Today we find ourselves in the Friday of what’s called “Passiontide,” which refers to the final two weeks of Lent. Passiontide begins in dramatic fashion, with the veiling of images in our churches on the 5th Sunday of Lent. If you visit St. Cecilia Church, or watched the video of the parish Mass in St. Gabriel’s last weekend, you will notice immediately that the crucifix and the statues of the saints are covered with purple cloth. The sudden deprivation of the images that typically comfort us forces us to enter into the experience of Our Lord’s passion more deeply.
The Friday of Passiontide is called “Friday of Sorrows” and is traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Mother. The Mass of the day has a special opening prayer, or “Collect,” which states: “O God, who in this season give your Church the grace to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary in contemplating the Passion of Christ, grant, we pray, through her intercession, that we may cling more firmly each day to your Only Begotten Son and come at last to the fullness of his grace.” Sometimes we can make the mistake of thinking of the Virgin Mary as a kind of china doll, and her perfection as somehow inhuman. But Our Lady’s perfection means that she was more perfectly human, and that perfection meant that the suffering she experienced in her life was greater than the suffering of anyone save her Son. To understand this, we might imagine someone with perfect hearing living in a retirement community where everyone has misplaced his or her hearing aids. Everyone in the community is used to shouting at each other and listening to the radio and the television with the volume all the way up. They don’t notice anything out of whack. But the one with perfect hearing does, and suffers in the midst of her hearing-impaired neighbors.
Our Lady’s experience of the Passion of the Christ was that of the most terrible suffering. Firstly, because she was witnessing the torture and execution of her beloved child. But her suffering was increased exponentially because she understood the gravity of the sin that was being committed. She felt the full weight of the horror that was happening before her eyes. The Roman soldiers who beat Him and drove nails through His hands and feet felt no compunction. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes delighted in seeing Him die. Passers-by on Calvary cursed Him as a criminal, and the men crucified with Him reviled Him in their own despair. All the while, Our Lady’s heart was being pierced with sorrow as she watched her biological Son be rejected and brutalized by the children given to her in grace. The New Eve witnesses Cain slaughter his brother Abel.
Today’s Collect tells us that, in this time of Passiontide, God gives the Church “the grace to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary in contemplating the Passion of Christ.” When we contemplate the Passion we grow in self-knowledge, understanding the horror of human sinfulness, and we grow in knowledge of God, who loves us so much that He suffers and dies on a cross for our sake. Our Lady of Sorrows perfectly contemplates this two-fold reality. We turn to her today and ask for her help to contemplate it more clearly so that we might repent more perfectly and love the Lord with more heartfelt understanding.