Opening the Word: Veil of the sanctuary

Because of Palm Sunday, the Annunciation, normally celebrated on March 25, has been transferred to April 9. Instead of the drama of Mary’s “yes,” we contemplate the last breath of Our Lord.

Yet, perhaps there is a deeper wisdom to putting Christ’s birth and death next to one another.

Let us turn our eyes to Mary of Nazareth. Let us hear with her the promise uttered by Gabriel: “Do not be afraid, Mary. ... Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Lk 1:30-31).

The whole world has waited for this moment with bated breath. The salvation of the human race is dependent on the “yes” of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most perfect of all creatures. The handmaid of the Lord gives her will over to God and the drama of salvation begins anew.

In the years to come, Mary must have shared something of this mystery with her beloved Son. Jesus, of course, knew the will of the Father in a way unlike his mother. But, as fully divine and human, he learned from Mary the shape of a life given over to God.

Upon the cross, Jesus echoes his mother’s obedience to the Father. As the suffering servant, he does not return violence for violence but “gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard” (Is 50:6). Humanity’s hatred meets its match in the obedient love of the Word made flesh.

In the final moments of Jesus’ life, he cries out upon the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). Jesus quotes Psalm 22, the lament of a faithful servant abandoned by God.

This psalm expresses the sorrow of Jesus. But it also contains a moment of hope, an exclamation that the suffering servant will remain faithful unto the end: “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you” (Ps 22:23).

At this moment on the cross, this lament was certainly shared by mother and son alike. Mary looked upon the cross, seeing her beloved son wounded unto death. What had happened to God’s promise? Was this horrific death the source of salvation?

Jesus breathes his last upon the cross, giving up his spirit. His breath has spilled out over the very creation that once waited in hope for his mother’s “yes” to God.

And yet, in the Gospel of Matthew, we do not have to wait long for the promise of the Resurrection: “The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt 27:51).

The Holy of Holies, the place of God’s intimate presence with humanity, has been made manifest upon the cross. It is in the suffering of the righteous servant, Mary’s beloved son and our Lord, that we see the first fruits of love’s obedience.

All of us now have access to the full presence of God dwelling among us. We enter this holy of holies by treading the same path of obedient love followed by our blessed Mother and her beloved Son.

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So, during this Holy Week, let us follow Our Lord and his mother to the foot of the cross. Let us give over our will to the Father in imitation of the Son.

And let us wait anew with bated breath for the fruit of Mary’s yes, of the Son’s self-emptying love on Easter Sunday. Until then, let Mary’s words be ours: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.