The Mother of God really does matter at the Church’s liturgical highpoint.
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Mary is often forgotten about during Easter. Obviously the most important thing is to focus on Christ, yet meditating on the figure, the suffering and the faithfulness of Mary during the Paschal Triduum can be an excellent guide for us as we look to the Resurrection.
This is exactly what the youth of Centro San Lorenzo – the Vatican’s international youth centre – did this Holy Saturday during their retreat, in which a hundred young people from all over the world travelled to Rome in order to live the Paschal Mystery together.
Cecile Delattre, in charge of welcome, said: “We went to the Basilica of St Mary Major on Holy Saturday to pray a rosary together, to ask Mary to keep us in her peace during this time of waiting.
“During this day” explained Cecile, “she is the only one who still believes in the figure of God; she has seen her Son dead on the cross and she has seen Him buried, but she still believes. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen and yet she still believes, and so I think she is the most beautiful help that we can have to remain in this hope in the Lord.”
Katya Tootill from Slovenia who runs the CSL expressed that Mary “was the one who was there, she’s an apostle to the apostles because she brought Christ to the apostles, and Mary persevered to the end; she was the one who brought faith to all the rest.”
Up until 1969, the Friday before Palm Sunday was set aside to celebrate the liturgical feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, which is now celebrated in September. However, the earlier feast was commonly known as the “Friday of Sorrows” during which the faithful reflected upon Mary’s sorrows prophesied by Simeon in the Gospel of Luke (2:34-35).
In the “Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year According to the Modern Roman Rite” Msgr Peter J Elliot writes that “On the evening of Good Friday a form of Tenebrae, the Stations of the Cross, or popular devotions or processions of the Passion or commemorations in honour of the Mother of Sorrows may be celebrated according to custom” but, he stresses that such devotions “should be set for a time that makes it clear that the liturgical celebration by its very nature surpasses them in importance.”
Indeed, while the liturgical celebration of the Passion certainly surpasses all of the customs of piety held in the past, it seems that there is a place for meditating upon the figure and suffering of Mary as a guide for persevering in faith, hope and charity, and ultimately entering deeper into the passion of Christ.
Perhaps the most potent image of the intensity of her suffering is revealed in the Pietà: the grieving Mary “sitting with the dead Christ on her lap.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes with Hans Urs von Balthasar in “Mary, the Church at the Source” that this image has become most “dear to Christian piety,” it is the one that everyone who has lost a loved one and anyone who has suffered deeply in any capacity can identify with. As Pope Benedict says, “In the compassionate Mother, sufferers of all ages have found the purest reflection of the divine compassion that is the only true consolation… For, looked at in its deepest essence, all pain, all suffering is solitude, loss of love, the wrecked happiness of the rejected.” The image of the Pietà is a “vivid translation, that in her, God’s maternal affliction is open to view” and we can touch it and empathise with it.
Because Mary accepted the Cross we are able to experience in her compassion, the compassion of God” and therefore Mary’s affliction also becomes the Easter affliction.
As believers we can all identify with Mary and because of this we are all able to identify with her pain which makes the suffering of the Cross all the more intimate. The piety of the past understood this and ‘worked with it’ in order to bring us all closer to the Passion itself, thereby appreciating all the more dearly the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. It was not by chance that the earliest Christian artists portrayed Mary as Theotokos Hodegetria (Mother of God who shows us the Way).
Speaking with Aleteia, chaplain of the CSL Fr Arthur Wallaert points out that “Mary is really the Mother and master of all the disciples, she shows us how to live, how to follow Jesus in the Passion – we are not able to do this, I would say, by ourselves, and all the disciples failed but one, Mary.”
He explains that it is Mary who “stands up as the stabat mater, the mother who came up to the cross, and Mary is really the one who can bring us by the hand to the cross of Jesus. Mary is the one who keeps everything in her heart, so we too have to meditate all these events of the passion with her, to have the light of the faith and see that what was lived was God’s plan.”
He continues, “And God’s promise was not to be finished on the Friday, we have three days to live here, for new life, for the Resurrection. And Mary helps us to make the link between the death and Resurrection of Christ.”
Fr Arthur reflects that this is why the retreat at the Centro San Lorenzo has taken up this ancient practice of spending some time to reflect upon Mary’s part in the Passion and he adds that, “to live Holy Saturday with her is really a great opportunity to welcome and see these events and meditate on them.”
Indeed, perhaps Priest of the Oratory Fr F. W. Faber was onto something when he wrote in 1862: “Oh!” If Mary were but known, there would be no coldness to Jesus then! Oh, if Mary were but known, how much more wonderful would be our faith, and how different would our communions be! Oh, if Mary were but known, how much happier, how much holier, how much less worldly should we be, and how much more should we be living images of our sole Lord and Saviour, her dearest and most blessed Son!”