Sitting at the Feet of Mary: What She Teaches Us About Her Divine Son
by Msgr. Charles M. Mangan
By announcing the “Year of the Eucharist,” Pope John Paul II has directed the thoughts of Catholics everywhere to Jesus Christ present in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Holy Father wishes that during these 12 months of the Year of the Eucharist (October ’04–October ’05), each member of the Church will increase in adoration of and love for the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Risen Lord Jesus.
If we are to grow in our appreciation for this “Sacrament of Sacraments,” then we must come to know and love Jesus our Messiah who is really, truly, and substantially present in the Most Blessed Sacrament under the appearances of bread and wine. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say that the Most Holy Eucharist is Christ.
Especially during the last few years, the Bishop of Rome has strongly exhorted his brothers and sisters regardless of their nation, race, or language to seek the face of Christ, that is, to learn Christ. There is no human person more able to teach Jesus to us than His ever-virgin Mother.
In his October 16, 2002 apostolic letter entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary), Pope John Paul II declares: “From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of Christ (cf. Jn. 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary, no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of His mystery better than His Mother” (no. 14).
School of Mary
The Holy Father urges us to go to Our Blessed Lady—in fact, to enroll in the school of Mary—if we really want to understand and love her Son Jesus. “The school of Mary is all the more effective if we consider that she teaches by obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as she offers us the incomparable example of her own ‘pilgrimage of faith’” (ibid).
Simply put, we learn Jesus Christ from Mary. Besides helping us to know and comprehend what the Master said and did two millennia ago, Mary shows Christ to us. Our sincere veneration of Mary infallibly ushers us into a deeper awareness of and love for the sacred person of Jesus and His indescribable charity and compassion for us.
What can we learn from our Blessed Mother about her Divine Son in the Most Holy Eucharist?
A valuable resource in discovering the answer to this pressing question is found in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church Draws Her Life from the Eucharist), the April 17, 2003 encyclical of Pope John Paul II. The title of Chapter Six of the encyclical is “At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist.’”
The Holy Father boldly asserts: “Mary can guide us toward this most holy Sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it” (no. 53). By carefully reading Chapter Six, we may glean several things from Our Blessed Lady about Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Here are only a few.
Interior disposition of union with God
The Madonna not only received Holy Communion when she attended the Masses of the early Christian community of the first century, but she also was profoundly “Eucharistic” in the recesses of her soul. In other words, thanks to the Holy Spirit, she always maintained a close relationship with the Almighty. Her oneness with God was analogous—although inferior—to the indescribable unity Jesus the Son of God has with His Beloved Father.
The Holy Eucharist is for us that cherished vehicle by which our union with Christ is strengthened. The renowned Jesuit Fr. John Anthony Hardon (1914-2000) was fond of reminding his listeners that the greatest single effect of worthily receiving the Flesh and Blood of the God-Man is the growth in the theological virtue of charity. By partaking in the Holy Eucharist worthily and often, and by spending periods in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament whether exposed in the monstrance or reposed in the tabernacle, we enjoy that oneness with our Creator that characterized the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Total surrender to the Lord
Mary’s powerful heavenly intercession helps us to achieve that incredible “abandonment” to God’s Word that marked her life. She knows what it is like to yield completely to the Lord and His plan. This edifying submission is once again observed in the life of Jesus, who submitted Himself without reserve to His Father—even unto that ignominious but supernatural life-giving death on Calvary.
We realize that if we are to increase in conformity to Jesus, we must do as Jesus and Mary did and humbly bow to the designs of the Father. This surrender cannot be overestimated; our very everlasting destiny depends on it. The Holy Eucharist firms up our resolve to place our wishes at the service of God. Mary acts as “our support and guide” (no. 54) in acquiring this utter abandonment to the Almighty.
Praise and thanksgiving
Our Blessed Mother’s famous and stirring Magnificat, which serves as the Church’s “Gospel Canticle” during the daily chanting of vespers, is replete with the attitudes of praise and thanksgiving. In that hymn, Mary demonstrated her sincerest desire to praise God for who He is and to thank Him for His unspeakable kindness to her. Such praise and thanksgiving mirrors the same so evident during the earthly days of Christ. “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes” (Mt. 11:25).
If we do not express our genuine praise and thanks to the Lord, then we fail to grasp His beneficence adequately. The Holy Eucharist, as its name in Greek relates, is “good thanks”: it is by way of this Sacrament that we learn the significance of gratitude—a virtue that filled the hearts of Jesus and Mary. Both Christ and His Mother constantly adored and thanked the Godhead for everything that comes from the Deity. We do similarly when we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and when we adore the Most Blessed Sacrament—our unparalleled spiritual food and drink.
Awareness of what God has done
It is clear from several places in the Holy Gospels that Our Lady had an acute sensitivity to all the past favors that the Lord had granted to her. Whether while singing her Magnificat or after the Presentation of the Baby Jesus in the Temple and the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, Mary carefully pondered the workings of God around her. Jesus, too, acknowledged where He was from, His intimate rapport with His Eternal Father and that which His Father had done and was accomplishing in the present moment. Mary never forgot the Annunciation; Jesus never forgot His Passion.
If we do not recognize what the Lord has done in our midst, we will never see this stark reality: No matter the hurdles and temptations that cross our paths, God has done marvelous things for us and will continue to do so. The trust in Christ we so desperately need is a by-product of our adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist. To be “Eucharistic” is to acknowledge God’s past fidelities to us while waiting for additional signs of His loving mercy. We must note and embrace God’s wonders that He has performed on our behalf.
Recognition of future “eschatological” or “end-times” realities
Our Blessed Mother’s Magnificat was the background against which she proclaimed “the ‘new heavens’ and the ‘new earth’ which find in the Eucharist their anticipation and in some sense their program and their plan” (no. 58). Mary looked forward to the perfection of creation that would come through the long-awaited Messiah, while Jesus set His sights on His Second Coming when He would make all things new.
Since we have here no lasting city, our hearts are fixed on heaven—the kingdom that has no end. The Most Holy Eucharist is rightly hailed as “the pledge and the foretaste” of paradise. Our reception of the Blessed Sacrament gives us a clue as to what the unending glory of everlasting life is like—a gift that is now already realized in the sacred souls and bodies of Jesus and Mary.
We may learn much from Our Blessed Mother about her Divine Son in the Most Holy Eucharist. The foregoing is only a beginning. Stay tuned for the secrets about the adorable Son that His chaste Mother will gladly reveal to you.
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Msgr. Charles M. Mangan currently works in Rome as a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life. This article appeared in Lay Witness Magazine and is reprinted with permission of Catholics United for the Faith