Mary Icon of the Church - Part 2
Manifested in the Paschal Mystery
In the Annunciation we have the revelation of God’s promise of an outpouring of Trinitarian love and Mary’s response. The implementation of this revelation and promise was the Paschal Mystery of the eternal Son of God. The term “Paschal Mystery” became common after Vatican II to speak about the redemption,
the Eucharist and about our life in Christ. It is the mystery enacted at the Christian Passover. The word “Passover” comes from the two interconnected incidents in the Old Testament: the blood of the Paschal Lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites saved them from the destroying angel; the people could then “pass over” from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land (Exodus, chapter 12). Jesus is our Passover: his blood saves us from sin; in him we pass from the slavery of sin to freedom and life. Jesus, our Passover Lamb, saves us through the sacred mysteries of his death, resurrection and ascension whereby he “passed over” to the Father in order to send the Pentecostal Spirit on the Church. We ponder the Paschal Mystery with Mary.
In the gospel of John we have two key incidents related on Calvary. The first is the word of Jesus to his Mother and the beloved Disciple:
Meanwhile, standing near the Cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” and from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus knew that all was now finished (John 19:25.28a).
The second passage is after the death of Jesus:
When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out (John 19:33.34).
Neither of these passages are to be found in the earlier synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke. In their present form these first witnesses probably date from the 60s or 70s. John’s gospel is a good deal later, and belongs to the end of the century. The community from which it arose had long pondered the Paschal Mystery of Jesus and concluded that the commitment of Mary to the beloved Disciple, and of the beloved Disciple to Mary was not merely an act of filial piety, by which Jesus saw to the future care of his mother. Seen in this way, it would have been a private act and not central to the Calvary story; as such it was not recorded by the synoptic gospels. But the community of John’s Gospel saw that a deeper truth was involved. Mary is more than the physical Mother of Jesus; she is the New Eve, and in a much more significant way than was Eve “Mother of all who live” (see Genesis 3:20). The address of Jesus, “Woman” looks to the universal significance of Mary. Moreover, in case we missed the point, the evangelist tells us, “After this, Jesus knew that all was now finished.” Mary and the beloved Disciple are both said to stand at the foot of the Cross. They are both present when the Church is born from the side of Jesus. The evangelist is pointedly recalling the origin of Eve: she was formed from the side of Adam as he slept (see Genesis 2:21.22). So too from the side of Jesus, the New Adam asleep on the Cross, the Church is formed; it comes through blood and water to signify the heart of the Church, the Eucharist and baptism. It was Mary who gave Jesus his body from which the Church came forth. She is in this profound sense Mother of the Church on Calvary.
When we look on the Church, we must never forget its origins on Calvary. On the Cross Jesus bore all the sins of humanity. Indeed he was so crushed for our sins (see Isaiah 53:4.6) that Paul could write: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Corinthians 5:21). Calvary is the place where Gods anger collides with the awfulness of sin; Jesus is broken in the impact. But at a still deeper level there is his unfailing love for his Father and for us, so that he triumphs through the Cross. If we are to see the Church aright, we shall never be surprised at its sin and failure; only the Head and the Mother of the Church are sinless. The Church bears the scars of sin, and must constantly surrender to the healing of the Cross. Anyone who is surprised at sin and failure in the Church at any level has not even begin to see the real Church; more seriously they have missed the essential connection between the Church and Calvary. The Church must continually act out the Paschal Mystery: it must constantly die to sin and rise to new life; the Church bears sin in the hope of resurrection. With its Lord it moves from death to glory. It is therefore essential that we be taught by Mary the deepest reality of the Church, the truth which must be sought on Calvary.