Why, hanging on the Cross, did Jesus single out His mother and St. John and say, “Woman, behold your Son” ?
Presented here is a theory, a possibility, an opinion that, just before He died on the Cross, when Jesus said “Behold, your son,” He was announcing that, after He died, He would be present in person in this young man, the apostle John, and in all men subsequently who would receive, and whose being would be changed by, His new sacrament of Holy Orders. He instituted this sacrament the night before Good Friday and then administered it to John and the remaining men, all apostles. This happened before Pentecost, the birthday of His Church.
At the Foot of the Cross
On Calvary when Jesus was crucified and died, His final significant act, before saying “I thirst,” and “It is accomplished,” was this, as the divinely-inspired words of John’s Gospel tell us:
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, behold your son,” and to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. “ (Jn 19:26,27)
Of all the people present, in these words Jesus speaks directly to only two of them – He singles out His mother and the “apostle whom He loved,” John. There is no give-and-take conversation, only the words of Jesus.
Some traditional interpretations of what happened and why Jesus did what He did are that: Jesus wanted John to care for His mother after he died; Jesus is recognizing His mother as the mother of not only John, but of all Christians; and Jesus is saying that the Church, His Church, all of us, are now His family.
Some writers have that John, who had been ordained in the sacrament of Holy Orders less than twenty-four hours before, was present at the Cross as an ordained priest. No other apostle – no other ordained priest – was there. (For example: The Blessed Virgin Mary’s Role in the Celibate Priest’s Spousal and Paternal Love; Monsignor John Cihak, S.T.D.; Ignatius Insight; http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2009/jcihak_maryandpriests1_july09.asp).
What Jesus Did Not Say
Jesus could have chosen to say anything. He knew that John was there and He knew that some years later John, divinely inspired, would write down His words, and then for all time people would read what He had said. Interestingly, Jesus did not say any of these things, which He could have said:
“Mother, behold your children.” [referring to not only John, but the other Marys present, including Mary Magdalene].
“Woman, behold your son, John, and your daughter, Mary Magdalene.”
“John, treat this woman now as your own mother.”
“John, take care of My mother.”
“Mother, behold everyone here.” [including the women, any representatives of the high priest, the Roman soldiers, the Centurion, the two thieves, and the Gentiles].
“Woman, behold all these people here ”
“Everyone, love one another.”
“Woman, this young man is now to be like a son to you.”
“Everybody hear Me. My mercy will now cover all your sins and all sins for all time.”
But Jesus chose not to say any of these things.
Why Speak Only To Mary, and Only To John?
Jesus chose to speak to Mary and John. So why the words reported in the Gospel of John and why did He speak only to Mary, His Mother, and only to the young apostle John?
Perhaps there is no reason to ask why and the words should simply be taken as written. Considering, however, some facts – that John was the only ordained priest present; that this was done immediately before Jesus dies; Jesus uses the word “son;” and that years later John was inspired by God to recount verbatim what happened for everyone to read until the end of time; that the sacrament of Holy Orders had changed John’s very being – there may be some interesting paths to pursue, even if clear, certain, and unambigous insights are not possible.
What follows, although stated in declarative sentences, is opinion or theory; and, if these make no sense, some more learned can, and there is hope they will, explain why this is “mere” opinion and “mere” theory.
The words Jesus chose, “woman” and “son” have meanings deeper than what they literally signify.
The Woman, Mary
It is fairly well accepted that Jesus, in addressing Mary as “woman” is calling to mind Genesis 3:15:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
This – “woman” – is how He addressed her previously at Cana, when He performed His first miracle.
It is Mary’s offspring, her Son, who defeats Satan and all evil.
The Son, John
The word Jesus uses for “son” is the same word used throughout the New Testament, in the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary and to Joseph, in the words of Jesus, in the words of His apostles, in the words of demons, in the words of the evangelists, and in the words of the other New Testament writers. He does not say to Mary “John here is now like me, like your son.”
Why Did Jesus Say This?
This is the opinion/theory: In saying “Woman, behold your son,” Jesus is saying to His mother, and to all of us who through the centuries and who today read these words:
“This ‘son,’ John, is now Me in person. I have made him so, changed his very being, by the change effected in My new sacrament of Holy Orders. Woman, I am your only Son, and when I am no longer here, I will be here as your Son in person in all men ordained and for all time to be ordained My priests. Here right now, after I have said this, I will offer the sacrifice of my life on this Cross, I will die. Then, I, from now until the end of the world, will be actually present for you and for all, and with you in person – body and soul, and body – in a special sacramental way in these men, and not in this way in any other human beings. I will act in person in these men who will re-present for Me to My Father this sacrifice of Mine.”
Holy Orders – Priests & Priests Only, In Persona Christi
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that Jesus is present today in person in His priests in a way in which He is not present in anyone else:
“In the person of Christ the Head . . .
“1548 In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis:[citing Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 10]
“It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi) [citing Pius XII, Mediator Dei].” (Catechism 1548)
“1563 ‘Through that sacrament priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the head.’ ” (citing Vatican II, Presbyterorem Ordinis). (Catechism 1563)
“1591 . . . the task [of the ordained priest] is to serve in the name of and in the person of Christ the Head in the midst of the community.” (Catechism 1591)
Sacrifice of the Mass – Jesus In Person In His Priest
Jesus in present in person in His priests at each Mass, and only in His priests who are there in persona Christi:
“1566 ‘It is in the Eucharistic cult or in the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful (synaxis) that they [ordained priests] exercise in a supreme degree their sacred office; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father.’ “ (citing Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
No matter which accepted definition of “person” is used and followed, a “person” is not only a soul or not only a body. A person is a soul/body, a body/soul, an “ensouled body,” or an “embodied soul.” No matter how you define “person,” the body is there.
When Jesus is present with us today in person, He is with us totally, wholly, soul/body, body/soul. He is with us in the person of His priests, their persons which are both soul and body, in the person of their embodied souls, in the person of their ensouled bodies. This is why from the time of the Last Supper until today the Church has faithfully obeyed the Command Of The Lord that only males be ordained; and why is it senseless, in terms of theology, sacramentality, and ecclesiology to think that anyone other than a male even could receive Holy Orders and be ordained a priest to be Jesus, in person, for us.
Clues From The Original Greek of St. John’s Gospel
Here is a literal translation of John 19:26-27 :
“Jesus therefore seeing and knowing the mother and the disciple having stood by whom he was loving, says to the mother, Woman see and know the son of you. Then He says to the disciple, See and know the mother of you. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own.
The verb Jesus uses, typically translated as “behold,” means more than simply “see.” It means to both see and then to realize what you are seeing, to see and to know. Jesus is telling His mother, and us today, you see this young man here, he is now more than he was, he is now configured to Me so that in him I can be with you, in person, in the “son of you, mother,” in the person of My priests.
He is also speaking to John, and in speaking to John speaking to all priests for all time: You, now that you have been ordained My priest, see and know that you are now so changed in your very being that you are My mother’s Son, taking my place here in earth, her son in a way that no one else is.
There are three sacraments you can receive only once: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. This is so because they effect a real change which cannot be reversed and is a change forever. This has been described as an indelible mark on the soul and the imprinting of a sacramental, spiritual character on the soul. (See, e.g. Catechism 1582; and Canon Law 1008 and related commentaries)
By His sacrament of Holy Orders, a man is changed, a new reality comes into existence in the person of the priest. Jesus is not there merely in spirit, He is there in person, in His priest:
“The ordained ministry, which may never be reduced to its merely functional aspect since it belongs on the level of “being,” enables the priest to act “in persona Christi” and culminates in the moment when he consecrates the bread and wine, repeating the actions and words of Jesus during the Last Supper . . . The Eucharist, like the priesthood, is a gift from God “which radically transcends the power of the assembly” and which the assembly “receives through episcopal succession going back to the Apostles” (Encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” 29). The Second Vatican Council teaches that “the ministerial priest, by the sacred power that he enjoys … effects the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the person of Christ and offers it to God in the name of all the people” (Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 10).” (Letter of John Paul II to Priests, Holy Thursday, 2004).
This is what is being proposed here. Jesus is telling Mary that, since He is going to heaven, and as He is her Son, the offspring who crushes the head of evil, these men He has really, sacramentally changed are now her sons, her offspring through His sacramental power and they will now be here on earth for Him, in person.