“At Every Moment”—The Mystery of Mary’s Mystical Suffering

Updated: May 30, 2020

When the torturers struck the transcendental God who became immanent in creation, the suffering dealt was not only for the person of Jesus. With every lash of the whip, two lashes were felt. Every thorn was felt twice. Nails pierced four hands, and four feet as well. “Every blow rending the body of the son had its cruel echo in the heart of his Mother.” St. Bonaventure exclaims, “Why wouldst thou, most honored Lady, be immolated for us? Is not our Savior’s passion sufficient for our salvation?” (1)

Yet, as she has revealed in recent centuries, her suffering did not stop there. In light of numerous mystical writings and apparitions, we could now rightly echo Bonaventure and say, why wouldst thou, most honored Lady, continue to suffer for us? Is not our Savior’s passion sufficient? Is not your earthly suffering sufficient?

How can Mary behold the face of God and suffer in her body-soul perfection? Does that not seem contrary to our notion of the beatific vision? What of God’s promise that “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more”? (2) Is it even possible for a creature who has attained the fullness of unity with the Most High to experience privation in suffering? Perhaps the denial of Mary’s mystical suffering has an element of fear in its theological and philosophical debate. It just doesn’t seem right that she should continue to suffer. But that’s the whole point: It’s not right that she should continue to suffer!

Ah, but the first heaven and the first earth have not passed away as yet; they have not become the former things. (3)

And so we hear the words of the child Jesus in a vision to Sr. Lucia in Spain in 1925: “Have compassion on the Heart of your most holy mother, covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them”. (4) Following the Child’s words, the Blessed Mother reiterated in the apparition:

Look, my daughter, at my Heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce me at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me, and say that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me (5).

It is impossible to disregard the Blessed Mother’s words here. Most Catholics would probably say they love Mary. Love involves compassion. If we have true love for Mary, we should be somewhat wounded by these words. Mary’s suffering is not something fanciful. It’s not some sort of motherly guilt trip she has laid upon us to get her children in line. This is clearly not a reference to her suffering at Calvary.

Mary says “at every moment.” She suffers here and now.

She approaches the throne of grace incessantly for us, mediating grace for us. And she suffers with God for the salvation of the most souls possible. Her suffering is real, and she suffers with God. If we are going to honor our heavenly Father and Mother, this is something we should take seriously.

In the modern world, Mary continues to exercise her role in the passing on of the Gospel of suffering, written by the Redeemer and a rich source for all those who suffer with him and in his name. This Gospel of suffering was solemnly passed on to her from the lips of the Savior as she stood at the foot of the Cross “so that it could be proclaimed to the whole community of believers.” (6)

In my treatment of Mary’s mystical suffering, I will first begin with a treatment of God’s suffering.

Suffering Within the Holy Trinity

How could the Son of God “had he not from within the deepest precincts of eternal Triune life itself feltcompassion for human wretchedness—indeed, if he were not compassion itself—he would never have consented to become incarnate in a history covered with such pain and loss as ours routinely has been?” (7) The mystery of suffering within the mystery of the Trinity is outlined well by Ratzinger in “Behold the Pierced One”: “The Father suffers in allowing the Son to suffer, and the Spirit shares in the suffering, for Paul says that he groans within us, yearning in us and on our behalf for full redemption.” (8) Christ suffered. Christ is also God. And as Ratzinger points out, “suffering presupposes the ability to suffer, it presupposes the faculty of the emotions.” (9)

The metaphysics of God has long held that he is unchanging. My intention here is not to overturn the longstanding metaphysical tradition. That would both irrational and irresponsible. But perhaps our human wisdom falls somewhat short of divine wisdom and omnipotence. The Incarnation seems to be a change in God, yet it is harmonious with his unchanging nature. Suffering would also seem to indicate a change in God, yet suffering, too, is harmonious with his unchanging nature. Suffering does not compromise God’s omnipotence, but rather glorifies it, because suffering does not jeopardize it. His suffering also magnifies his radical freedom and love.

John Paul II notes in his 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia that God not only has hesed—describing God’s goodness and faithfulness to his covenantal commitments, and therefore to himself—but also rahamim. Rahamim speaks more of the love a mother has for her child (rehem means, in fact, mother’s womb).

Of this love one can say that it is completely gratuitous, not merited, and that in this aspect it constitutes an interior necessity: an exigency of the heart. It is, as it were, a “feminine” variation of the masculine fidelity to self expressed by hesed. Against this psychological background, rahamim generates a whole range of feelings, including goodness and tenderness, patience and understanding, that is, readiness to forgive (10).

God’s love is all-harmonious. God the Father’s motherly love is harmonious with his hesed. What is missing in metaphysics is a metaphysic of vulnerability. And it makes metaphysical sense as well. A person who loves another person with their whole being becomes vulnerable to the other. The lover becomes “at the mercy” of the beloved. When the beloved is predisposed to the good, the lover shares in the joy of the choice. When the beloved is predisposed to the evil, the lover shares in the wound of the choice. This is the greater love, because this involves self-donation, sacrifice, and unity. Now the metaphysical question then becomes: How can the vulnerable creature exhibit the transcendental in a better way than the Transcendent? How can the father of the prodigal son in his yearning for the son’s return express something greater than the Father.

Christ clearly demonstrates on Calvary the vulnerability of God. God is one. Could only the Second Person of the Trinity be capable of being wounded? I say no. For in the Trinity, there exists three distinct but co-equal divine persons of the same essence. How could only the Son experience suffering in the vulnerability of his love? How could the Father not suffer at the rejection of his Son? If God’s heart recoils within himself at the loss of Ephraim, (11) what of the sight of his grieved Son in Gethsemane? What of his Son on the Cross?

Transcendental Suffering—If God Can’t, Mary Can’t

For a creature to demonstrate a divine attribute to a greater degree than the Creator is a metaphysical absurdity. To suggest that there may be a choice of suffering in glory, we first must show that this is a capacity for God as well. It is our confession of faith that the Son is the perfect image of the Father. Yet the Son freely chose to lay down his life and suffer for our sins. This tells us a great deal about the Father. “Only if the Son is the Father’s perfect image, which in no way diminishes the brightness of the original, only then can he reveal the Father without alteration and loss.” (12) The Son as the Father’s perfect image teaches us about the Father in the Spirit. If the Father and the Son are one (Jn. 17:22), how can the Son suffer while the Father looks on without feeling every bit of it?

St. Athanasius teaches us the concept of homoousios—the Father and the Son are one in essence (13). Though the Father and Son are one in essence, this does not eliminate the distinction between their persons, nor does distinction in their persons eliminate the oneness of their essence (14).

To say that the Father suffers with the Son as the Son dies is not to enter into the patripassian heresy. The heresy “stemmed from modalism that did not sufficiently recognize the distinction among the persons in God. If there is only one divine person, the person who suffered on the Cross is as much Father as the Son.” (15) However, we do not say that the Father died. That would be absurd. One of the ways in which the person of the Father is distinct from the person of the Son is that the Father never became incarnate. Jesus is the only divine person who became incarnate. In taking on human nature, the Son could die, since death is the separation of body and soul. And die he did! It was not his nature that died. Natures don’t die; persons die. Rightly, it may be said that God died. Jesus is God. Jesus died. Therefore, God died. However, the Father is pure spirit. It may not be said that God the Father died. So, we do not enter into the patripassian heresy. In the Father’s oneness with the Son, the Father certainly experienced death because of the perfect unitive love contained within the Godhead. However, God the Father did not die. But he felt the death of his Son. “The Father dwells in his crucified Son, and this paternal presence must entail a sharing in all his sufferings.” (16)

Father Jean Galot, S.J., points out a profound connection between Jesus’ parents at the foot of the Cross: “In the visible countenance of Mary we can recognize an image of the invisible Father.” Suffering intimately with her Son, Mary acquires a far-reaching motherhood when Jesus says, “Woman, behold your son.” The Father, present in great intimacy with his Son, pours out his paternal love upon all in his painful childbirth. Says Galot, “The openness of Mary’s love, in the sacrifice of her Son, to a universal motherhood thus evokes the openness of the Father’s love to a universal fatherhood.” (17) In other words, the parents of Jesus, God the Father and the Mother of God, enter into a new universal parenthood as Christ becomes the firstborn among many brethren. (18)

This is integral to the topic at hand. If somehow Mary, by suffering with her suffering children, could express a greater love in heaven for creatures than God the Father can for his only-begotten Son, then I have certainly stumbled upon a new heresy. Some would say that if God the Father suffers, then he is no longer omnipotent, because suffering implies ch