Sunday morning I was serving at the altar, something I have the opportunity to do all too infrequently. It’s one of my favorite things to do; my prayer life and spirituality have for the last several years been centered around the liturgy, even before I returned to the Catholic Church. The Anglican liturgy is beautiful, with prayers and praises made in the language of Shakespeare. It is a liturgy that is preserved in the Anglican Use service at my parish, St. Luke’s in Bladensburg, Maryland. The cadences and movements of the service are second nature to me, and sometimes I must say I find myself “going through the motions” as my mind wanders from what’s going on in the service to what the afternoon will bring—often, a relaxing afternoon watching NASCAR.
This Sunday was different. I was paying closer attention to the service, but mainly out of necessity; as I said, I hadn’t served in a while and was a little rusty. I didn’t want to miss my cue, particularly during the elevations as I had responsibility for ringing the bells. As I knelt on the epistle side of the altar and waited for Father to get to the point of the service when I needed to ring the first bell, something occurred to me that I hadn’t thought of before. Not in all the times I had served.
I’m waiting for Jesus to be sacrificed. Just like Mary did.
Almost as soon as the thought went through my head, Father said the words:
Vouchsafe, O God, we beseech thee, in all things to make this oblation blessed, approved and accepted, a perfect and worthy offering: that it may become for us the body and blood of thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I rang the bell to signal the beginning of the holiest part of the Mass, when the bread and wine would become Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity. Father recited the familiar words of Jesus from the Last Supper (“this is my body…this is my blood”); with each elevation I rang the bell, signaling to the congregation in prayer to look towards the altar and behold the body and blood of our Savior. This is what they called in medieval times “the gaze that saves.” It’s the same every Sunday. But this Sunday as I looked at the host, I heard the words of Jesus from the cross:
Woman, behold your Son…Son, behold your mother.
I knew that every Sunday in the Mass Jesus offers Himself to the Father as he did on the Cross. When the Priest elevates the Host, Jesus is raised on the Cross again; when he elevates the Chalice, the blood and water from His side pours forth from His Sacred Heart. But I now knew something deeper. It’s not just the consecration of the bread and wine that reenact the Crucifixion. The entire Mass recreates Calvary. When we are waiting for the bread to be consecrated, we are like Mary waiting at the foot of the cross, alone but for John the beloved.
Woman, behold your Son…We are with Mary, and Mary is with us. Our Lady is standing before the Cross on Calvary; she is in the Holy of Holies in Heaven; and she is kneeling right next to us, worshiping with us every Sunday at every Mass. Every Sunday at every Mass throughout the whole world, she joins her sacrifice with that of her Son's, as she did that Friday 2000 years ago. And every Sunday, she again experiences the sword piercing her own Immaculate Heart.
Son, behold your mother…As she was Jesus’ mother, she is our mother. His mother is our mother; her son is our brother, our Lord, and our Savior. We approach her Son with her, through her, in her, and for her. We join our sufferings, our pain, our struggles, and our fears to her's as she joins her's with those of her Son. The sword that pierces our mother’s heart pierces our own heart, also.
With this in mind, we should approach every Mass with the intention of presenting ourselves, with our Blessed Mother, to our crucified and risen Lord. We love Jesus in Mary, through Mary, with Mary, and for Mary; and Jesus loves us in His Mother, through His Mother, with His Mother, and for His Mother. To Him, we need to bring all of our cares and concerns, all of our sufferings and pain, and that of those we love. Our sufferings are meaningless without the Cross, just as Mary's would have been.