A reflection for the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
As I prepared for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Mary, the Theotokos, I considered several readings on which to focus.
The most natural for me, and the one verse I think most beautifully and succinctly captures the strength, faith, courage and importance of Mary is the Annunciation, at Luke 1:38 — “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” Mary’s perfect surrender to the will of God is a constant source of inspiration to me, and is a fitting point of reflection for any day on the example the Mother of God sets for us about courage and faith.
But, the Lectionary readings for today had other plans. The Episcopal Lectionary reading for the Feast of Saint Mary was an equally appropriate reading — The Magnificat.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Mary’s Song of Praise, coming at The Visitation with her cousin Elizabeth, is as instructive as it is beautiful. It teaches us to pray with humility, a willingness to surrender and serve, to accept grace and trust in the strength of God. You can never go wrong reflecting on The Magnificat.
But, it was the reading at Morning Prayer, in the Daily Office readings from the Trinity Mission, that most caught my attention today. The reading is from John’s account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
What stood out to me was the imagery of Mary, standing with John, watching her Son suffer and die on the cross. Imagine the pain, the spiritual martyrdom, suffered that day as Mary stood by her son, even as most his disciples fled. Her pain at Golgotha was predicted by Simeon, in the Song of Simeon of Luke 2, at the Feast of the Circumcision:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35
The Crucifixion is one of Mary’s Seven Sorrows, often depicted as seven swords piercing her heart (from the National Catholic Register):
- The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
- The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
- Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41-50)
- Mary meets Jesus on his way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17)
- Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25-30)
- The body of Jesus taken from the Cross (Psalm 130; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:31-37)
- The burial of Jesus (Isaiah 53:8; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47
When I try to walk with Mary through these Seven Sorrows, her loving presence at Golgotha stands out. It had to have been the strongest of the sorrows. Stand with her there. See the cross stand out against the sky. Watch his blood drip onto the rocky soil. Hear, see and feel the pain. The anguish. His. His Mother’s. The disciple he loved. Stand with them, in the midst of that suffering.
If all the sorrow of the world were distilled into one scene, for me, it would be this one. Mary took on this suffering, for the will of God, for the Love of her Son, for us and our salvation. And Jesus, seeing his mother and John standing nearby, gives us the last teaching of his pre-Resurrection ministry:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
Moments from his death, Jesus gives us his last teaching from the cross. He calls to us from the cross: Behold, your Mother! Behold, your son; your daughter; your sister; your brother!
When we experience suffering, when the pain is too great, Christ calls to us from the cross: Behold, your Mother! Mary is there for us. She stands there with us, to suffer with us, to guide us to her Son, to take on the role of our Heavenly Mother when we need her (which is, if we’re open and honest, I think, always).
When we see others suffering, Jesus points to St. John. Stand with the suffering. Be there for them. Be one with them. Be a witness to the cross for them. Take them into the center of your being, as John took Mary into his home. Take her into your heart likewise, and let her stand with you, and with any who suffer.
We all will suffer sorrows, great and small. Sometimes, bearing witness at the cross will heighten our worldly sorrows. The cross is, in truth, a hard and painful walk. But, if we’re willing to open our hearts to her, if we’re willing to stand with St. John and be such a disciple to others who suffer, the Blessed Virgin Mary will never leave us. Her love is as perfect as her Immaculate Heart, and that heart bleeds for us all.
Let us pray.
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.