And meanwhile his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen, had taken their stand beside the cross of Jesus. And Jesus, seeing his mother there, and the disciple too, whom he loved, standing by, said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is thy son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘this is thy mother.’ (Jn 19:25-27)
Hanging on his cross, at the culmination of his Passion, Jesus looks down at his mother. Crucified in her heart, standing underneath her crucified son, she is declared mother of all the living—the mother of every Christian. At the moment when she lost her son, the God to whom she had given flesh, she gains us as adopted children. What a poor exchange! God himself, for those whose sins crucified God.
Every year on Good Friday the Reproaches are sung, giving voice both to the injustices we inflict upon Christ and to the depths of his mercy as he redeems us:
My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!
I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Savior to the cross.
Today, on the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we might paraphrase the Good Friday Reproaches in Mary’s own voice: “What has he done to you? How has he offended you? Answer me! He led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led my Son to the cross.”
And yet Christ chose precisely this moment on the cross to secure her spiritual adoption of us, the unjust sinners responsible for his crucifixion. It may seem too much to bear for any human, even for she who is venerated in the Divine Office as “the fairest honor of our race.” But she doesn’t bear it alone. She doesn’t love with a merely human love—she is “full of grace.” She lived what St. Paul later wrote: “with Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:19-20).
Mary walked with her son to Calvary, and stood beneath him as he cried out in anguish. She, more than any other, was nailed with Christ to the cross. She, more than any other, lives now not herself, but Christ lives in her.
In the Passion, Mary was united to the redemptive love of Christ. That love, like all forms of authentic love, bore fruit. It was, and remains, generative. And so Mary’s participation in the Passion could be likened to the pains of childbirth. To become the spiritual mother of all Christians she labored and suffered tremendously in spirit. And truly, her sufferings were not in vain. Mary, Our Mother and Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Image: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Pieta