It is most fitting that today, Monday after the Solemnity of the Pentecost, we celebrate the new Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. It can rightly be said that Pentecost is the day that the mission of the Church started, the day when the Apostles and disciples, gathered in prayer with the Blessed Mother, were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Liturgy invites us to ponder the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is both Mother and Model of the Church. God in his infinite wisdom decided that a woman, Mary, should be inseparably associated with the work of our salvation. The woman is foreshadowed in today’s reading from the Book of Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” Many of the Church Fathers saw in this passage a reference to the victory over Satan which Jesus would win on the Cross. It is the first messianic prophecy, the first glimmer of our salvation, announced right after mankind’s fall from grace (cf. CCC 410).
It is certainly not by chance that when Jesus performed his first sign, changing water into wine, he referred to his mother as “woman” (cf. Jn 2:1-12). And in today’s Gospel, which takes us to the fulfillment of all his signs, his victorious Death, Jesus calls Mary “woman” again as she stands by the Cross.
St. John Chrysostom writes with great spiritual insight regarding the event of Jesus’ Death and the role of the “woman,” his Mother, standing by the side of the Cross: “You have observed his outstanding triumph, the splendid achievement of the Cross. Now let me tell you something even more remarkable, the manner in which he gained his victory, and you will marvel all the more. Christ conquered the devil using the same means and the same weapons that the devil used to win. Let me tell you how this occurred. The symbols of our fall were a virgin, a tree, and death. The virgin was Eve (for she had not yet known man); then there was the tree; and death was Adam’s penalty. And again these three tokens of our destruction, the virgin, the tree, and death, became the tokens of our victory. Instead of Eve there was Mary; instead of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the wood of the Cross; instead of Adam’s death, the death of Christ” (Homily, De coemeterio et de cruce. In Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday, Vol. 4, p. 1660).
This explains why Jesus calls his Mother “Woman” rather than the usual “Mother.” He is identifying her as the new “mother of all the living,” the New Eve. To the beloved disciple, Jesus says, “Behold, your mother,” revealing Mary as the mother of every “beloved disciple” – that is, of all of us. She is the Mother of all the faithful, the Mother of the Church founded by Jesus – hence the Memorial we are celebrating today. In the alternate first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the Blessed Virgin at prayer with the nascent Church. She is already fulfilling her mission as spiritual Mother of the Church.
Mary accomplishes her role as Mother by being first of all a true disciple of her Son. She who was flawlessly faithful, joining Jesus all the way to the tomb, is the perfect model for all who are called to follow him along the way of the Cross and to remain at the foot of the Cross. As members of the Church, we learn from Mary how to live in obedience to the will of God. She forms her children in her way of docility to the Holy Spirit and her attentiveness to the needs of others. Mary helps us live in fidelity to the commandment of love, with willingness to carry in our own bodies the death of Christ, so that the life of Christ may also be made manifest in us (cf. 2 Cor 4:10).
How do I experience Mary as my Model and Mother? As I ponder on Mary’s role at the foot of the Cross, what are my inner feelings toward her? How is Mary present with me when I pray?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.