* * *
Mary, Queen of Martyrs
By Father Jean Galot
In speaking of Mary as the Queen of Martyrs, we wish to acknowledge Mary's eminent role in the work of redemption, since this work gives rise to the heroic offering of martyrdom.
The value of martyrdom was particularly emphasized by Jesus when he spoke to Peter, saying: "Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." The evangelist added: "He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God" (John 21:18-19).
The announcement made to Peter indicates the importance of martyrdom as the supreme gift that associates the apostle to his Master's destiny. Jesus had said to his disciple: "Graze the flock." To fully accomplish this mission as a shepherd, Peter was called upon to share the sacrifice of his own life: "A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).
The prophecy of martyrdom had been even stronger for Peter, because, in the first announcement of the Passion, Peter had reacted violently; he had rebelled and requested that this painful warning should be removed from the plan. But Jesus reproached him: "You do not think according to God, but according to men" (Matthew 8:32). Later he understood that this test was necessary for fulfilling the mission. The announcement of the future martyrdom confirms this truth.
We can observe that the circumstances of the announcement led Peter to reflect in his mind, with the comparison between his destiny and that of the favorite disciple, when Peter had asked about John: "Lord, what about him?" (John 21:21). And he had received an answer that indicated a destiny very different from martyrdom: "If I want him to remain until I come, what concern is it of yours?"
According to Christ's will, the apostle John was not to die a violent death, but was to wait for the coming of him who called him and who at a chosen time would end his earthly life.
John's destiny shows us that not all the apostles died the deaths of martyrs. This helps us understand better that it was not necessary for Mary to provide the supreme testimony of martyrdom to be fully united with her Son in fulfilling the redeeming mission.
It is certain that Mary offered Jesus the highest possible participation in the redeeming mission and that this participation resulted in many fruits for humankind. This participation however did not involve sharing the crucifixion. [Rather,] it was appropriate to her role as a mother. Mary's pain was that of a maternal heart. In this sense she experienced a martyrdom of the heart, not of the body.
In this perspective, Mary is the Queen of Martyrs, because in her, martyrdom found a new expression, the commitment to a pain that touches the profoundest point if the soul is in unity with the suffering of the crucified Christ. This suffering is perfectly offered with total generosity.
In Mary, participation in the redeeming sacrifice is marked by serenity and meekness that are well-suited to a maternal heart: At times the circumstances of martyrdom could lead to temptations involving revenge or hostility. The heart of Jesus' Mother, in the suffering of the cross, remained full of compassion and forgiveness. For Mary, participation in the Savior's offering meant participation in the goodness of Christ's meek and humble heart.
On Calvary, Mary bore witness to mercy in a superior manner, corresponding to the fundamental meaning of martyrdom. Her maternal heart overflowed with love for Christ and for the whole of humankind.