The Pity

A couple of days ago, some exciting news was released from the Vatican! Basically? Mary gets another feast day! In particular, it is a feast day celebrating Mary’s role as Mother of the Church a week after Pentecost. For more information, check out this news piece from the Vatican.

Now, most of Mary’s feast days revolve around two particular gospel accounts: her Fiat, in which she gives her Yes during the Annunciation, and her Magnificat, which is her song of praise to God during the Visitation. This gospel reading… is a little bit different. For this feast day, the gospel will be of her appearance in John 19, or where she appears at the foot of the cross with St. John. The gospel reading for that day (if you wanted a sneak peek!) is here:

NABRE

John 19

25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.28 After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” 29There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.31Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down.

And, in a terrible way, this is a very fitting reading for this day in which we celebrate Mary’s motherhood of the Church. After all, before this, she was simply the mother of God — which the readings of her Fiat and her Magnificat proclaim boldly. But, as soon as Christ told His beloved disciple to receive His mother as his own, she became the Mother of the Church.

Now, one of the most iconic images of Mary in this role is known simply as the Pietà. The word “Pietà” literally means “pity” in Italian, but in art, that word has come to be thought of an icon in which our Blessed Mother holds the dead body of Christ in her arms. As you can imagine, it’s a very emotional scene… like, even the mere thought of a mother holding her dead child brings chills up my spine… and this is a mother who watches her son get killed in a particularly violent fashion. The word “pity” almost seems to be the understatement of the millennium, honestly.

Probably one of the most powerful icons of the Pietà that I’ve come across is this image:

Pietà, by Sofonisba Anguissola, c. 1574-85. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
Pietà, by Sofonisba Anguissola, c. 1574-85. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy.

It’s a painting that was done by one of the few women who painted in the Renaissance. In fact, she was a contemporary of Michelangelo, who arguably has made the most famous Pieta artwork ever — and, in fact, Michelangelo even recognized her talent when she was a newbie artist.

Unlike many other paintings of the Pieta, which show a very much hysterical Mary, this one shows her with a subtle and nuanced expression. In fact, her expression reminds me of the many paintings that show her gazing contemplatively at Jesus as a child. And this just seems to give an even greater emotional gut punch to me, because it connects her motherhood of her son, Jesus, as an infant, to this Jesus Christ, as an adult, who was just crucified in a particularly brutal way.

And it reminds me that Mary, in all likelihood, knew from the beginning that such a terrible thing would probably happen. After all, Mary was no dummy about scripture. She knew about the prophecies of the Messiah. And, even if she did want to forget, she kept getting reminders — the fact that Simeon told her that her soul would be pierced, the fact that Herod was trying to get Jesus killed as a little baby, the fact that Nazareth kept on trying to stone Jesus whenever He came there to preach. She likely knew that this was what would ultimately happen.

And that is a hard thing to face.

Yet, through her motherhood, she gave us Christ, and Christ, in turn, gave us His mother to be mother of all the Church. And that is a very blessed thing.

 

Questions to Ponder:
  • What do you think Mary is thinking?
  • What sort of things would you be thinking about, were you in her position?
  • This artwork is particularly notable in that only Mary and Jesus are in it — nobody else. Why do you think the artist set them to be alone together?

 

Dear Jesus,

Help us love Your mother more, and by doing so love You more.

Amen.

This artwork is featured in my book, The Sorrowful Mysteries. Take a peek at the book here!

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

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