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Our Lady of the Rosary - Marian Retreat

Sorrowful Mysteries

The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Mary's Role in the Crucifixion of Her Son

Our present meditation is on the last, the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, the Crucifixion of Christ. You may legitimately say that the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery is the pivotal mystery of Christianity on which all the other mysteries of our Faith depend. Everything from the moment of the Incarnation was a prelude to the Crucifixion. Everything after the Crucifixion into the endless reaches of eternity stems from and depends on Christ's death on the Cross. Given our focus in this retreat which is on Our Lady, I thought we should concentrate on Mary's role in the Crucifixion of her Son. Among the four Evangelists only St. John records the fact that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, stood under the Cross near her Son. Christ had just been crucified, took three hours for Him to expire; but He was still remarkably alive. The soldiers were preoccupied with who would get Christ's garments. They looked at His cloak and found that it was seamless, so they threw dice to see who would get it. Now comes St. John. Meanwhile His (that is Jesus' Mother) and His Mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas and Mary Magdalene had taken their stand beside the Cross. And Jesus seeing His Mother there and the disciple to whom He loved, standing by said to His Mother, "Woman, this is your son." Then He said to the disciple, "This is your Mother." And from that hour the Disciple took her into his own keeping," unquote John the Evangelist.

There Were Three Mary's Under the Cross

Let's first look at some of the main features of what we've just heard and what is implied. It is not insignificant that only John records that the Mother of Jesus was under the Cross or that Jesus spoke first to His Mother then to John and that he had two more words (this is Jesus on the Cross) to pronounce. It is well to know in what context Christ's speaking to Mary occurred. Immediately after speaking to Mary and John, Jesus cried out, "I thirst." And in His last Word, it is achieved, "It is finished." And then He died. The uniqueness of John alone recording what transpired between Jesus and Mary on the Cross. This becomes less remarkable once we realize that John was the only Apostle on Calvary. The others had fled. I can't prove it but I am sure it was Mary who made sure that John would be there. Moreover, it was quite some years after Mary's bodily Assumption into Heaven that John wrote his Gospel. In other words, you may be sure that Mary told John; Now until I join Jesus in Heaven, this is between the two of us. John also records that there were three Mary's under the Cross, including Mary Magdalene. No coincidence that! Thus, the holiest of human persons, Mary was on Calvary and the converted sinner, Magdalene. We need the memory and the inspiration of both. Two kinds of people are in Heaven and two kind of people will reach Heaven but we can safely say the minority who had never lost God's friendship represented by the sinless Immaculate Heart of Mary and the converted sinners represented by Mary Magdalene. John, not surprising, calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. In every, in twenty-one chapters of his Gospel, never identifies himself, never. But his being entrusted to Mary and Mary to him, we may be sure has a lot to do with Mary being Christ's Mother and John being the one whom Christ specially loved.

This is Your Mother

Now the sequence of Christ's Words on Calvary. Jesus first spoke to Mary. "Woman," He said, "This is your Son." Then to John, "This is your Mother." I must have said this somewhere publicly and to the present audience sometime in the past. It was about forty years ago that I had a wonderful Jesuit confessor – I already then teaching theology. On the Prieu Dieu in his room where I'd kneel down for confession there was a Crucifix. One day after confession he said, "John, can I make a recommendation? See that Crucifix? Here's what I do (that's my confessor). As soon as I enter my room I close the door, I kneel on the Prieu Dieu, I kiss the crucifix and I say, 'Mary this is your son. Mary, you are my mother'." I'm not embarrassed to say that I have been saying that for forty years.

John Took Care of Mary on Earth

From then on we are told by the Church's Tradition; John took care of Mary – he outlived her here on earth. The customary length of time from Christ's Ascension to Mary's Assumption is fifteen years. The approximate date of John's Gospel when what we've just read was first spoken, that is the composition of John's Gospel about 98 A.D. But the Holy Spirit wanted to make sure that when John wrote his Gospel he did not, as we might say, unnecessarily repeat what the others had already said. He said things that the other Evangelists, well, were not told by the Holy Spirit to record. This, John was inspired to tell us. It is also not, shall I say, too remarkable that John of all the Apostles was not martyred. We can say he had work to do. And the work he had to do was first of all the assignment, if I may call it such, Christ's last will and testament, to take care of Mary here on earth. But also, having been the confidant of the Mother of God for fifteen years and having at the most been in the company of Jesus for three years, at most: Mary shared so much with John that it took all those years for John to share with the early Church.

John on Calvary Represented Everyone of Us

One thing we should not forget; Divine Revelation has been given to the human race in two forms. In the inspired written form called the Scriptures and in the inspired oral form called Sacred Tradition. And it's John again, and John again who has two closings to the Fourth Gospel; it's as though he was reluctant to close the Gospel. Chapter Twenty; you read the conclusion, that's the end of the Gospel. Lo and behold! John writes one more chapter, another ending. In other words John, remember, in closing his Gospel makes the observation that if everything that Jesus said and did was written down, I doubt if all the books in the world could contain the treasury of what Jesus left to the world. How could John say that? Oh! That’s simple. For fifteen you may be sure John was listening intently, (and we may be sure he had a good memory), recalling so many wonderful things that he would never, never have known (this is John) unless on Calvary Christ had entrusted His Mother to John's keeping: and in the process we may be sure that Mary in her own quiet, gentle way – she had fifteen years to do it, he learned a lot from her about her Son- which she shared with John. No wonder, no wonder the Fourth Gospel and the letters of St. John and the long Apocalypse of St. John contain things we don't find anywhere else in the Bible.

Four Forms of Motherhood

Now some reflections. First of all we should not be surprised that John addressed his Mother as "Woman." It was just for the record a standard title of respect among Jews. Indeed, it's the same John that records another conversation between Jesus and Mary, remember, at Cana in Galilee. Only John recalls the experience and only John also recalls that on that occasion too, Jesus speaking to His Mother addressed her as "Woman." We go on. The Church explains Christ's action on the Cross by saying that John on Calvary represented everyone of us. Christ first entrusted us to Mary; get it? His first responsibility He placed on His Mother. There are four forms of Motherhood that, by now nineteen centuries of the Church's wisdom, has attributed to Mary as having been conferred on her on Calvary. She became, in the fullest sense of the word, the Mother of Christ. Secondly, she became the Mother of the Redeemer. Thirdly, she became the Mother of the Church. And finally she became the Mother of Divine Grace.

Mother of Christ

So we ask ourselves by what title is Mary the Mother of Christ? Mary already became the Mother of Christ when she conceived and gave Him birth. However, though Christ had the name Messiah which is what Christ means: the role of that Messiah, the function of that title, the work to which Christ was sent by His Father was not accomplished until Jesus was dying on the Cross. You see this is no titular Mother of Christ; this is the Mother of Christ whose Messiahship, which is what Christ means (the Messiah), began in Mary's womb and ended with Mary there on Calvary.

Mother of the Redeemer

We ask by what title is Mary the Mother of the Redeemer? Again the same sequence – there's a correct sense in which Mary became the Mother of the Redeemer by giving Him the human flesh and blood which, then, gave Him His human nature. But why? Why did God need a human mother? You say to obtain a human body, human blood. But what for? So that He might be able to offer up that Body and Blood and with Augustine we can say, "Caro Jesu, Caro Mariae, Sanguis Jesu, Sanguis Mariae." The Body and Blood that Jesus offered on the Cross on Calvary to redeem a sinful human race was the body and blood that Jesus had received from His Mother. As she stood under the Cross she saw the purpose of her Motherhood fulfilled.

Mother of the Church

We ask by what title is Mary Mother of the Church? Here I will spend sometime as you probably know though over the centuries more implicitly than explicitly, Mary had been considered Mater Ecclesiae, Mother of the Church. But one of the glories of the Second Vatican Council is to have provided the doctrinal foundation for the title, then, that Pope Pius VI gave to Our Lady and it is now (I hope you've heard) enshrined in the Litany of Our Lady. Did you know that? And the sequence: Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church and then the Mother of Divine Grace. We believe on Faith the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, came into existence on Calvary. Everything from the moment of Christ's conception in Mary's womb up to the point when He expired, all of that was the Church in her being formed. The birth of the Church, the Church's nativity, the Church's birthday is Good Friday. But then we return to our question. How is Mary the Mother of the Church? She's Mother of the Church because she united herself with Jesus as He offered Himself on the Cross to the heavenly Father. To repeat, the Church came into existence on Calvary. The Church was born on the Cross.

The Church's Birth was Painful

Now the explanation. The Church's birth was painful. If there is one place that the pangs of childbirth can be applied literally, it was to Christ's agonizing death on the Cross, but these pains (I am speaking with the wisdom of centuries behind me) the pains that gave birth to the Church on Calvary were indeed mainly and fundamentally those of Jesus Christ; but Mary was there so she might be able to suffer with Him; and like Him in Body and Spirit, she, in spirit. She suffered too, to co-operate with her Son in giving birth to Christ's Mystical Body which is the Church.

Mother of Divine Grace

We have one more question. By what title Mary the Mother of Divine Grace? The answer is first, by conceiving and giving birth to Christ with the Author of divine grace. Secondly, and for our purpose, mainly by cooperating with Jesus on the Cross and in giving birth to that Church, listen, which is the universal sacrament of divine grace. Christ's death on the Cross merited the grace to redeem mankind but having died; His death was also a birth. Christ died in His Physical Person, Christ was born in His Mystical Person the moment He expired. And all the grace and the word is – all – all the grace the world will receive until the end of time, all of it; comes indeed from Christ: but it comes through the Church of which we've already said Mary is the Church's Mother. Moreover when Christ told her, "This is your son," referring to all of us; and in John for all of us, "This is your Mother." The Infallible Church tells us Christ thereby designated Our Lady as the Mediatrix of the graces that He, her Son, had merited by His death on Calvary. We know that during her life on earth, she mediated grace to the infant Church and even before the Church's birth; (remember at the Visitation, Mary's voice), Elizabeth was inspired and John was sanctified.

Pope John Paul II Connects Calvary and Pentecost

On Pentecost and the present Holy Father makes a great deal of this; he connects Calvary and Pentecost Sunday (our Holy Father.) Having designated His Mother as the channel of the graces that He merited on Calvary and then the Church coming into existence as the means by which that grace would be communicated. Says the Holy Father, "the first outpouring on us of the graces won on Calvary took place on Pentecost Sunday" and says the Pope, "and Mary not only was there, she had to be there," unquote Pope John Paul II.

In other words, Good Friday and Pentecost Sunday are more closely related than most of us realize. The Church came into existence on Calvary and Mary was there to share with her Divine Son in the pangs of the Church's birth. On Pentecost that Church began to flood the world with the graces that Christ had won on the Cross, and Mary was there not merely as a symbol, but the Holy Father says, as the divinely appointed channel through all the graces that her Divine Son will dispense until the end of time. That's really only half of our reflections; we've got other half coming.

Mary Became Our Supernatural Mother

On the Cross Christ told us in the person of John to recognize Mary as our mother. She is our Mother but what a difference between a person being someone, and someone else realizing and acting on the realization. In other words, we have a grave responsibility (and I'm being honest when I say this, beginning with the speaker) we have a responsibility to examine our consciences and ask ourselves (I would not hesitate to say) daily – How often do I reflect on and act on the fact that I know Mary is my mother? I know one human mother very well. All I know – I've been saying this over the years – if there is one word that is both a noun and a verb, it is surely the word "mother". Mary became our supernatural Mother by uniting herself with her Son in the Birth of the Church on Calvary. So the Church is in existence, so do we now say that Mary, well, was our Mother? You don't talk that language even to natural human mothers. Mary is our Mother exercising all the prerogatives of a mother, having all the rights of a mother. And this relationship; filiation on our side, Motherhood on Mary's side: this filiation has nothing to do with chronology. None of us ever graduates from, shall I say, having been the sons or daughters of Mary. We need her, constantly. I recommend that we daily examine our consciences on what I call the Marian dimension of our lives. How often is Mary on our minds? How much is Mary in our hearts? As you know is one thing say to recite the Hail Mary or to say the Rosary or to pronounce the word "Mary" – what a difference! And to do so consciously and I would add, wholeheartedly with all the awareness of our Faith that we do have a God in Heaven. He is Our Father, but we also have Mary, our Mother.

Imitate Our Lady's Compassion

What is the basic lesson for all of us? On Calvary, Mary gave us the example of what it means to co-operate with Jesus to the end, notice from beginning to end. She just had to be on Calvary. She had to be there! And indeed except for her, her Son would not have been there. Following Mary's example in co-operating with Christ, means many things. But it's not for nothing that the five decades of the Rosary that we are now completing are called the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Imitating Our Lady in her union with her Divine Son, I repeat, means a myriad of things; but it means above all to unite our sufferings with His, but my friends; let's do some suffering! All right? All right! What kind of a dream world can we be living in? How drugged we, otherwise, sane people can be. Today, the Mystical Body of Christ which is the Church; which is Christ the Head and we the members, is undergoing widespread opposition, persecution. One of my favorite reflections as I come to the Twelfth Station of the Cross is reflecting on the crucifixion of the Church today. And my now twenty-one years working for the Holy See has only made me far more conscious and sensitive and aware on the depth of agony to which the Mystical Body of Christ is exposed in the modern world. Mary united herself with the dying, physical Jesus Christ. If we are to imitate Our Lady, let's make sure we acquire something of her Compassion for the sufferings of Christ today in a world that hates Him no less, if anything more, than it ever did when it nailed Him to the Cross.


I would like to close again with another prayer from my favorite, St. Alphonsus of Liguori. O most Sorrowful of all mothers, your Son is now dead. That Son so loving who loved you so much. Weep, for you have reason to weep. Who can ever bring you any consolation? Only this thought can console you: that by His death Jesus conquered Hell, opened Heaven and gained so many souls. From the Throne of the Cross, He will reign in millions of hearts. Conquered by His Love, they will serve Him with love. Do not hesitate in the meantime, O my Mother to keep me near you so that I may weep with you. I have good reason to shed bitter tears for the many crimes I have committed against my Saviour. O Mother of Mercy I hope first, through the death of my Redeemer and, then, through your Sorrows to obtain forgiveness and eternal salvation. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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