Monday, 23 March 2009

Marian character of the Lenten Season (5)

The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross I

The Gospel readings at Mass for the third, fourth and fifth Sunday’s of Lent have a particularly catechumenal significance, and must be used when the “scrutinies” of catechumens take place at those Masses. They are, in order, St John’s account of the Samaritan woman at the well (the water that I shall give will become a spring of eternal life)[1]; his account of the curing of the man who was blind from birth (faith as “seeing”)[2]; and the story of the raising of Lazarus (I am the resurrection and the life)[3]. We can here see a baptismal significance of Lent and, implicitly, a penitential character.

The fifth week of Lent, and Holy Week, the sixth week of Lent, change the mood. They draw our attention much more closely to the crucifixion and death of the Lord. The two Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross reflect this, and are more appropriate to the later weeks of Lent.
Lord our God, in your mysterious wisdom you fill out the passion of Christ through the suffering that his members endure in the many trials of life. As you chose to have the mournful mother stand by your Son in his agony on the cross, grant that we too may bring love and comfort to our brothers and sisters in distress.[4]
This opening prayer expresses an ecclesial perspective that reflects the theme of Mary as Image and Mother of the Church. The Preface of this Mass develops the theme in four stages.

Mary as daughter of Zion, and fulfilment of the promises to Israel:
In your loving providence you decreed that Mary, the mother of your Son, should stand faithfully beside his cross, and so fulfil in her person the prophecies of old, and enrich the world with her own witness of loving faith.
Mary as the “new Eve”, in parallel to Jesus Christ as the “new Adam”:
At the cross the Blessed Virgin appears as the new Eve, so that, as a woman shared in bringing death, so a woman would share in restoring life.
Mary as Mother of the Church/Israel, the two peoples made one in Christ (we can perhaps see the "scattered children" as referring to both the Jewish people and to the Gentiles):
At the cross with motherly love she embraces her scattered children, reunited through the death of Christ, and she fulfils the mystery of the mother of Zion.
Mary as a model and figure of the Church:
At the cross she stands as the model of the Church, the Bride of Christ, which draws inspiration from her courage and keeps constant faith with its Bridegroom, undaunted by peril and persecution.[5]

[1] Jn 4:5-42
[2] Jn 9:1-41
[3] Jn 11:1-45
[4] Mass of The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross I, Opening Prayer
[5] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross I, Preface. cf the introduction to the Mass in the Sacramentary.

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