papam, let us look briefly at their references.
John Paul II
Praised be Jesus Christ! Dear brothers and sisters, we are still all very saddened by the death of the very dear Pope John Paul I. And now the most eminent cardinals have called a new bishop of Rome. They called him from a far-away country…far, but always near in the communion of faith and the Christian tradition. I was afraid in receiving this nomination, but I did it in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and with total trust in his Mother, the Most Holy Madonna. I don’t know if I can express myself well in your – in our – Italian language. But if I make a mistake, you will correct me. And so I introduce myself to you all, to confess our common faith, our hope, our trust in the Mother of Christ and of the Church, and also to begin again on this path of history and of the Church with the help of God and with that of men.
There are a few important points that indicate the initial Marian fervor of John Paul II’s papacy. First, he acknowledged the maternal role of Mary, not only of Christ, but also of the Church. Secondly, he regarded the holiness of Mary by saluting her as the “Most Holy Madonna.” Thirdly, it was evident that John Paul II had a great deal of trust in the intercession of Mary as he referred to trust twice. In his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, John Paul II described his election: “It was to Christ the Redeemer that my feelings and my thoughts were directed on 16 October of last year, when, after the canonical election, I was asked: “Do you accept?” I then replied: “With obedience in faith to Christ, my Lord, and with trust in the Mother of Christ and of the Church, in spite of the great difficulties, I accept”(Redemptor Hominis, 2). In his remarks to those gathered at St. Peter’s Square, John Paul reiterated the acceptance he gave in the conclave. The best summation of John Paul II’s trust in the Virgin Mother perhaps was best seen in his motto, Totus Tuus, Totally Yours.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, After the great Pope John Paul II, the Lord Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to act, even with inadequate instruments and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy of the Risen Lord, trusting in His permanent help, as we go forward the Lord will help us, and His Mother, Mary Most Holy, will be at our side. Thank you.
Similar to John Paul II, Benedict referred to Mary both as Mother and Most Holy. He indicated a certain degree of trust in Mary, but not as explicit as John Paul II’s. Benedict saw Mary as a guide, as someone who would journey with the Church and be at her side.
The Next Holy Father
And so now we wait for the signal of white smoke and tolling bells for the initial words of our next Holy Father. John Paul II and Benedict XVI had a beautiful way of writing and speaking about the Virgin Mary throughout their papacy, but it all started from their papal announcement. Now we will wait to see if the new Holy Father will follow his two immediate predecessors.