There’s a popular Christmas song, Mary Did You know?
It’s a beautiful song, but theologically, it bugs me because the answer is yes.
Yes, she did know.
Mary of Nazareth knew before the baby was inside her womb that he was the Messiah.
And she knew the road she would walk as the mother of Jesus would be difficult and painful.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own heart too.’ – Luke 2:33-34
In Catholic countries, the beginning of the Holy Week celebration takes place one week before Good Friday on the Friday of Sorrows, which concentrates on the emotional pain that the Passion of Jesus caused to his mother, venerated under the title Our Lady of Sorrows.
You know, if you pray the rosary, that Mary suffered seven sorrows:
The Prophecy of Simeon. (Luke 2:34–35)
The escape and Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13)
The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:43–45)
The Meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Via Dolorosa.
The Crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary. (John 19:25)
The Piercing of the Side of Jesus, and His Descent from the Cross. (Matthew 27:57–59)
The Burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea. (John 19:40–42)
But of course, there would have been many more than seven sorrows for Mary.
In order to talk about the Mary of Holy Week, we have to talk about the Mary of Advent.
Mary was twelve or thirteen years old when she said yes to God.
She was the mother of Jesus, not only at the time of his birth, but for all of his life.
She was his mother and his disciple.
She was the mother of the boy and the young man, but she also knew who he was.
She was pivotal.
It is in no small part because of Mary that Jesus performed the first miracle.
Mary was one of the women Jesus listened to, a woman who could change his mind about things.
She also had to watch him put himself in danger. She had to watch him suffer.
Mary experienced the sorrows of mothering the Messiah, but she also experienced the sorrows of motherhood that all mothers experience.
As unbearable as it is to think of Mary watching her son’s crucifixion, it’s important to know that just as he wasn’t alone, she wasn’t alone. Mary watched in the company of other women, other mothers.
The Gospel writers describe the women as being both “at a distance” and close by during the crucifixion, but whether they were at the foot of the cross or watching from a distance, they were there.
The women were there.
What Mary shows us is how to love even when our hearts are being pierced.
She leads us to the cross and show us how to wait.
Through the cross God experienced every imaginable suffering. Because of the cross, we can never say God doesn’t understand our suffering.
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ – John 19:26
In this moment, when Mary’s eyes meet the eyes with her child, what passed between them?
When Jesus commended his mother to his beloved disciple John, he commended her to all of us.
Too often, the veneration of Mary has been interpreted as Mary-worship, or an attempt to turn her into a goddess.
To do this is to misunderstand.
Mary is worthy of veneration because of her willingness to give birth to God into the world, to mother God, to complete this mad mission of love.
Mary held space for the Christ
and she held the broken and bleeding body of her child in her arms.
She was not the first, nor the last woman to weep for the loss of a child.
It happens every day.
It’s impossible for me to think of Mary walking with her son toward the cross, witnessing his torture and death, without thinking of the mothers of black sons in this country who watch their children leave the house knowing they may be brutalized or even murdered simply because of the color or their skin; or the mothers of Syria attempting to flee terrorism and move their children to a safer place; or the mothers of Mexico, packing sacks of food for their sons and sending them off to the unknown, possibly to their deaths, likely to never see them again, so that they may have a chance at a better life.
It’s impossible not to think of all the mothers who wait this very moment in the ER or the oncology ward, all of the mothers who will get a phone call today about an overdose or an accident or a suicide and will have to bear the worst pain there is, a pain that changes everything and never goes away.
Because of the cross – what Jesus did there, and what Mary witnessed, the pain of women is a pain God understands.
In Mary, we all have a mother.