This homily was given at a Votive Mass of Our Lady of Sorrows at Saint Mary’s, Alexandria VA.
It is fitting that in the month of September, dedicated as it is to Our Lady of Sorrows, and following the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we offer this Votive Mass of Our Lady of Sorrows, and so honour She who is at once the Mother of Christ and our mother also. That we do so in a church dedicated to Our Lady, and at an altar placed so precisely at the foot of a great and beautiful crucifix, is all the more poignant. Truly we have come to Calvary; to participate in the one, full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. As the Council of Trent taught, and as the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different’” (§ 1367).
And it is precisely here, then, at the gibbet of the holy and life-giving Cross—the place where death is crushed and life is won—that the Gospel prescribed for this Mass leads us. Christ the Lord, enthroned upon the altar of the Cross in order to atone for the sins of the whole world, extends to us here a further grace: that She who was chosen “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish” is to be given to us as our mother also (Eph. 1: 4).
By means of his sacrifice on the Cross, Christ has offered mankind salvation. Through baptism we have received and accepted His invitation to eternal life, and so become united to Him—incorporated into His mystical body, the Church. As Saint Paul tells us: by this “you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir” (Gal. 4: 7). By passing through the watery portal of the font, and rising to new life with Him, we thus share a familial bond with Christ and with the whole company of the Church.
In a particular way, then, those joined to Christ in the Church enjoy the motherhood of Christ’s own mother. It is for this reason that Blessed Pope Paul VI gave Our Lady the name Mater Ecclesiæ, Mother of the Church; a title first used in the writings of Saint Ambrose, his noble predecessor in the See of Milan. As the Holy Father put it, Our Lady “continues in heaven Her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.”
That maternal role of Our Lady, however, also comes with an obligation on our part to be her children. It is not enough simply to be passive in our relationship with our mother. A true relationship of love is not only mutual, but respectful, and this is particularly so in the case of our parents. We recall the commandment: “Honour thy father and mother.” How much more, then, must we honour our heavenly mother, given us not simply according to the order of nature, but the order of grace?
In following this commandment, then, we must with all humility be obedient to Her, for such is ultimately obedience to Christ. First, we must imitate Her life as “the most authentic form of perfect imitation of Christ.” And secondly, and not unrelatedly, we must follow Her direction. We recall the first miracle of the Lord at Cana in Galilee, and it was here that Our Lady, our supernatural mother and so the mother of all Christians, first gave us Her maternal advice: Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite (Jn 2: 5). As the Venerable Pope Pius XII recalled: “in a wider sense, She seems to repeat [this] to us all today.” If “there has been a wandering,” the Holy Father teaches, “there must be a return to the straight path.” In other words, in order for us to be true sons and daughters of Our Lady, and thus true brothers and sisters of Christ, we must return to and remain in righteousness; live in the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14: 6).
There is no place better to begin this conversion than here at the foot of the Cross, together with our mother, participating in the sacrifice by which that path to righteousness and salvation is opened to us. Here, above all, we are presented with a stark choice: to follow Christ, or to deny Him. Here we must decide to be the thief on his right, or on his left.
Let us pray, then, as we present our oblation in the Eucharistic sacrifice, that surrounded by the intercession and love of Our Lady, and with Her demanding words echoing in our soul, we might be moved to a more radical and more fervent love of Christ, and commit to Him in His sacrifice, that we might be joined to Him in the fruits of that sacrifice: eternal life in the splendour of the heavenly kingdom.