Friday, October 10, 2014

Mary's Left Hand

A long time ago I set one of my favorite works of art (Michelangelo's Pieta) as my computer wallpaper, so I've had plenty of opportunity to meditate on this work. But only recently did Mary's left hand get my attention. And so I thought I'd share my thoughts about it with you.

The Pieta is Michelangelo's interpretation of the taking of Christ's crucified body down from the cross and laying Him in his sorrowful Mother's waiting arms.

Pieta image from

As you can see, at the physical level, Mary supports Christ's body (His dead weight) with her right hand. Her fingers dig into the flesh of His underarm. She seems unwilling to let go of His cooling body, unwilling to let go of the physical proof of her miraculous life- and history-changing fiat, her faithful response, "Be it done to me according to Thy Word" to the archangel Gabriel's request on God's behalf for her free will assent to bear His son, to bring forth the Word into our corruptible and sinful world.

In the sculpture, Mary's right hand is on the skin of her Son, but look closely at her left hand. Her hand is open. Who holds an open hand? A beggar. Someone who either wants something placed in it, or someone who has just released something. In the context of the Pieta, Mary shows both states. She needs to release her physical hold on her deceased Son because His body and blood, after all, belong to the physical world, a world full of trials and tribulations and, for both Jesus and Mary and all humans, the realm of much anguish and sorrow.

But Mary's hand is also open, because she wants to receive something.

What can Mary possibly receive at this point in her life? What could any grieving mother want that would make the nightmare of holding her deceased Son remotely bearable? She can receive the only thing that she as a loyal servant has ever asked of God: His graces.

Mary lived her whole life – from the moment of her immaculate conception onward – for Jesus. What does she have to live for now, now that her only begotten Son has experienced such a gruesome death? As a mother, she must be despondent. Vicious Roman politicians and legionaries (compelled by the religious leaders of the day) helped to kill her Son, the miracle of life that once issued from her womb. And Mary was helpless to stop them.

But with her open left hand (and bowed head) she humbly accepts God's will, acknowledging her Son's soul and divinity. Mary has always understood herself as part of God's unfathomable Providence, and she knows deep in her heart that the death of Jesus is also part of the unfolding of His will. Not an easy situation to find comfort in one's faith.

But it is precisely Mary's perfect, although human, response to these horrific events that make us Catholics recognize her as our intermediary to Jesus and His Father. We love Jesus' Holy Mother, not as a goddess to be worshipped, but as the only perfect human being who ever lived (after Adam and Eve's fall) someone who always acted with love and who is "full of Grace", just as we should all live.

Mary understood! She did not sin, and submitted her whole life, her entire being, body and soul, to God's will. And through this submission to God's will Mary has shown us the unsurpassed strength found in the true love and humility of her son. As St. Louis Marie de Monfort observed, "To Jesus through Mary". And St. Maximilian Kolbe reminded us: "Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did."

Mary constantly reminds us that although we live in this temporary world, that we will indeed suffer much physical pain and many hardships, she herself has experienced all of these sorrows and understands our distress. We pray to Mary to intercede on our behalf to her Son, as she once did at the wedding at Cana. Why? Because, when it comes right down to it, what son has ever refused his mother's sincere request?

We need to open that closed hand and stop grasping at things. God will provide for all our needs, if only we ask Him.



  1. This is lovely, J.T.

    Have a blessed week :)

    1. Thank you Jan for stopping by. I replied already, but I don't see my thank-you anywhere. Blessings to you as well. :-)

  2. An art/religious historian and philosopher who helps us look beyond the obvious and notice what is deeply moving and helpful - thank you, J.T. Fresh air.

    1. Thank you Dody for reading my post and leaving such a wonderful comment. #grateful! I hope to post more of these art-based meditations in the future.


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