Monday, 6 April 2009

The Marian character of the Lenten Season (7)

The Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son”. Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother”. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.[1]
This exchange, recorded only in St John’s Gospel, is honoured and celebrated by a particular Mass in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The exchange represents a movement from the ministry of Jesus in his physical body on earth towards the ministry of Jesus in his mystical body that is the Church. It reflects the ending of the Lenten season, where we move into the celebration of the Paschal mystery in the Triduum - Christ’s suffering, his death and then his Resurrection. The Opening Prayer of this Mass demonstrates this, and, in its reference to us being “adopted children” indicates the baptismal character of Lent and of the Easter Vigil:

All-holy Father, you chose the Easter mystery as the way of our salvation; grant that we, whom Jesus entrusted from the cross to his Virgin Mother, may be numbered among your adopted children.[2]
The introduction to this Mass in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary identifies a two-fold commending. Firstly, all the disciples of Jesus, represented by the person of St John, are commended to the care of the Blessed Virgin.

Lord, receive the gifts we joyfully present that they may become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who on the cross entrusted all his followers in the person of John to the Virgin Mother as her children …[3]
The texts of the Mass make the connection between this commending and the way in which the Virgin Mary accompanies Jesus in his suffering on the Cross, knowing that it would redeem the world:

The mother of Jesus stood by the cross and tenderly looked on the wounds of her Son whose death she knew would redeem the world.[4]
The first reading for this Mass is from the Second Book of Maccabees, telling how the mother of seven sons watched each of them die rather than break God’s law:

Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.[5]
The mother’s care for her sons is here presented as a type of the Virgin Mary’s care for the sons and daughters of the Church. In our lives we can turn to the Virgin Mary to find that same care, particularly in times of suffering.

Secondly, the Virgin Mary is entrusted to the love and care of the followers of Christ. The Prayer over the Gifts for this Mass, quoted above, continues:

… and entrusted her to them as living signs of his own love for her.[6]

This second aspect of the commending of the Virgin Mary asks of us two things. It asks us to love the Virgin Mary with the same love that St John had in “taking her into his home”. And, if we see the Virgin Mary as a representative figure of the Church, it calls us to a love for the Church. Our relationship to the Virgin Mary/ Church should be modelled on that of Christ, who gave himself up for the Church. It will therefore be a penitential love, appropriate to the season of Lent.
At the foot of the cross of Jesus, by his solemn and dying wish, a deep bond of love is fashioned between the Blessed Virgin Mary and his faithful disciples: the Mother of God is entrusted to the disciples as their own mother, and they receive her as a precious inheritance from their Master.

She is to for ever the mother of those who believe, and they will look to her with great confidence in her unfailing protection. She loves her Son in loving her children, and in heeding what she says they keep the words of their Master.[7]

[1] John 19:26-27
[2] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Opening Prayer.
[3] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Prayer over the Gifts
[4] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Verse before the Gospel
[5] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, First Reading, 2 Maccabees 7:20.
[6] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Prayer over the Gifts
[7] Mass of the Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Preface

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