My parish church has a most splendid, towering Crucifix in its sanctuary. It portrays not only Christ on the Cross, but also the figures of the Blessed Mother, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene mourning at the foot of the Cross. At the back of the church there is also a beautiful pieta.
I am always drawn to these sculptures whenever I am in the midst of suffering or difficulty. But I recently had a particularly profound experience when a confessor asked me to pray the Hail Mary as part of my penance.
As usual, I went to the altar rail to pray and do my penance. As I prayed the Hail Mary, I looked at the figure of the Virgin standing at the foot of the Cross. She looks up at her dying Son, one hand clasping her mantle, perhaps in response to the piercing swords in her heart, the other raised to her face in a mournful gesture.
I felt a strange stirring in my own heart as I prayed. Curious, I repeated the prayer, and I realized that it took on a whole new meaning when prayed before the Sorrowful Mother. I couldn’t believe I had not realized it before.
The prayer is derived from the Archangel Gabriel’s salutation to Mary at the Annunciation and from St. Elizabeth’s greeting at the Visitation, so it is not unreasonable to associate the prayer primarily with the joy of Christ’s Incarnation and Mary’s miraculous blessed motherhood. But the Incarnation was destined to lead to the Crucifixion. And Mary’s motherhood made her a most intimate witness to it all–the sorrows and sufferings as much as the joys.
And yet we still pray:
Hail Mary, full of grace!
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and Blessed is the Fruit of thy womb,
I guess my realization was that even when Mary is at the foot of the Cross, the Lord is with her and she is blessed. And the same is true with me or any of us: in our times of suffering, the Lord is still with us and we are still blessed. Those things do not change. We may feel as if they do, as if God is absent, as if we are alone, as if we are cursed. Mary’s life and example, like those of Christ Himself, show that we are not, that God is faithful, and that He exalts the humble and comforts the mourning.