The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows follows that of the Exaltation of the Cross for an obvious reason: Mary’s close connection to the act of redemption in Christ. John Paul II has, in his Magisterium, amply taught for our days what the ancient Fathers highlighted for their own times: that Mary as the New Eve collaborated with the New Adam in bringing about humanity’s liberation from sin. This notion is based on the Scriptures, as is evident from the Scripture selection for the liturgy of the day. For today’s feast we are offered two alternative readings for the Gospel, one is from Luke 2:33-35 and the other from Jn. 19:25-27.
Luke 2:33-35 are the words that the prophet Simeon pronounces over Mary during this latter’s purification at the Temple eight days after the birth of Jesus. These words follow the prayer that the prophet utters after seeing the baby Jesus for the first time (Luke 2:29-32). After referrring to the babe in Mary’s arms as God’s "salvation", "a light for revelation" and "the glory of Israel" — something that must have filled the parents of the child with awe — he turns to the mother and says
Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted.
And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed. (Douay-Rheims)
After Simeon refers to the role of Jesus within God’s plan of salvation, he tells Mary how this role will affect people and he includes her as one of the "victims". The sword is the sword of judgment. God’s visitation of his people in Jesus is at the same time an act of judgment that will include Mary. How people accept or reject Jesus will spell the difference between grace and condemnation, life and death, freedom and slavery. Even Mary will go under Jesus’ "Either-Or." (cf. Luke 12:51ff) Simeon’s prophecy gives a highlight on Mary’s earlier "Fiat". At the angel’s announcement of God’s visitation on his people, she had said: "Let it be done unto me according to thy word" <i>Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.</i> With Simeon’s prophecy we now understand what that means: her declared availability to God’s word will have to be validated in the sorrows of discipleship.
This brings us to the reading selection in John.
John 19:25-27 gives us the picture that we often see depicted in crucifixion scenes: Mary and John under the cross. From this scene
we get the understanding that Jesus was an only child since he gives his mother to a non-relative in an act of filial love. But more, something is said here about Mary.
On the cross, Jesus calls Mary "Woman" echoing the title he uses for her in the Wedding at Cana, the first sign of his ministry. The title "Woman" appears for the first time in the Bible in Genesis 2:23, Adam’s song about the "Mother of all living beings". On the tree of the cross, therefore, Jesus identifies Mary as the New Eve. She who was associated with him in the first sign He gives to the world about himself, is now associated with the supreme act of sacrifice He makes on behalf of humanity. "Born of a Woman", Paul declares, "born under the law to redeem those who are under the power of the law." (Gal. 4:4) Under the cross, Mary validates the "fiat" of her virginity, as the first disciple of Christ.
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