Second Sunday after Epiphany: Our Lady at the wedding of Cana
St. John’s gospel passage today, detailing the wedding feast at Cana, marks one of the rare moments in the Gospels where Mary appears, and she is addressed by Christ under the title “woman,” the word which is associated so strongly with Marian Co-Redemption.
By referring to Mary under the appellation ‘woman’, Christ does not act in a derogatory manner, but rather is speaking thus “in the exercise of His divine dignity and mission.” When Mary is styled as ‘woman’ it is in the most beautiful and crucial passages relating to salvation, particularly in the protoevangelium and at the foot of the cross. ‘Woman’ serves to denote the passages of Marian Co-Redemption in Scripture. This is the case at the wedding of Cana, where Mary is responsible for calling to her Son’s attention the need for wine at the celebration and Christ addresses her under the title ‘woman’.
It is truly fitting that she should be so linked to Him in this very first of His public miracles, for it teaches man about the proper relation which exists between the Mother and her Son. John 2:5 recounts Mary advising the servants that “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.” This act is very much part of Mary’s Co- Redemptive mission as enacted throughout her life: she sees the problem and then brings those servants to Christ. In like manner she brings her sinful children to Christ, aware that only His death on the cross can save man from sin. But she is always united to Him in this saving act, in a subordinate role.
Of course the most poignant appearance of the Blessed Mother in the New Testament is at the foot of the cross. John describes Calvary thus: “There stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: ‘Woman, behold thy son’.”
Her position beside the cross is one of suffering and offering. Christ styles her as ‘woman’, evoking the words of Genesis 3:15; here she is crushing the devil’s head and her seed is performing the salvific and redemptive death. This use of ‘woman’ denotes Our Lady in her role as Co-Redemtrix, fulfilling the words by which she and her Son were promised in Genesis. Marys’ position at the foot of the cross is the climax of her Motherly role, for she unites herself so completely to the Divine will that she abnegates her natural desire for Christ’s life and wills His salvific death. Thus she has the dual sorrow of witnessing Him in death, whilst lovingly willing Him to die in order that He might conquer sin.
Commentating on today’s Gospel, drawn from St. John, St. Alphonsus Ligouri uses the opportunity to touch on one his favourite topics: devotion to Mary. The great saint teaches two points in his homily on the texts, namely “the greatness of Mary’s power to obtain from God the graces which we stand in need of; and the tenderness of Mary’s compassion, and her readiness to assist us all in our wants.”
Mary’s help is unfailing, notes Ligouri, and her prayers and supplications at the throne of God are “infallibly heard.”
“The prayers of the saints are the prayers of servants; but the prayers of Mary are the prayers of a mother, and therefore, according to the holy doctor, they are regarded in a certain manner as commands by her Son, who loves her so tenderly. It is then impossible that the prayers of Mary should be rejected.”
So also St. Alphonsus explains how the Gospel is an example of Mary’s tenderness as a mother. “The wine fails the spouses are troubled no one speaks to Mary to ask her Son to console them in their necessity. But the tenderness of Mary’s heart, which, according to St. Bernardine of Sienna, cannot but pity the afflicted, moved her to take the office of advocate, and, without being asked, to entreat her Son to work a miracle.”
Closing, St. Alphonsus commends some practices of Marian devotion, in light of her unfailing help which she seeks to offer her children and the love she has both for God and His creation.
"But, to obtain special favours from this good lady, we must perform in her honour certain devotions practised by her servants; such as, first, to recite every day at least five decades of the Rosary; secondly, to fast every Saturday in her honour. Many persons fast every Saturday on bread and water: you should fast in this manner at least on the vigils of her seven principal festivals. Thirdly, to say the three Aves when the bell rings for the Angelus Domini; and to salute her frequently during the day with an Ave Maria, particularly when you hear a clock strike, or when you see an image of the Virgin, and also when you leave or return to your house. Fourthly, to say every evening the Litany of the Blessed Virgin before you go to rest; and for this purpose procure an image of Mary, and keep it near your bed. Fifthly, to wear the scapular of Mary in sorrow, and of Mount Carmel. There are many other devotions practised by the servants of Mary; but the most useful of all is, to recommend yourself frequently to her prayers. Never omit to say three Aves in the morning, to beg of her to preserve you from sin during the day. In all temptations have immediate recourse to her, saying: 'Mary, assist me.' To resist every temptation, it is sufficient to pronounce the names of Jesus and Mary; and if the temptation continues, let us continue to invoke Jesus and Mary, and the devil shall never be able to conquer us.”