The 12 may hardly have known her before she stood at the foot of his Cross. But during these 9 days ... they learned what it was to take Mary as their mother.
For the last eight days, Catholics the world over have been praying the novena to the Holy Spirit, nine days of prayer between Ascension Thursday (or what would have been Ascension Thursday had it not been transferred to Sunday) and Pentecost. It’s rooted in the Apostles’ observance of the first Easter season: Between the Ascension 40 days after Easter and Pentecost 50 days after Easter, they gathered in the upper room with the Virgin Mary and some other believers, waiting to receive the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised.
During this nine-day period of silence when they had neither Jesus’ physical presence nor the Holy Spirit to comfort them, they may have spent hours each day reading the Scriptures and interceding for the fledgling Church and the world. But they probably weren’t praying for 18 hours a day. There in the upper room, they had ample time to talk.
And this might give us a clue as to why Jesus left them in that no-man’s land for nine days, neither walking beside the Son nor filled with the Spirit. There in the gap, feeling far from the Lord, they looked to the Mother of God.
Mary’s presence in the upper room is her last appearance in Scripture, and it’s more than just a nod to John’s ability to take care of the woman Jesus entrusted to him (Jn 19:26-27). Mary was there for a purpose: to be the mother of the Apostles and their queen.
St. Jerome said, “Mary remained for a time on earth after the Ascension of her Son, with the Apostles, that she might instruct them more fully, since she had seen and handled things more familiarly, and was therefore better able to express them.”
In those days, what stories she must have told! Truly, it’s a wonder that Matthew shares so little of the infancy of Jesus in his Gospel, and John none at all. They had known the mother of their Beloved, been closeted with her for a week and a half (and John for years later). But it wasn’t customary for ancient biographers to include exhaustive accounts of a subject’s childhood, so we’re left with only a few stories, most given us by St. Luke who must, himself, have spent some time with the Blessed Mother.
More than just stories, she could share wisdom, could point out Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament or shed light on Jesus’ more difficult parables. She could recount his words with a mind unclouded by sin and explain them better than Augustine or Aquinas, she who had known the Word made flesh more intimately than anyone.
She could also encourage them when their fear was getting the better of them or break up fights between these men with such different backgrounds and personalities. As best we can tell, she hadn’t been around much while they had been traveling with Jesus, only stopping by once or twice during his public ministry. They may hardly have known her before she stood at the foot of his Cross. But during these nine days of waiting for the power of the Spirit to descend upon them from on high, they learned what it was to take Mary as their mother and their queen.
After Pentecost, the Apostles would begin to go out to the ends of the earth. Thomas would make his way to India, Bartholomew to Armenia, Philip to Persia, and Peter, of course, to Rome. But a pious tradition from at least the 4th century holds that when the Blessed Mother was preparing to leave this world, each of the Apostles was caught up by the Holy Spirit in whatever land he was evangelizing and was brought back to Mary so that they could all say goodbye to their Mother before she was assumed body and soul into heaven.
Mary reigns from heaven as Queen of Apostles, Prophets, and Martyrs, but above all, she is their mother, the woman who prayed for them, who told them about their Savior, who counseled them and corrected them. When we imagine this relationship, we begin to see the relationship Mary wants with us, not just as the mother of our dearest friend, as a maternal figure or mother-in-law. She wants to be our true mother, to sit with us and listen to us and remind us who we are and who Jesus is.
The strength of the Apostles came primarily from the grace of God, through their walk with Jesus, their reception of the Sacraments, and their relationship with the Holy Spirit. But their ability to follow Jesus came also from the prayers and guidance of the Virgin Mary, starting during those nine days in the upper room. May we who so often feel distant from God always be returned to his presence by the love of his mother and ours. Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church, pray for us.