Wednesday 15 May 2024

Our Lady at Pentecost

The one time Our Lady is mentioned in the Scriptures after the death of Christ is at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. It is the briefest of mentions, but as so often with brief mentions in Scripture, so important.

In Acts 1:14 we read that, after the Ascension of Our Lord, the Apostles were in the Upper Room, “joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers”. The Apostles and the holy women were afraid: the Jesus they had known they had lost on the Cross — only to have him back with them after the Resurrection — and who then left them again when he ascended to heaven. They were huddled together in the Cenacle, fearful of the Jews, bereft of the presence of Christ, and awaiting the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. No doubt they were somewhat confused as to what exactly this Holy Spirit was supposed to be. And we find Mary at their centre, holding them together so to speak, praying with them — and no doubt for them.

There are a few pious traditions about Our Lord and Our Lady that are not mentioned in scripture, but which are very ancient, and are often depicted in art. One rather touching tradition has Our Lord visiting her immediately after his resurrection: that the first thing Jesus did when he rose from the dead was to go and see his mother. Another traditional belief is that in that Upper Room before the coming of the Spirit, Mary spent her time encouraging the Apostles, moving among them, telling them stories from Christ’s hidden life, praying with them and preparing them for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pope Leo XIII wrote beautifully about this in his encyclical on the Rosary, Adiutricem, when he said:

With wonderful care she nurtured the first Christians by her holy example, her authoritative counsel, her sweet consolation, her fruitful prayers. She was, in very truth, the Mother of the Church, the Teacher and Queen of the Apostles, to whom, besides, she confided no small part of the divine mysteries which she kept in her heart.

Parallels are thus obviously drawn between the cooperation between Mary and the Holy Spirit in bringing about the birth of the Lord, and the cooperation between Mary and the Holy Spirit in bringing about the birth of his Body, the Church. She is not only that human person most filled with the Spirit; she is also the Spouse of the Holy Spirit in the story of our salvation — at the birth of Christ, at the beginning of the Church, and now, today, in the lives of you and me.

All joined in continuous prayer together with Mary.

That is what it meant to be a Christian in those earliest days, the days immediately after the Ascension of the Lord. Waiting on God, together with Mary. Praying to God, together with Mary. Longing for the Holy Spirit to come, but being upheld by the presence of the Mother of God. It is such a perfect image of the Church: all joined in continuous prayer together with Mary the Mother of Jesus. That is still what it means to be a Christian.

May Our Blessed Mother continue to uphold us, encourage us, and prepare us, as we wait for the Holy Spirit — given at Pentecost, poured into our hearts and souls at baptism and confirmation — to mould us and shape us into the children of God, and send us out to preach the Good News to all nations.