Mary has served a timeless ministry as mother of mankind

Father John A. Kiley

The Blessed Virgin Mary emerges twice in the Gospel according to St. John. Her initial arrival on the scene occurs in this coming Sunday’s Gospel account, the wedding feast at Cana, and her final appearance is made at the death and crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary. Thus St. John frames Jesus’ entire pubic life with vignettes that feature Mary.

In the first narrative, Mary is recalled persuading Jesus to hasten the inauguration of his public life. In her closing scene, she offers her maternal support as Jesus tragically exits his public life. In neither of these manifestations is the Blessed Mother designated by her own name Mary. Rather, she is simply called “the mother of Jesus.” The omission of Mary’s given name in the Gospel according to St. John is especially curious since it was to this dedicated apostle that Jesus Christ had entrusted his beloved mother at the time of his death. By the time this Gospel account was written, the Blessed Virgin Mary had surely lived in St. John’s company for some time. They were not strangers; he certainly knew her name.

In his twin Gospel accounts, St. John choose not to highlight Mary as a solitary individual by singling her out by name. Rather, St. John chooses to emphasize Mary’s universal and timeless ministry as mother — the mother of Christ, the mother of the Christian community, and, even, the mother of mankind. The abundance of miraculous wine produced through Christ’s words for the bride and groom at Cana was the first public sign of Jesus’ divine power and this marvelous largesse encouraged the disciples to begin to believe in him. Thus the first seed of what would become the universal church was planted here at Cana. An embryonic act of faith that would develop into the worldwide body of Christ was first evidenced here in this Galilean village, and this early step toward universal salvation came about at the insistence of Mary.

Mary confidently turned the hand of Jesus toward rescuing this young couple in distress: “They have no more wine.” And with equal confidence Mary encouraged the attending servants to heed the words of Jesus, “Do whatever he tells you.” Thus Mary’s place in salvation history is established. She draws the attention of Jesus to mankind’s needs (they have no wine) and Mary urges a complete response on the part of the human family toward Christ (do what he tells you). These, by the way, are Mary’s last recorded words in Scripture. They are not idly spoken. They enshrine Mary as an intermediary, as the “advocate” mentioned in the Hail, Holy Queen, as the one who would despise no petition in the “Memorare,” and as the perennial negotiator on behalf of sinners in the Hail Mary. Later generations would go as far as offering Mary the titles of co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces. And these accolades do not seem too far off the mark when Mary’s final appearance next to the cross of Christ is considered.

Mary appropriately stands at the foot of the cross because she was the very first person to benefit from the fruits of the salvific death of Christ. From the first moment of her conception, Mary had been spared the faintest hint of sin thanks to the anticipated merits of Jesus’ bodily sacrifice on Calvary. Clearly Mary was the first to take advantage of redemption. The advice to be obedient servants heard at Cana (do what he tells you) had already sounded from the lips of Mary (be it done unto me according to your word). Mary was receptive to God’s word just as she now encourages mankind to be.

But Mary was also the first to offer the fruits of redemption to the rest of the world. She is indeed “the spring through which all graces flow.” Mary generously and touchingly put aside her maternal feelings for her own Son so that she might more lavishly and more movingly take the whole human family under her maternal care. Mary’s maternal instinct toward mankind, signaled by her role at Cana, came to its fulfillment at Calvary. Mary supported Christ as he offered his abundant grace to the sinful world just as he had once proffered abundant wine on the hapless couple at her request. Again Mary is the channel, the negotiator, the advocate — the first obediently to accept grace and the first kindly to offer support in dispensing grace. St. John’s writings salute Mary as a singular mother, hastening to bring the needs of man to God as surely as she directs the grace of God toward man.