Pope Francis celebrated the first feast of Mary, Mother of the Church Monday saying that without the emphasis placed on motherhood, the Church would be isolated, composed of no more than “old bachelors.”

“Without this dimension, it sadly becomes a church of old bachelors, who live in this isolation, incapable of love, incapable of fecundity. Without the woman, the Church does not advance – because she is a woman. And this attitude of woman comes from Mary, because Jesus willed it so.”

In his homily during Mass May 21, Pope Francis said “the Church is feminine, because it is ‘church’ and ‘bride,’” both of which are grammatically feminine in the Italian language.

The Church is also a mother, “she gives life,” he said, adding that only a feminine Church would be able to have a truly “fruitful attitude” in accordance with the will of God, who chose “to be born of a woman in order to teach us the path of woman.”

Pope Francis spoke during his Mass said in the chapel of the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, marking the first liturgical celebration of the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, which he established in March.

According to the March 3 decree implementing the feast, it was established in order to help encourage growth in “the maternal sense of the Church” and in “genuine Marian piety.” It is celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost.

It was also established, the decree said, to help the Church “remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed.”

The title “Mother of the Church,” was given to the Blessed Mother by Bl. Paul VI.

In his homily, Pope Francis noted that in the Gospels, Mary is not referred to as “the lady” or “the widow of Joseph,” but is rather called “the mother of Jesus.”

The Church itself is feminine, he said, noting that the fathers of the Church say, “even your soul is the bride of Christ and mother.”

“It is with this attitude that comes from Mary, who is Mother of the Church, with this attitude we can understand this feminine dimension of the Church,” the pope said, adding that if this aspect is lost, “the Church loses its identity and becomes a charitable organization or a football team, but not the Church.”

Francis said the primary distinctive quality of a woman is tenderness, which can be seen in Mary’s act of wrapping her newborn son “in swaddling clothing” and laying him in the manger in Bethlehem.

In this action, Mary cared for Christ with meekness and humility, the strongest virtues mothers possess, he said, explaining that “a Church that is a mother goes along the path of tenderness.”

“It knows the language of such wisdom of caresses, of silence, of the gaze that knows compassion,” he said, explaining that this attitude is also representative of those people who live as part of the Church, knowing that they are “[like] a mother [and] must go along the same path: a person [who is] gentle, tender, smiling, full of love.”