Tradition tells us that whilst carrying His Cross on the way to Calvary, the Lord met His holy Mother, Mary. The Scriptures are silent on this event, but the moment has been captured in art throughout the centuries. Also, we recall it in the Stations of the Cross, images of which are to be found in almost every Catholic Church. The Stations developed from the ancient practice of pilgrimage to the Holy Places; this was not possible for everyone, and particularly for the poor, and so gradually the Stations were replicated and placed near Churches. In 1686 Pope Innocent XI granted permission to the Franciscan Order to erect Stations in their Churches, and the permission was extended to all Churches in 1731. Also at that point, the number of the Stations, which had varied considerably, was set at fourteen.
It seems to me that this meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross is one of the saddest moments of the Passion, a moment of profound pain for both the Lord and His Mother; I wonder if any words passed between Them, but I suspect there simply were no words for that singular encounter. I think, too, that the meeting was very brief, for the Romans were terrified Jesus would die before He reached Golgotha and it seems reasonable to suppose He was probably hurried along to His fate rather than risk nature giving out.
Although intensely sad, there must also have been a deep and abiding sense of trust in God’s providence; after all the Lord endured the Passion and His death willingly, and the Blessed Virgin also consented fully and perfectly to the plan of God, from the moment of Her ‘fiat’ at the Incarnation.
Later, in the prophecy of Simeon, She was given some light on what Her consent would entail – for Her Heart, too, would be pierced by the sword of sorrow. And now, in this moment on the Way of the Cross, that prophecy finds it’s fulfilment.
Jacopone da Todi’s poem ‘Stabat Mater’, written some time around 1230 and much later translated into English by Edward Carswall, describes this moment very eloquently and poignantly –
“Through Her Heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
.. Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in Her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?
.. Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified.”
For the Blessed Virgin, then, this moment was accepted in total faith and trust in God and in surrender to His divine will. As a mother, of course, her Heart was torn apart. One text used for the Stations Of The Cross puts it this way –
“On the way to Calvary, Jesus sees His Mother. Their eyes meet. They understand one another. Mary knows who Her Son is. She knows whence He has come. She knows what His mission is. Mary knows that She is His mother; but She also knows that She is His Daughter. She sees Him suffer for all men and women, those of the past, present and future. And She, too, suffers.”
As surely as Jesus carried the Cross upon His weary shoulders, so too did the Blessed Virgin carry that Cross in Her Heart. At every step She shared intimately in His Passion, and so She has the right to be called ‘Co-Redemptrix’. We are all called to be ‘co-redeemers’ with Christ, “making up” as Saint Paul tells us “what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church”. The Blessed Virgin, however, achieved this in a singular and perfect way.
It has always seemed to me that this thought is expressed by Heaven on the reverse of the Miraculous Medal, where those two Hearts are portrayed side by side – one crowned with thorns, the other pierced by the sword of sorrow. Here, too, the Cross of Christ is intimately interwoven with the ‘M’ of Mary.
Perhaps contemplating the Blessed Virgin in Her meeting with the Lord on the way to Golgotha will console and encourage us in those moments of life where all seems dark and without hope; like us, She has suffered. She knows full well how deeply the heart can be filled with sorrow. But Her Heart was also filled with faith in the God Who is mercy and compassion, ‘slow to anger and abounding in love’. And this faith kept Her going, even – and perhaps, especially – at those dark moments.
May this most Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart console and encourage us in every moment of life and help us, too, to keep going and to stand faithfully with Her on the Way of the Cross, always in the sure hope of the Resurrection.