Vol II No. 5
From the Quarterly

Sixth Friday in Lent: Thomas Aquinas with Commentary/The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cross

by William J. Martin



Thy own soul a sword shall pierce. Luke ii. 35.

In these words there is noted for us the close association of Our Lady with the Passion of Christ. Four things especially made the Passion most bitter for her.

Mothers normally suffer more in and with their sons than in their daughters. This Mother most surely is suffering with and in her Son, since He did no wrong, who ‘also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we were healed.’(1 St. Peter ii. 21-24) So the Blessed Virgin Mary truly suffers when her innocent and pure Son endures the rejection of men, their envy, their hatred, and their murderous accomplishment.

Firstly, for the Blessed Virgin Mary the Passion was made most bitter because of the goodness of her son, Who did no sin. (Ibid, 22).

For the Blessed Virgin Mary the Passion is most bitter because the Goodness that Her Son brought into the world was forgotten, ignored, belittled, doubted, ridiculed, and finally rejected. The bitterness is not of an angry sort but as what ‘smarts and disturbs a pious conscience’. This Goodness had begun to reach into her own soul from the time that she ‘kept’ so many things ‘in her heart and pondererd them,(St. Luke ii. 19) ’ filled always with astonishment, wonder, and then wisdom and knowledge. The whole of her life was a ‘letting go’ of her Son Jesus Christ, as Cardinal Guardini reminds us. She was always having to replace the loss of his particular and natural devotion to her for the sake of the Divine Filial Love which He brought into the world for others. But in losing her son, she was gaining Him truly. Inwardly and spiritually the substance and essence of His mission and way began to overtake her life. And so it is more painful to her that the world rejects His goodness, than that she had to relinquish Him to that world for its salvation.

Secondly, the Passion was made most bitter for the Blessed Virgin in the cruelty of those who crucified Him, shown, for example, in this, that as He lay dying, they refused Him even water, nor would they allow His mother, who would most lovingly have given it, to help Him.

The Blessed Virgin Mary was asked through the whole of her life to surrender her Son to the world. Now, as the world rejects Him, she cannot even be spiritual mother and friend that He has asked her to be. She no longer desired any natural closeness that would frustrate or interrupt the spiritual operation of Divine Grace in Him. But He was in excruciating pain and agony. She would have given a cup of water to any man, for He had taught her that every man should be her son. But even now, she cannot extend the mercy that He exhorted her and the Brethren to show to all others. She is as powerless as He. Into His powerlessness, she enters. He is suffering and so is she. But, little did she know, she was suffering and dying in a way that would be essential for the call, in the coming days, into new life.

Thirdly, the Passion was made most bitter in the disgrace of the punishment, Let us condemn him to a most shameful death (Wis. ii. 20).

Her Son is humiliated. He is stripped naked. She feels the shame of His exposure to the world. She is horrified at the dishonor, disgrace, and disrespect shown to her Son in His crucifixion. She remembered that He was to be ‘the Son of the Highest’ and that ‘of His kingdom there should be no end’. (St. Luke i. 32,33) How could the world humiliate the King of kings and Lord of lords in this way? She is confused. How is He ruling and reigning from this Tree of ignominy and indignity? Why must the Saviour and Messiah be so abased, degraded, and shamed? He has done no wrong. He has been tortured, maimed, brutalized, and beaten for being the Good and sharing it with others! The sword is piercing through her own soul, as she suffers this assault upon the purity, meekness, and holiness of her Son.

Fourthly, the Passion was made most bitter for the Blessed Virgin in the cruelty of the torment. O ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow. (Lam. i. 12) In the words of Simeon, Thy own soul a sword shall pierce. (St. Luke ii. 35) Origen, and other doctors with him, explains that this verse points to the pain felt by Our Lady in the Passion of Christ. St. Ambrose, however, says that by the sword is signified Our Lady’s prudence, thanks to which she was not without knowledge of the heavenly mystery. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb. iv. 12).

St. Ambrose maintains that in her coinherent suffering –suffering in and with her Son, Our Lady is illuminated and enlightened to the prudence and necessity of His suffering and death. It now begins to dawn upon her that this suffering and death are woven together into a seamless robe of love, which she had never known. The love she was required to yield and surrender was a love now being returned to her and the world as God’s love made flesh, which forever loves whether in sickness or in health, in prosperity or adversity, in goodness and evil. Her mind and heart are being pierced with this truth, and this truth, she is beginning to see, is essential if man’s nature is to be reconciled to the Father’s will and dominion.

Other writers again, St. Augustine for example, understand by the sword the stupefaction that overcame Our Lady at the death of her Son, not the doubt that goes with lack of faith but a certain fluctuation of bewilderment, a staggering of the mind. St. Basil, too, says that as Our Lady stood by the cross with all the detail of the Passion before her, and in her mind the testimony of Gabriel, the message that words cannot tell of her divine conception, and all the vast array of miracles, her mind swayed, for she saw Him the victim of such vileness, and yet knew Him for the author of such wonders.

St. Augustine says that she is overwhelmed with astonishment and bewilderment, not because her faith fails her, but because her mind is overwhelmed with the goodness she is discovering at such a high price and great cost. St. Basil says that her mind rushes from His conception to birth, through the miracles and wonders of His compassion and love, and she suffers the annihilation of it all in the hearts of sinful men. The great goodness that His miraculous love has brought into the world is now being put down and destroyed. She feels within herself the malicious and cruel envy and hatred of His goodness and the malevolent determination to bring it to an end. She is oppressed in the oppression He suffers. And yet still the uninterrupted flow of goodness flows from His heart to hers.

Although Our Lady knew by faith that it was God’s will that Christ should suffer, and although she brought her will into unity with God’s will in this matter, as the saints do, nevertheless, sadness filled her soul at the death of Christ. This was because her lower will revolted at the particular thing she had willed and this is not contrary to perfection.

Sadness comes about when there is a loss to the lower self or the lower will. Humanly speaking, she is as filled with human sadness as any other would be –naturally, instinctively, and through the passions. To lose ‘the flesh of one’s flesh’ brings sorrow. To lose one’s child before one’s self is wholly contrary to expected course of nature and her laws. Objectively speaking she is filled with sadness at the evil that must bring about the death of God’s Son. She is full of anguish and grief because she wants all to know what they have done and will do when they sin against God’s Word in the flesh. The lower nature always revolts against the suffering and death that must be undertaken in order for God’s Word and Will to rule the human heart. She is saddened because her lower nature has got the better of her and has distracted her from her vow to the most High God. She is full of sadness, and yet in her heart she knows that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’