When I was a new Catholic, I still retained enough of my evangelical-Protestant DNA to fret that Catholics “honor Mary too much” and that titles like “co-mediatrix” were “unbiblical.” But, of course, “Bible” doesn’t appear in the Bible either and I didn’t think that unbiblical.
In fact, the idea of Mary as co-mediatrix is there, and I really should have gotten the clue from Scripture itself. She is told directly by the prophet: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). What does that mean?
Of course, Mary did not die for our sins. But her sufferings were joined to those of Jesus for the good of the Church. For the same reason, Paul could write “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).
And it’s why the Catholic faith offers such profound consolation for those who suffer innocently. Since Jesus has joined himself to us in our pain, our pains are joined with his. Our suffering is not simply meaningless garbage that happens to no purpose and does no one any good. Rather, our pain, joined with Jesus on the cross, has value for his body, the Church, and makes us participants in the redemption of the world.
This is supremely seen in Mary’s endurance in her suffering. For, of course, there are two kinds of agony — the agony we feel for ourselves and the agony we feel for another. Jesus felt all the terror of mortal flesh when he contemplated the fate snaking toward him as the little trail of torches wended its way across the Kidron Valley and up the slope of the Mount of Olives on Holy Thursday evening. He sweated blood and begged to be spared. Three times he pleaded with his Father to let the cup pass from him. But it could not pass. In that hour his disciples slept and he was completely alone.
Except for one kindred spirit. We do not know where Mary was at this time. The Gospels are silent. But we know ordinary human experience. We know the anguish of a mother who begs God that her baby be spared the ravages of cancer and that she suffer in her child’s place. We know of parents who drown in the attempt to save their children. We know of parents who push their children out of the way of oncoming cars and are killed or crippled in the process. We know the agonies of parents bereft of their sons and daughters by drunk drivers or school violence or the thousand idiot havocs the world wreaks on our lives. We know how powerfully their hearts cry out like David’s and say, “Would that I had died instead of you!” (2 Samuel 18:33).
Because of this, we know that Mary could not have contemplated the terrible agonies Jesus was about to face without wishing with all her heart that she could take the blows rather than him. Jesus’ cup was to endure hanging upon the cross. Mary’s cup was to endure not hanging upon the cross.
And that is why we find her there, at the foot of the cross, enduring the extremities of the Passion, as the one her soul loves finally expires from the unthinkable love he bears for us. By the time his side is pierced, he is already dead. The one who suffered the wound was not Jesus, who could not feel it, but Mary, whose soul suffered it for him. That’s why Christians have always loved and honored her so much.
Mark Shea is content editor of CatholicExchange.com.