Catholic fine art - Queen of Martyrs

The Church has crowned Mary, not only with a crown of twelve stars but also with a crown of thorns, in calling Her Martyr—indeed, the Queen of Martyrs. Thus in the Vespers Hymn for the Feast of the Seven Dolors, She sings, "The Virgin stands there the while, more noble than the martyrs: by a new wonder, O Mary, dying, Thou dost not die, though transfixed by such great and dreadful sorrows." And in the Communion Verse for the Mass of the Feast, She declares, "Happy the senses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which without death obtained the palm of martyrdom beside the Cross of the Savior." All the spiritual writers say the same. St. Bernard, who calls Her "more than martyr," is typical of them all.

The pure body of Our Lady was exempt from physical macerations. By Her Immaculate Conception She was free from bodily ills. When She died it was not from sickness or physical disintegration, the result of original sin, but from love. Somehow we shrink from the very thought of seeing that holy body of Hers mangled in any way. It was to be all fair from the beginning and throughout eternity.

But there is a martyrdom besides that of the body; it is the martyrdom of the soul. We know that by our own experience. We have ceased to feel bodily pain at times when an overwhelming grief has rushed upon our heart. The death of dear ones, disgrace, disappointment, reverses, worries, so pierce our heart with pain, that we ignore the wounds or sickness that would otherwise lay us low physically. It is easier to bear the cut of the sword than dishonor. A broken heart is not as easily mended as a maimed body. And if we are subject to this martyrdom of soul, we can easily understand how fittingly the title martyr is given to Our Lady, who endured suffering more than sufficient to cause Her death, had not God saved Her from the physical consequence of that agony. She was willing to shed Her blood. God spared Her that, but He did not free Her from martyrdom.

One could not be a friend of Jesus without coming into the circle of pain. As Fr. Faber says, "The law of the Incarnation is a law of suffering." Jesus was the Man of Sorrows. "Despised and the most abject of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and His look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted" (Isaias 53: 3-4). He was the Martyr of Martyrs, the King of Martyrs, and no one could be an attendant at His throne but a lover of pain, a carrier of the Cross. To merely human eyes it seems a poor reward for loyalty, but as Christ wanted all His followers to be as nearly like Himself as possible, He compelled them to take their full course in the School of Pain. Even His little manger-crib was shaded with palms of martyrdom. The Holy Innocents before they learned to play, learned to suffer. They, as it were, mapped out with their blood the path He was to take—little prophets of the Passion. His inner circle, the Apostles, were vowed by Him to pain. At first they did not relish the idea any more than the rest of us. They ran for their lives. They hid themselves when they thought the law would pursue them, as it had destroyed Him. But, filled with the Holy Ghost, they knew there was no other way to be loyal to Him than to be nailed to His Cross. The history of the Apostles is a paradox. They conquered, but they were slaughtered, every one of them. Even St. John, who had what we call a natural death, was a martyr, not only a martyr in soul, but a martyr in body, inasmuch as being thrown into the caldron of boiling oil he suffered pain sufficient to cause death, had not God saved him by a miracle.

False religions have been established on the promise of physical delights, on the premise that bodily pain can be imagined out of existence. The Christian religion alone is the tree that sprouts and grows from the seed of pain, watered by blood. "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."

If that is true of others, it is especially true of Our Lady. Not enough is made of the thought of the influence of Her sanctity, Her prayers, Her sufferings, on the growth of the Church. She cooperated in the Redemption, not only in preparing Her Son for the Sacrifice, but in associating Her life with His. That association was effected first of all by Her sanctity, and then by Her martyrdom, which was indeed, the outgrowth of Her sanctity, Her will to be conformed in all things to His will. To conform to Him, She had to suffer. She knew what She was taking upon Herself when She consented to become the Mother of God. God did not trap Her. Mary knew the Scriptures, knew the Prophecy of Isaias about the Man of Sorrows. God clarified that to Her, so that She foresaw all the pain which association in the most intimate way with the suffering Christ would entail upon Her. In the moment of Her consent She became the Queen of Martyrs. St. Gabriel brought a sword sheathed in the Annunciation lily.

Thus from the beginning Mary was vowed to a life of martyrdom. Some even go further and say that, with the infused knowledge which She had at the first moment of Her existence, She foresaw all that She would be called upon to endure, and hence was a martyr even then. But Her actual martyrdom—it was a long, slow process—began on the Annunciation. St. Gabriel had left the sword behind him. Over the day of the Annunciation was the shadow of Good Friday. But before Good Friday would come there were a thousand pains to be endured, pains of fear for the life of Her Child, pains over the sins of men, which were the cause of the terrible woes He must endure. To get at the real heart of Mary's life, you must appreciate Her hatred of sin. She, the sinless one, knew that all the pain She was enduring, and would endure, was part of the fight for the conquest of evil, and for that reason She was glad to welcome any suffering Her Son would ask Her to bear.