The Passion Of Jesus; Mary's Compassion And Merit; Her Spiritual Motherhood — The Last Supper, Good Friday, The Cross—The Burial Of Jesus And The Solitude Of Our Lady (March Of The Year 29 ?) part 1

AS a perfect hearer of the word of God, Mary was in that respect, as in so many others, a type of the Christian Church.

As for the Jewish community, alas! they alienated themselves more and more from that word, to their complete reprobation. When Jesus, at each solemn feast, returned to teach at Jerusalem and in the Temple, the attacks of the Scribes and the Pharisees became at every visit more acute and vehement. During His last journey, at the time of the Feast of the Dedication in December of the year 28, and before the definite assertion of His divinity, some of the people had taken up stones and threatened to stone Him ; but even while departing from the town, Jesus did not cease His endeavours to win them to Him by His grace and goodness. In February or in the early part of March of the year 29, He went to visit Bethany, and by the striking miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus, He for the last time drew upon Himself the attention of well-disposed men, and of His irreconcilable enemies also. This supreme mercy, while it was the means of bringing about several important conversions, at the same time caused the determine the death of Jesus. From thenceforth, the achievement of their purpose was only a question of time and opportunity.

Unknown to the great Council, and even against its will, this time was regulated by the divine wisdom. Jesus withdrew for some days to the little town of Ephraim, of the ancient tribe of Benjamin; then, as the time of that Passover drew nigh when the true victim should be sacrificed, He reappeared and came to finish His work.

Six days before the feast, He returned to Bethany. One of His disciples, Simon the Leper, gave a feast in His honour, at which Lazarus was present. Martha was this time also occupied with serving; and Mary, her sister, anointed the head of Jesus with precious spikenard ointment, and Jesus accepted this homage in token of His approaching burial. The faithful were grouped round the Master, and the Master by His acts and words presaged His approaching transition from the world to His Father.

It is very probable that Mary also was there, possibly among the band of Galileans who followed and attended upon Jesus, or more probably, like Jesus, she was hospitably welcomed to the house of Lazarus and his sisters.

On the day following the feast at Simon's house, she saw the crowd suddenly stirred at the news that Jesus was there, and that He was about to enter he town. People of Jerusalem, pilgrims to the Feast of the Passover, the special group of those who had been moved by the resurrection of Lazarus, all these cut palm-leaves and olive branches, and threw them with their garments before the Master, crying, "Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest! " Jesus accepted, He even called forth worship from these faithful hearts; but He wept over Jerusalem at the thought of the irremediable offence, which in a few days she would commit. Mary, intimately acquainted with the inclination of His heart, rejoiced to see the Messiah recognised and solemnly received in the capital of the kingdom of Israel; but the brightness of the present day gave her no illusions as to the real disposition of the people, and the sudden changes which she foresaw were in store for the morrow.

Even if she had not always clearly known when and how the " Father's work" would be accomplished, now that matters had progressed so far, she could not but see that the end must be very near. The fleeting enthusiasm of the crowd could not prevail against the persistent ill-will of the leaders. Because of this triumphal entry, Jesus was more than ever discussed and opposed; that very evening, the Messiah, now so clamorously applauded, would be alone; and, later, accompanied only by some of His disciples, He departed from the town, to seek repose and security at Bethany.

It is even possible that Jesus announced clearly to Mary that which she already foresaw. Who knows what intimate converse passed between them in the house of Martha and Lazarus, either during that Wednesday when Jesus did not return to Jerusalem, or on the Thursday before the departure for the Feast of the Passover ? In proportion to Mary's tenderness of heart, she felt a terror of the coming evil. It was the will of Jesus that even His own human nature should feel this terror, and that it should ask, if it were possible, to be spared the bitter cup. How then should Mary not experience this same horror, the same trembling in all her being, the same apprehensive feeling, the same repugnance of her will, before this approaching and inevitable suffering ? So could she also, without imperfection, suffer her nature to give some cry of anguish, or some conditional prayer, even like that of Jesus, in order that, if it were possible, the terrible hour might be averted or delayed.

Herein is one of the aspects of truth, and it is an aspect which the poetry of Christian ages has often rendered in a most touching manner, when it has attempted to picture this last meeting between the mother and her Son. But it is also an aspect which it is necessary to take care not to consider by itself—and in poetry this has not always been done —if we would not lessen the importance of Mary's personality. In her, at the moment when Jesus is confronted by His Passion, there is much more than a loving and fearful mother; she is then, more than ever, the intimate associate of the Redeemer. If Jesus, some days or some hours beforehand, desired by a last conversation to prepare her for that great trial—and this is an hypothesis which heart and mind may easily consider probable—He must have talked with her in a manner more lofty than we can imagine, of the great sacrifice of the Passion, of the redemption of the world, and of the spiritual life of the soul. Afterwards—and this is not an hypothesis, but a definite statement of Gospel history—Mary followed Jesus in the path of His sorrows, and accompanied Him to Calvary. And, in the opinion of theologians and saints, it was in all fitness, if not indeed a necessity, that at the hour of the supreme sacrifice she should thus be near her Son; both the great divine scheme and the harmony of God's purpose regarding her required it to be so. At the same time that the bloody Passion completed and perfected Jesus as our Saviour, 1 Mary, the queen of saints and our mother, was also completed and perfected in passing through that anguish.

This was the perfecting of her holiness; for those whom God desires to make holy, He " conformed to the image of His Son, 2 either by sending them trials of the flesh and spirit like those of Jesus, or by uniting them to Him in the contemplation, full of love and compassion, of His sufferings. It is remarkable that the best loved of the apostles, and the only one who followed Jesus to the cross, was also the only one who did not suffer a violent death. May it not be, that in his case the part he took in the Passion of Jesus, which was accomplished before his eyes, bringing him, so to speak, into direct communion with the sufferings of the Master, served as a kind of exalted martyrdom in place of the martyrdom of blood and of the sword ? And does not this help us to understand something of Mary's compassion ? " It is therefore greater to suffer with Christ than to suffer for Him ; there is in this a closer union with Christ, a more efficacious influence of the Passion of Christ, a deeper anguish, when one endures, not His own sufferings, but rather those of Christ." 3 It was by this martyrdom of the heart that the holiness of the queen of martyrs had to be perfected.

Therefore, that day of sadness was for her a day of inestimable merit. Taken by itself, suffering is neither the only nor the principal source of merit. But when it is joined to love, which gives to it its real value, there is not, upon earth, and in the present order of things, a better means of acquiring merit. This providential law is clearly indicated even by the mystery of the cross. Strictly speaking, it was at the time of the Passion that the merits of Jesus were accepted on our account; for it was at that moment that it pleased God to accept the infinite merits of His whole life, united to the infinite merit of His sufferings and death. Mary, who was always closely connected with her Son, suffered with Him; we can have no idea of the anguish she then endured, for the perfection of her nature and the spiritual gifts she had received, augmented in her the power of suffering to its utmost limit; her sorrowing love was of an heroic character, a form of love particularly meritorious and most appropriate to our earthly life ; by it she connects her acts with the acts of the infinitely pure love of Christ, at that time when He loved, even unto death, God His Father and all creation in Him. At the same time that she acquired for herself these gifts of grace, Mary also obtained merit for all those whom God has called to a spiritual life. Without doubt, these merits obtained for us were of a different kind to those of her Son. He is the only mediator, and the mediator for Mary, as well as for the rest of mankind, because His mediation only is strictly necessary and sufficient for giving us access to God. To Him alone belongs the merit of " excellence," of " strict and rigorous justice," of " full condignity " ; for He alone, by the especial efficacy of His acts, bestows the just reward of heavenly blessings and of eternal life, and offers to heaven a reparation fully commensurate with the majesty of the offended God. The merit that one pure human being gains for another is only a merit " of congruity "; 4 and moreover, it is only through the power of the merits of Jesus Christ that a human being possesses this merit. But, this reservation being made, God desires that His faithful, while entirely dependent upon His Son, should also obtain merit for one another.


1 Hebrews ii. 10.

2 Romans viii. 29.

3 Guillaume le Petit (abbot of Bec ?), On the Canticles, iii. 10 (quoted from Terrien, La mere des hommes, t. iii. p. 227-8).

Christ alone is worthy to obtain grace for others de condigno; Mary and other righteous souls merit grace for themselves de condigno, but for others de congruo.