Today, on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we heard one of the seven last sayings of Jesus from the cross (above — taken from Jn 19:25-27), this one directed to His mother. While we tend to think of these words as Jesus referring to the apostle John, due to Jesus’ next words, let us stop right after this utterance and consider it the moment it left our Lord’s lips.
Christ on the Cross between Mary and St. John
Albrecht Altdorfer (1512)
What must Mary have been thinking at this moment? Jesus is asking her to look at her Son — undoubtedly she looked up intently. Must she not have flashed back through her entire life? (As an aside, such scenes in particular are what made the movie, The Passion of the Christ, so moving for me.) The time as a young teenager when she consented to Jesus’ miraculous conception. The trials of her pregnancy. The joyous birth in a humble stable surrounded by shepherds, animals, and angels. Taking care of the Child, nursing Him, watching Him grow, hearing His first words, and teaching Him about God and the world. Watching her husband train the Boy in his shop. Listening to Him, laughing with Him, crying with Him, seeing Him grow to become a teenager and then an adult. Being the beneficiary of the good work He did in helping the family and then supporting her after Joseph died. Finally, watching Him depart to His public ministry (which she helped kick off by her request at Cana).
And let us not forget the warning she received from Simeon at the presentation of the babe in the Temple. Certainly she must have recalled with vividness his solemn words coming to full fruition in these last moments of Jesus’ life:
“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Lk 2:34-35)
Now this same Child, who was given a love unequaled by any mother in history, was before her, although perfectly innocent, bloody and bruised, at the point of death due to torture. Yet she never lost faith, never broke down, but stood there in testimony of her will being united to God’s will, even if it meant death for her Son.
How can any Christian diminish the role of Mary in salvation history? God chose her from all history to be His mother. Must she not be a perfect vessel? And who knew the Savior better than the woman who consented to His incarnation and then knew Him intimately for thirty years and certainly followed His public ministry? Would not this woman be the perfect person to ask for help in getting to know Jesus? And did anyone else ever give better advice than what were her last words in scripture: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5)?
Let us today come to more fully appreciate the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role in Jesus’ life and our lives. Meditating on the seven dolors (or sorrows) of Mary will help (see here).
I will close with this optional sequence for today’s Mass. It is called Stabat Mater (or Standing Mother). Try, if you are able, to get through it without welling up:
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.
Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole begotten One!
Christ above in torment hangs,
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying, glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
‘Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that mother’s pain untold?
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender Child,
All with bloody scourges rent.
For the sins of his own nation
Saw him hang in desolation
Till his spirit forth he sent.
O sweet Mother! font of love,
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with yours accord.
Make me feel as you have felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ, my Lord.
Holy Mother, pierce me through,
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Savior crucified.
Let me share with you his pain,
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with you,
Mourning him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live.
By the cross with you to stay,
There with you to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of you to give.
Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share your grief divine.
Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of yours.
Wounded with his every wound,
Steep my soul till it has swooned
In his very Blood away.
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In his awful judgment day.
Christ, when you shall call me hence,
Be your Mother my defense,
Be your cross my victory.
While my body here decays,
May my soul your goodness praise,
Safe in heaven eternally.