During this Year for Priests, the laity are asked to pray in a special, more intense way for their priests and for priestly vocations. The mission of the Church depends on the integrity of these men, and the spiritual life of our children and grand-children will be deeply affected by the outcome of our prayers.
Is there more, though, that we could be doing? In the case of women — who will never be called to holy orders — is there anything specific to our feminine genius that could contribute to the priestly mission through which so many graces flow? Perhaps a glimpse into Jesus’ life could help us to discern our specific calling.
During the Passion, when Jesus was stripped and scourged, we learn that the tunic that he was wearing was “woven in one piece from top to bottom and had no seam” (John 19:24). The account of the soldiers casting lots for this precious garment reminds us that the detail was important enough to be prophesied in the Scriptures.
Doubtless his mother wove the linen fabric herself and created the seamless tunic, and if we consider her nature we might imagine that she reflected as she sewed, particularly on the 16th chapter of Leviticus which described the high priest’s garments. Such a tunic was worn by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the most sacred day of the year for the Jewish people. On that day, commemorating the second time that Moses received the Commandments from God, the people prayed in reparation for their sins while the high priest offered sacrifices on their behalf.
Being both a descendent of Aaron and intimately familiar with the Torah, Mary’s creation of this singular work must have been deliberate, indicating that she was intensely aware of her Son’s priestly mission. Having clothed him in flesh, she then collaborated lovingly with Joseph to teach him about the law and the prophets, and formed him by means of the domestic Church. Finally she provided for him the telling garment that would identify him for the ages as the priest who would offer the ultimate sacrifice. (As an aside, it is interesting that in the case of Our Lord, neither she who prepared the garment nor he who wore it were in need of such atonement, and yet they contributed the essential elements on which our redemption rests.)
So what is the lesson for women today, and how can we benefit by such a reflection? If we consider her work, her teaching and her tears, it becomes obvious that Mary’s heart was intimately wrapped around the work of her Son. She joined her motherly care to his priestly work out of intense concern for the flock entrusted to him.
No creature suffered as Mary did during the Passion, no human love matched hers for depth, and no finite oblation matched hers for its purity. She always knew that such darkness was on the horizon because of the Simeon’s prophecy after the birth of Jesus — and yet she lived a steadfast faith without shrinking from it.
So in addition to our prayers, we must offer our sacrifices in a spirit of oblation, joining the hardships that come our way to the mission of priests everywhere. One need hardly look for extra suffering — given the hazards of loving in a fallen world. If we fearlessly embrace our obligations and endeavor to love whole-heartedly, our physical, emotional and spiritual sufferings can then be laid on the altar and transformed with the bread and wine into the very flesh of Christ — just as Mary did.
[The Anchor 9.18.09]