Now we turn to…
The Crucifixion of Jesus. (Matthew 27:34–50, Mark 15:23–37, Luke 23:33–46, John 19:18–30)
If we see Crucifixion as a process, this is also possibly the 10th, 11th, and 12th Stations of the Way of the Cross, namely, Jesus is stripped of His clothes Jesus is nailed to the Cross, and Jesus dies on the Cross. It is also the 5th Sorrowful Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary. Associated with this mystery is the practice during the Triduum of the Seven Words, that is, the phrases in Scripture which Jesus spoke during His physical Crucifixion until His death.
Along the way in these reflections, I have tried to weave together the possibility of Mary’s Sorrows together with Mary’s joy at each of the challenging and painful events in her life with and apart from the Lord, in her life of ministry to and ministry with the Lord. Let’s continue in that vein.
Mary was the most profound minister to Jesus. In His earthly ministry, there were those who accompanied the Lord and provided material help for Him and the Apostles. Mary literally gave her blood and flesh and breath to Him as He was being knit together under her Immaculate Heart. She continued to minister to Him as a child and as a young man. There is a moment when she was outside a house where Jesus was, and she was trying to see Him. Was Mary one of those who, at some remove, accompanied the Apostles and the Lord?
Mary ultimately ministered, ultimately, to the Lord by her presence at their Cross.
Sometimes all you can do is be there.
“They also serve who only stand and wait”, wrote the Calvinist John Milton in Sonnet 19 a defense of sola fides. But at this moment, pivotal in salvation history, Mary is helpless to do any other thing but serve by standing and waiting.
There is nothing for her outwardly to do now, but to wait for the inevitable.
Sometimes I talk on the binomial, “Don’t just be there, do something!” and “Don’t just do something, be there!” In these two we can find a key to our participation at Holy Mass, in which is Calvary renewed.
At the Cross, helpless Mary is still active. She was actively receptive, actively taking in everything that was a going on. She was inwardly actively offering everything in and with her Son up to the Father. Mary’s pattern is reception and pondering, then outward expression.
Receptivity need not be passive and inactive. This is particularly true in the participation of lay people and sacred ministers during the unbloody renewal and re-presentation of Calvary which is Holy Mass. God wants to lavish graces on us through every word and gesture of Mass. We must make acts of will to unite our minds and hearts to everything that is going on, being offered by the priest at the altar. Liturgical receptivity is active, not passive. Mary was active, not passive, in her stillness and receptivity. Mary receives and ponders. Then she offers.
Imagine yourself reaching out with the hands of your eyes, the arms of your ears to take in every thing being offered to you. Now imagine Mary at the foot of the Cross. She does not suffer from the distractions and disordered passions and appetites that we have. She was preserved from them by grace. Mary has the ability to focus even in this horrible moment.
For her entire life with the Lord, from His conception onward, Mary has been preparing and disciplining herself for this very moment.
Say that you were visited by an angel who told you that in five minutes you were going to be given a brief vision of historic Calvary. Would you, during that five minutes, try to calm yourself and get yourself ready? And what about the time of the vision itself? Do you suppose you might strain to take it all in so that it is burned into the memory? What an amazing moment!
Here is Mary at the Cross after 33 years of preparation. How might she be taking it all in?
Let’s return for a moment to the Holy Family’s home in Nazareth. The Lord had dazzled the scholars in the Temple. Would the Lord have then never opened his mouth again, in the family home, to talk with Joseph about the Scripture which they, as pious Jews, would have read and prayed over and studied? What might Mary have heard? As diligent parents, their home would have been filled with the Scriptures.
Deuteronomy 6 provides a foundation of instruction of children, surely conducted perfectly in the Holy Family.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Do you suppose that Joseph would never have asked his Son, “What say you about the portion of Torah we heard?” We know that Christ “grew in wisdom”. What else could that mean but knowledge of the ways of God and how God prepared, through foreshadowing and prophecy, for Him and His saving mission.
Mary, perfectly preserved from sin, mind and emotions unclouded by the appetites and passions we deal with, heard in a way that we don’t. Scripture from Genesis through the Prophets points to the coming of the Messiah, a Davidic King High Priest, a New Moses, a New Adam. They knew who He was. Mary might not have fully grasped what would finally transpire, but she surely knew of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah…
As many were astonished at him –
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the sons of men—
“Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender Child all with bloody scourges rent.”
So shall he startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they shall see,
and that which they have not heard they shall understand.
“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
Examples of fulfillment of Scripture can be multiplied, but I suspect that – in a kind of “grok” – Mary, with all her heart, all her mind, and all her strength, grasped something of supreme meaning of this consummation of salvation history so deeply that she gave herself entirely over to it as an actively receiving participant, offering herself in a perfect oblation, and offered Him, as and through her High Priest Victim, in the very Sacrifice she was witnessing.
With that encompassing “grok” in mind, how might joy and sorrow be at work in Mary in this moment of terrible splendor? Sorrow and joy, dread and ecstasy, pain and exaltation.
Rooted in knowledge of foreshadowing and prophecies, explained even by her Son in the family home, could these hours under the Cross have been for like a countdown?
How angst-laden and exhilarating are countdowns of great earthly events. But this was beyond “Houston the Eagle has landed” or the “Miracle on Ice” or “D-Day” by cosmic orders of magnitude for one who was on the inside track of salvation history: Mary, Mother of the foreshadowed and prophesied Messiah, at the foot of their Cross.
Counting breaths backwards… heartbeats backwards. Tension building…
FIVE – (No… no… my poor baby…) FOUR – (Yes! Go God!) THREE – (NO… please stop the pain….) – TWO – (Father, take Him! It’s time!) ONE – (Any… moment … now… fiat… fiat… fiat…) …
It is finished.
The sound of the RUACH leaving His Body reaches her yearning ears. Her eyes take in the last heave and droop of the head.
The gulf is bridged. The sin of the First Adam and First Eve are resolved. Humanity is freed from the Enemy whose head will be crushed.
As Fulton Sheen said, “Mary’s Fiat was one of the great Fiats of the universe: one made light, another accepted the Father’s will in the Garden, and hers accepted a life of selfless fellowship with the Cross.”
She had lost her earthly Son but knew that everything had been gained.
She stands below her lifeless Lord, daughter of her dead Son, gazing upward and inward.
She stands below her victorious Lord, she turns and looks at John, the newly ordained priest.
Here is her new care, to minister to and to be ministered by.
Like a pup with his hands still perfumed with Chrism and wrapped in the manutergium which will be buried with his mother, Father John’s feet are still damp by Christ’s washing, by the dew of the Garden of agony, and now with mud of the dirt we come from and the Lord’s own still red Blood.
“Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother.”
Let us pray.
O Mary, Queen of the Clergy, you who are the Mother of the Church, the Queen of the missions, the perfect and alluring ideal of all the ecclesiastical virtues, deign to sow, with a magnificent profusion, the graces of the priestly and missionary vocations in the pure hearts of First Communicants; prepare yourself the souls of the young Levites for the formidable duties of the sacred ministry; fill Priests, your favorite sons, with the burning fervor of tireless zeal and adorn them with the holiness and knowledge necessary for their glorious mission.
O Priestly Virgin, you who are the appointed protector of the Catholic hierarchy, enlighten and strengthen our Bishops so that they are the vigilant pastors and active leaders of your people. Extend your powerful protection to our Holy Father, the Pope, so that he guides with a firm and sure hand the Barque of Your Church to the harbor of eternity through the storms and convulsions of the modern world.
O Noble Queen of Heaven and Earth, O blessed warden of my heart, draw all souls to you and bind them to your virginal Heart by the unbreakable bond of a love so pure and so passionate that they live only to love and to please you now, in the shadows of exile, and, soon, in the splendors of the eternal homeland. Amen!
P. Ignace Marie O.F.M. Imprimatur: Fr. Paulus, C.P. Metis, 16.6.1925. E. Emel, vic. gen. (Translation from the French)