As we commemorate the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus this Palm Sunday, my thoughts turn too, to the role of Mary, who is not mentioned Matthew’s narrative, from which we have this year’s readings. My thoughts were prompted by a challenge from a friend.
At the challenge of a friend, I picked up the closest book on hand*, turned to page 56, and wrote down the fifth sentence:
“La Vergine Madre è ai piedi del sacerdote con gli occhi rivolti al cielo, tenendo in braccio il sacro Pegno. Ella sente tutto il peso rovesciato sulla Vittima divina e si unisce ad essa.”
“The Virgin Mother is at the foot of the priest with her eyes to heaven, holding in her arms the sacred Pledge. She feels all the weight placed upon the Divine Victim and unites herself to Him.”
A conversation ensued, based on my translation, since I admitted I didn’t like to use the word ‘Pledge’ in this context. Still pondering this thought, I wrote:
“‘Pegno’ is hard to translate here … because what is happening at the Cross is more than a ‘pledge’ (as we would use the word). It is a reference to a promise, a token (another weak word), a sign (a little better?). It is ‘to pawn’ something. Hmmm. Very interesting indeed! Is Jesus what is pawned, for the promise of our future redemption?”
(To use the word ‘pledge’ would be correct, deriving from the Latin ‘pignus’. And ‘pignus’ is where the word ‘pawn’ comes from.)
Peg responds: “His body and blood pawned for the souls of humanity”.
Yes, the image of Jesus given over for humanity works, but in my thoughts, I was trying to imagine God walking into a pawnshop, with His only begotten Son tucked under his arm, to offer him as a temporary holding…no, the image doesn’t quite work.
Then Deb chimed in:
Could it (the pledge) be similar to the Greek word “arrabon” meaning a down-payment?
She made the connection between the letters of Saint Paul, and his use of the Greek word ‘arrabon’, quoting his letter to the Ephesians:
“In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.” (NAB)
Deb’s translation uses the word ‘Guarantee’ in place of the NAB’s ‘first installment’. Both translations point to something in the future, that is to come. Something promised and certain.
So, looking back to my translation, how would it read to replace ‘Pledge':
“The Virgin Mother is at the foot of the priest with her eyes to heaven, holding in her arms the sacred First-Installment/Guarantee. She feels all the weight placed upon the Divine Victim and unites herself to Him.”
The posturing of Mary, it seemed to me, was all wrong. It was too…priestly (eyes to heaven; offering the ‘sacred Pledge'; uniting herself to the weight of the sacrifice), as though she is offering the Divine Sacrifice. But this sentence cannot be fully understood without the following paragraph, which reads:
“Dopo un istante d’ineffabile raccoglimento alza le braccia e, consengnando il Bambino all’Ufficiante, ne fa con lui solenne oblazione al Padre, e supplica di ricevere, il Figlio suo come prezzo dell’umano riscatto.”
“After an inexpressible moment of reflection, she raises her arms, handing over the Child to the Official, makes of him a solemn offering (oblation) to the Father, and begs Him to receive her Son as the price of redeemed humanity.”
So, rather than Mary standing at the Cross, the passage portrays Mary in the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. She is offering her first-born Son. Her offering Jesus in the Temple foreshadows her standing at the foot of the Cross, the altar of supreme Sacrifice. It is for this reason, the first passage can speak of a ‘first-installment’ or ‘pledge’. At His presentation in the Temple, Jesus is the Pledge of future redemption, in that very small, vulnerable Child, offered in the arms of His mother.
This is the Mary we all know and love. She is not the priestess offering the sacrifice, but rather the ‘handmaid of the Lord’, offering the first-fruits of her womb for the service of God and His glory. She presents her only begotten Son in his infancy as the pledge of the future redemption to be brought through his life, suffering, death and resurrection.
What a beautiful example of the Christian life. Luke’s narrative of the Presentation describes Mary, as one who too will experience suffering (and you yourself, a sword shall pierce – Luke 2:35). It is this sword of sorrow that inspired the title for Mary, Mother of Sorrows. She unites herself to her Son in his suffering. We too are called to participate in God’s redemptive work through uniting our own suffering with the Supreme Sacrifice. May we raise our arms and eyes towards heaven, and make a gift back to God all that pierces our heart or afflicts our body, for the service of God and His glory.
As we come together today, to recall the suffering at the Cross, let us carry in our hearts, Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, who shared in a way the sacrifice of her Son. A prayer prayed every morning by the Canossian Sisters throughout the world may help us in this intention:
Father, you willed that Mary be at the Foot of the Cross
Sharing in the sacrifice of your Son.
Grant, that through her intercession,
we may bear within ourselves the image of Christ
Crucified and Risen,
and spend ourselves with untiring charity
for the good of our brothers and sisters.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
* Taken from Spiritualità Canossiana, Sr. Antoinetta Monzoni, FdCC, 1944
This story is cross-posted at National Catholic Register.
Salvifici Dolores (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering), Pope John Paul II
Deb Thurston – ocds, blogs at Karmalight