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The Handmaid of the Lord



The participation of Mary in the Trinity’s mystery of love (2)

26/11/2010: General House

Manifestation of the beginning of the Church on Calvary
Von Balthasar sees the cross as another singular moment of the historical manifestation of the origin of the Church. Mary’s love reaches its climax at the foot of the cross. Together with Mary the whole people of God is assembled on Calvary to give a second “yes”, to accept a second conception.

If we analyse along allegorical lines the presence of Mary and the disciple at the foot of the cross, we discover that a “Woman” and a man remain together at the Cross of Jesus. The  Crucified tells his mother in the last words he utters on this earth: Woman, behold your son; and then to the disciple: Behold your Mother.

Mary’s attitude of faith as “handmaid of the Lord” flows on to the Church. The openness and disposability of the members of the Church to  the summons of God has as manifestation the holiness of daily life. Mary’s openness to God at the foot of the cross consists in its acceptance. “Mary’s acceptance on Calvary is the very prototype of all ecclesial acceptance”1.

“The author of the letter to the Hebrews interprets Psalm 39 precisely in the light of the incarnation of Christ: When Christ came into the world, he said: (...) ‘Here I am, O God; I come to do your will’ (Hb 10: 5-7). Before the mystery of these two  Here I ams, the  Here I am of the Son and the  Here I am of the Mother, which reflect each other and form a unique Amen to the loving will of God, we are left astounded and, full of gratitude, we adore”2.

Mary at the foot of the Cross is truly the personification of the Church, the “Church coming to birth”. This means that we emcounter here an important theological fact, as much for ecclesiology as for mariology. On Calvary, at the moment when the Church is born in these two persons, in this Woman and in this man who symbolise the Church, the words of Jesus are of crucial importance for their reciprocal relationship. In effect, the principal figure, the one who has the more important title, is not the disciple but the “Woman”: Mary. The question is not one of sending the disciple on apostolic mission, nor of entrusting him with the task of proclaiming the Good News and of teaching, but of inviting him to become “son” of Mary, “son” of the Church, that is, a true believer in the Church.

Jesus could have pronounced on this occasion words different from those we find in Jn 19:26-27, similar to those of the mission discourse of the Risen Christ in the Synoptics (cf. Mt. 28:29-30; Mc 16:15-18); he could have told Mary, for example, to observe all that the apostle commanded her to do (cf. Mt. 28:20) in the name of Jesus himself. But we find nothing of that!

As for the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, the sole mission he receives is to take Mary for mother. His primary task is not to go and preach the Gospel, but to become Mary’s “son”. For him and for all the rest, it is more important to be a believer than an apostle. To be son of Mary and of the Mother-Church is the first and most fundamental aspect of all Christian existence. And this is as fully valid for the successor of Peter, for bishops and priests, as for any believer. Playing with the words a little, we can say: being incorporated as sons of God in the mystery of the Church, our mother, is more essential than exercising a ministry in the Church.

Manifestation of the beginning of the Church at Pentecost

The third moment of the foundation of the Church underlined by von Balthasar is Pentecost. In the midst of the praying Church, Mary receives the Holy Spirit, destined for all. “Saint Luke, at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, which describe the life of the first Christian community, after having recorded one by one the names of the Apostles (Acts 1:13), affirms: All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1:14).

“In this text he singles out the person of Mary, the only one, apart from the Apostles, whose name is recorded. She represents a face of the Church different and complementary with respect to the ministerial or hierarchical”3. In the Pentecost event “Mary is converted into the centre and focal nucleus of the Church illuminated by the Spirit”4.
Mary’s faith journey, from the moment she was overshadowed by the Spirit in Nazareth until the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church in the cenacle, is completed, so to speak, by a new role: the Holy Spirit inspires the Church today with her Marian profile. Through being  “full of the Spirit” , Mary is converted into the model and archetype of the Church. At Penetecost, Mary received the Spirit in such a perfect way that she can form the nucleus of the Church with all the saints, with those who have received charisms and with all those who live this perfect acceptance of grace.


This article continues those published on 20 and 31 May, 20 June and 11 November 2010.

1 Teodramática, IV, 370.

2 Homily of Benedict XVI in the Eucharistic concelebration with the new cardinals, 25 March 2006.

3 Catechesis of John Paul II (6-IX-95)

4 María hoy, 40; Sponsa Verbi,218.

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