An early September tweet from Pope Francis concerning the motherhood of the Virgin Mary caused a minor stir within the Christian blogosphere.

On September 2, the Pope issued this statement from his @Pontifex account: “The Christian who does not feel that the Virgin Mary is his or her mother is an orphan.” The tweet quickly spread around the internet, garnering over 4,000 retweets within a week. Many commenters on the Pope’s account registered their discontent with what they perceived to be a slight to Christians worldwide for whom Mary occupies a less central ecclesial role in the life of faith.

Jennifer Leclaire captures and expresses this sentiment aptly in her Charisma News editorial of the same week, “Pope Francis, Mary Is Not My Mother, and I Am Not an Orphan.” Leclaire’s piece—which itself has garnered over 30,000 shares in about three weeks—leads with scriptural objections to the Pope’s comments, citing Romans, the Gospel of John, and 2 Corinthians by way of advocating all Christians’ adoption into the sonship of Christ, incorporation into whose mystical body enables us too to address God as “Abba, Father.” “Let’s stand with the simplicity of the Gospel,” Leclaire writes, arguing that “Jesus did not exalt [Mary], and neither should we.”

That the Pope's tweet evoked such heated reactions is telling; any Christian who finds herself shocked or scandalized by Francis in this instance should reconsider how well she really knows who he is. Perhaps Francis's typically conciliatory tone (indeed, this tweet itself was probably fashioned in the spirit of ecumenism, much rather than divisiveness) situates his delivery of this message within a matrix more likely to provoke than the 'papal matrices,' if you will, of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whose similar statements on Mary may not have invited such (un)popularity at all. Whatever the case may be in those respects, Leclaire’s argument and others like it bespeak little effort to engage charitably in understanding the ecclesiology behind the Pope’s articulation.

That ecclesiology is expressed succinctly in the final chapter of the 1964 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church—one of only four apostolic constitutions promulgated by the Second Vatican Council: Lumen Gentium.

Chapter VIII, titled “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother Of God In The Mystery Of Christ And The Church,” opens with a forceful expression of Mary’s ecclesial motherhood:

This divine mystery of salvation is revealed to us and continued in the Church, which the Lord established as His body. Joined to Christ the Head and in the unity of fellowship with all His saints, the faithful must in the first place reverence the memory "of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ" (52).

In expressing that the Christian who does not understand Mary to be his or her mother is an orphan, Pope Francis actually uttered a truism: For Mary is the Mother of the Redeemer, who is the head of the mystical body, the Church, whose members all Christians are. Mary is the mother of the head of the body; insofar as Christians are incorporated into the sonship of Christ—his mystical body—we are drawn into dynamic relationship not only with the Father, whom we now call Abba, but also with the theotokos, whom with Christ we can truly call mother. Mary is our mother in the orders of grace and faith. The Christian who does not call her “mother” is, one could say, a half-orphan: He is neglecting a more intimate relationship with her whom by the Church’s own lights does not detract from Christ’s singular mediation but illuminates it:
The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it (LG 60).

Mary’s ecclesial centrality is, as the Pope’s tweet revealed, a contested and regrettably misunderstood Christian subject. Orphaned? Maybe the more precise term would be “filially estranged.” And ecumenical Francis, who calls himself "a son of the Church," wishes to reacquaint all members of the Body of Christ with their mother in faith. We've badly misunderstood Francis's spirituality—and his ecumenical impulse—if we cannot comprehend the man's, and the Church's, powerful profession of Marian motherhood.