Biblical Basics About Mother Mary – A Homily for the Second Sunday of the Year

011913In the Gospel today of the Wedding Feast at Cana we have a theological portrait both of Mother Mary and also of Prayer. Lets look at the Gospel along Five lines:

I. The Place that Mary has – The text says, There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

It is a fascinating thing about these opening verses that Mary almost seems to dominate the scene and the presence of Jesus is mentioned secondly. St. Thomas Aquinas, noting this says that at Cana Mary is acting as the “go-between” in arranging a mystical marriage (Commentary on John, 98; and 2,1, n.336, 338, and 343, 151-152). Hence in a way she almost dominates the scene, and, once the Marriage is arranged, steps back, her final words to us being, “Do whatever he tells you.”

How many of us have experienced Mary’s role in helping us find her Son and our place at the wedding feast of the Lamb. I know in my own life it was Mary who drew me back to her Son when I had strayed.

II. The Prayer that Mary Makes – The text says, When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.

Notice now another central role that Mary has: she is interceding here, she is praying for others to her Son. Notice three qualities to her prayer:

Her discernment – She notices the problem, probably even before the Groom and Bride. Indeed Mothers often notice the needs of their children before they do. But why didn’t Jesus notice? Perhaps he did, and surely as God he knew. But he waits for us to ask. Yes, God waits and expects us to ask. In part this respect, for not all of us are ready to receive all his gifts. In part also, this expectation that we ask is also rooted in God’s teaching us that we must learn to depend on him and learn habitually to bring him our many needs. The Book of James says, You have not because You ask not (James 4:2).

Her diligence – Simply put, she actually prays. Rather than fret and be anxious she goes straightway to her Son out of love for the couple (us) and trust in her Son. She sees the need and gets right to the work of praying, of beseeching her Son.

Her deference – Note that she does not tell Jesus what to do per se, says simply notes the need: “They have no wine.” She is not directive, as if to say, “Here is my agenda and solution for this problem, follow my plans exactly, just sing here at the bottom of my plan for action.” Rather she simply observes the problem and places it before her Son in confidence. He knows what to do and will decide the best way to handle things.

Thus Mary models prayer for us. What wine are you lacking now? What wine do your children and grandchildren lack? Do you notice your needs and the needs of others and consistently pray? Or does it take things getting critical for you to notice or pray? And when you pray do you go to the Lord with trust or an agenda?

So the Scriptures teach that Mary is the quintessential woman of prayer, a model of prayer. She not only intercedes for us, she teaches us how to pray.

III.The Portrait of Mother Mary – The text says, Woman, how does this concern of yours affect me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.

Notice three things about this brief dialogue

The Title of Mary Jesus calls her “Woman.” In Jewish culture a man could well respectfully call a woman “Woman,” but it was unheard of for a son to call his mother “Woman.”

Hence this text stands out as unusual and signals us that Jesus is speaking at a deeper level here. In fact, in the Johannine texts Jesus always calls his Mother, “Woman” and  this in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15  which says I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, while you strike at his heel.” And thus Jesus is saying that Mary is this woman who is prophesied.

So far from being disrespectful to Mary, Jesus is actually exulting her: You are the woman who was prophesied. You are she from whose “seed” comes forth the Son destined to destroy the power of Satan.

In this sense, Mary is also the new Eve. For Jesus also calls her “Woman” at the foot of the Cross wherein He is  the New Adam, Mary is the New Eve, and the tree this time is the Cross. And thus, just as we got into trouble by a man, a woman and tree, so now we get out of trouble by the same path. Adam’s “no” and sin is reversed by Jesus who saves us by his, “Yes.” Eve’s “No” is reversed by Mary’s yes.

The Tenacity of Mary Jesus says to his mother, literally in the Greek, “What to me and to thee, Woman?” (τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι – ti emoi kai soi, gunai) Usually, in the Scriptures, when the phrase comes up (e.g. Gen 23:15; 1 Kings 19:20) it indicates some kind of tension between the interlocutors. And thus, on the surface, it would seem that Jesus is expressing resistance over his mother striving to involve him in this matter. And yet, what makes this interpretation odd, is that Mary doesn’t seem to interpret it as resistance.

Perhaps there was something in the tone of voice that Jesus used, or perhaps there was a look between them that resolves the tension, and evokes the sympathy of Jesus to the cause. Whatever the case, Mary stays in the conversation with Jesus, and overcomes whatever tension or resistance existed at first. In this, we surely see her tenacity.

And this tenacity comports well with the kind of similar tenacity we observe of her another places. For though startled by the presence of the angel Gabriel, she does engage Gabriel in a respectful, but pointed conversation that seeks greater detail. She also hastens to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and in the dialogue that follows, she proclaims a Magnificat that is anything but a shy and reclining prayer. She joyfully acknowledges the Lord’s power in her life, and all but proclaims a revolutionary new world order.

To be tenacious means to hold fast in spite of obstacles or discouragements. However we are to interpret Jesus’ resistance to Mary’s initial concern, it is clear that Mother Mary does not give up, and that she confidently expects the Lord to answer her favorably. This is clear from her confident departure from the conversation and turning to the Stewards with the instruction, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The Trust of Mary – She simply departs, telling the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” She does not hover. She does not come back and check on the progress of things. She does not seek to control or manipulate the outcome. She simply leaves the scene and leaves it all to Jesus.

IV. The power of Mary’s prayer – Whatever his initial concerns regarding mother Mary’s request, Jesus now goes to work: Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.  And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from — although the servers who had drawn the water knew —, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.

If we do the math, we may confidently presume that Jesus produced almost 150 gallons of the best wine. Mary’s prayer, and tenacity have produced abundant results.

Sometimes the Lord says wait, only to grant further abundance. Scripture says, But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

The Catholic tradition of turning to Mary and regarding her as a special intercessor with particular power, is rooted in the passage. But she is not merely an intercessor for us, she is also a model for us.  Namely, that we should persevere in prayer and go to the Lord was confident expectation of its abundant response.  The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).

V. The product of Mary’s prayer – The text says, Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.

And thus, at the conclusion of this Gospel is the significant result that many began to believe in the Lord this day on account of this miracle. And here is Mary’s essential role with reference to Jesus, that she should lead many souls to a deeper union with her Son. And having done so, she leaves us with this instruction, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary’s role is to hold up Christ for us to see, and she did a Bethlehem for the shepherds, and later the Wise Men; to hold him up as she did for Simeon and Anna and the Temple; to point to his glory and she does here at Cana; and ultimately to hold his body in her arms at the foot of the cross after He is taken down.

Note too, that as a mother, Mary has a special role in the beginnings of our faith, in the infancy and childhood of our faith. The phrase in the text says many “began to believe.” This is something called an “inceptive aorist,” which is often used to stress the beginning of an action or the entrance into a state. Thus Mary has a special role in helping to initiate our faith, in helping, by God’s grace to birth Christ in us. She is, as St. Thomas says, the go-between, the great match-maker in the mystical marriage of Christ and the soul. And having done that her final words are, “Do whatever he tells you.” And while she may draw back a bit, she continues to pray for us.

Here then are some Biblical basics about Mother Mary, in this Gospel of the wedding feast of Cana.

Somehow I am mindful of an old Gospel song which says, My Mother Prayed for me had me on her mind. Took the time and prayed for me. I’m so glad she prayed. I’m So glad she prayed for me.

26 Replies to “Biblical Basics About Mother Mary – A Homily for the Second Sunday of the Year”

    1. Beautiful synopsis of this Gospel that clearly illustrates the role of Mary in Christianity!

  1. “Do whatever He tells you.” This is what Mary says to all of God’s children. When I read the gospels and reflect upon Jesus’ teachings, I hear Mary’s words…..Do whatever He tells you.

    I really love today’s post. Thank you!!

  2. The way she asks for her Son’s help with great discretion and also his apparently detached answer make me think that maybe they were surounded by a croud and they did not want everybody present to know in advance that Jesus was going to perform a miracle.
    Thank you for the great interpretation of the word Woman as related to the Woman of the bible.

  3. Permit a slight variation.       Christ at Cana does not say any of the negative responses to Mary that most English translations have except the Douay Rheims Catholic Bible which has the Vulgate’s original phrase by Christ : ” What to me and to thee”.
         Mary hears a clear yes not hesitancy in Christ because she immediately tells the servants to obey Christ’s instructions.  Go back to 2 Kings 3 where three kings ask Eliseus for liquid also (water) and he first says to them “what to me and to thee” in the Vulgate exactly Christ’s words at Cana.  He proceeds to tell them to set up catch basins in the dry wadi and water comes miraculously across the land from Edom and fills the catch basins but the distant enemy, the Moabites, because of the angle of the sun, see the new water as red and think it is blood and that the three kings have fought amongst themselves so the Moabites attack and are beaten.  Christ may well have discussed this passage with Mary because it leads soon in 2 Kings to a hidden prophecy of the Passion discovered by Augustine.
        Mary, who had “great anxiety” ( her words) when Christ stayed behind and wandered from the caravan (Luke 2:48)…Mary had cause for great anxiety at Cana because earlier that week Christ had picked the first disciples and that 
    brought into Mary’s heart the ominous prediction of Simeon that both her and Christ would suffer.  Unlike us, Mary did not 
    know how soon their both passions of suffering would begin after Christ went public so His finally picking disciples caused motherly anxiety once again as in the caravan incident.
        Then Christ walks in with his brand new disciples to the wedding feast of Cana and Mary now is getting more anxiety because remember, for all she knows, Christ may be arrested quickly after going public.  She sees the wine shortage and yet knows that if Christ performs a miracle for her, He may be arrested as he comes in conflict with Jewish leaders.
          She walks toward Christ with anxiety in her face and in her voice but conscience tells her to ask for the miracle nonetheless.  Christ sees the anxiety in her face and hears it in her voice and reassures her by going back to the idiom Eliseus used when he was asked for a miracle to produce liquid….“what to me and to thee… hour ( to suffer the passion) is not yet come (I won’t be arrested this quickly)”.  That’s why Mary heard a yes clearly and immediately tells the servants to follow Christ’s instructions.  All famous interpreters got this passage wrong but a Catholic little known scholar, Miguel Miguens?, if I’m spelling it right, in the 20th century saw that they were mistakenly taking “hour” for Christ going 
    public…no….Christ is referring to the hour of His passion and Mary’s worry about when that is.  None of the famous interpreters could explain why Mary heard a clear yes because they had “hour” incorrect.
        Most English translations like the NAB obscure this whole passage by using translation liberties ( sense for sense rather than word for word) that support the old interpretations.  Christ did not say what you hear in the English unless you read the Douay Rheims which follows the Vulgate which is the official Catholic Bible in all disputed passages.
        Mary was nervous about Christ soon dying after Cana as she asked for the miracle.  Christ was assuring her that both their passions would not occur right after the miracle…“what to me and to thee”…“my hour (to die) has not yet come.”
    He brought her mind back through that idiom to Eliseus and the water that became blood …hinting at what He was about to do…not just a miracle but a “sign” because He would use the old law purification water to become wine which would become His blood later in history when consecrated.  He wanted greatly to do this miracle all along because it would symbolize the Eucharist replacing the old Jewish waters of purification.

    1. Bill, I’ve been reading your comments in the Catholic blogosphere for years, and you always have something interesting and valuable to say. I wish you had your own blog; I’d surely be an avid reader, as I am of Msgr Pope.

      1. Thanks all three of you. No…if anything, there is a lady who is my prime vocation and if I had a blog, it would consume time that should go to her. I tried writing a book…. it was good but disjointed. Some books need a book doctor ( an actual occupation). Mine needed a team of surgeons from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NYC. I think God needs some lightning bugs who flit here and there…and don’t get paid too.

    2. Bill, thank you kindly for sharing this exegesis, as it has never sat quite right with me that Jesus would have acted “under protest” as it were, or that acting on Mary’s request had the undesired effect of somehow hastening Jesus’ public ministry. These explanations presume that Mary’s will was not in accord with her Son’s, to the point of open conflict, or that she was woefully ignorant or heedless of the risks He might assume by performing a potentially revelatory action. This exegesis dispenses with both these unpleasant implications, which unfortunately inhere when some writers or speakers, eager to extoll prayer to Mary as particularly efficacious, use this passage as an example of her request being honored rather against Jesus’ preferences, which if true would ironically do no credit to either mother or Son; neither would stoop to manipulation.

      Jesus brought His disciples, the choosing of whom were His first acts of public ministry, which therefore was already underway at the time of this event. The act of gathering disciples, as John the Baptist had done, was one that would not have been seen as a good thing by the jealously powerful rulers of the Temple, the largest industry and by far the most influential force in that culture. So Jesus had already begun to act in ways that would increasingly conflict with what we could call the Jewish Establishment. So while it is His first recorded miracle, Jesus was already on the path that would inexorably lead to His Passion.

      St. Luke tells us that Mary was a thoughtful, insightful person given to “pondering these things in her heart”, even when very young. By this time, not only is she a much more mature 45 years or so, she has just spent some 30 years with Jesus in person, without the hindrance of concupiscence and sin that so clouds our minds and hearts. Therefore it is entirely reasonable to infer from these facts that she was in accord with His will to an extent we scarcely can imagine. The implications that flow are far-reaching, well beyond the scope of the present discussion.

      Without speculating further, at minimum this consideration lends support to the likelihood that Jesus would have made at least some aspects of His Mission known to Our Lady, on which basis the conversation at Cana could proceed as described in this exegesis. So to impute to her any lack of humility or of reverence for our Blessed Lord, even out of charitable motives, is as unseemly as it is unnecessary.

      Seen in this light, we can dispense with the suggestion of any conflict between mother and Son and focus rather on the lessons being taught, the most salient being Mary’s last spoken word, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary models this discipline beautifully in this narrative, as Msgr. Pope has so graciously illumined for us.

      1. Exactly David and people project their incomplete knowledge of the OT on to Mary. A human being who gave birth by the power of God alone would from that season forward want to know the OT prophecies unveiled or veiled about her son thoroughly and 2 Kings is fertile ground since Eliseus becomes a symbol of the Trinity soon after the miraculous production of water which looked like blood…per Augustine. That’s a long one but suffice it to say, I think Christ talked to Mary just prior to Cana about Eliseus being approached for his liquid producing miracle and saying “what to me and to thee” as his first reaction. It occurs only sporadically throughout scripture but always connected to pivot points….as when Abishai asks David if he can cut off Shimei’s head, a man who is cursing David…whereupon David says, “what to me and to thee”. A demon in the gospel says it to Christ also.
        Pivot points in my opinion. The NAB obscures the phrase in 2 Kings 3 but there even the Douay R. does too.
        Hence the importance of the Vulgate in many instances.

  4. Mother Teresa had an interesting interpretation on this passage and Mary’s visitation of Elizabeth: Moved by charity and the Holy Spirit, Mary acted in love. In response, the Holy Spirit sanctifies John in the womb of his mother and moves Jesus’s disciples to belief in Him when they saw His miracle. Mary is the model of discipleship. In her, we see how God responds to our simplest obedience and smallest acts of charity; i.e., bringing about the sanctification of the world. In these episodes, we see how God brings us to and attends to our needs through the intercession of our Mother. God has truly richly provided for our entry into the Kingdom!. All praise be to Jesus!

  5. “, , . the tree this time is the Cross.”–that is powerful and I don’t recall hearing it before. The fruit of the first tree lead the living to death; the fruit of the second tree leads the dead to life.

    I read something yesterday that may shed light on the sponge mentioned in three Gospels:

    Matthew 27: [48]And immediately one of them running took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar; and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.

    Mark 15: [36] And one running and filling a sponge with vinegar, and putting it upon a reed, gave him to drink, saying: Stay, let us see if Elias come to take him down.

    John 19: [29] Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar and hyssop, put it to his mouth.

    In those days, a sponge was used as toilet paper: What the Romans Used for Toilet Paper

  6. GREAT piece! I think maybe Jesus says “what to me and to Thee Woman?” With a twinkle in His eye like a private joke between mother and son. With my own sons we have a special “knowing” communication where they can joke or be a little sarcastic knowing that I know they’re going to do whatever I want. Boys LOVE their mamas :). Just sayin.

    1. I think Mary might have given her Son “the look.” You know, the one that mother always give their sons when they are fooling with them… 🙂

  7. Monsignor,

    Dear Mosignor,

    Thank you so much.

    In “TREATISE ON TRUE DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN” (can be found on EWTN and other web sites) St. Louis de Montfort refers to Mary offering Her word (lower case W) in the first two miracles of Jesus.

    “19. If we examine closely the remainder of the life of Jesus Christ, we see that he chose to begin his miracles through Mary. It was by her word that he sanctified Saint John the Baptist in the womb of his mother, Saint Elizabeth; no sooner had Mary spoken than John was sanctified. This was his first and greatest miracle of grace. At the wedding in Cana he changed water into wine at her humble prayer, and this was his first miracle in the order of nature. He began and continued his miracles through Mary and he will continue them through her until the end of time.”

    Number 27 provides a glimpse our Blessed Mother’s

    “27. Since grace enhances our human nature and glory adds a still greater perfection to grace, it is certain that our Lord remains in heaven just as much the Son of Mary as he was on earth. Consequently he has retained the submissiveness and obedience of the most perfect of all children towards the best of all mothers.

    We must take care, however, not to consider this dependence as an abasement or imperfection in Jesus Christ. For Mary, infinitely inferior to her Son, who is God, does not command him in the same way as an earthly mother would command her child who is beneath her. Since she is completely transformed in God by that grace and glory which transforms all the saints in him, she does not ask or wish or do anything which is contrary to the eternal and changeless will of God. When therefore we read in the writings of Saint Bernard, Saint Bernardine, Saint Bonaventure, and others that all in heaven and on earth, even God himself, is subject to the Blessed Virgin, they mean that the authority which God was pleased to give her is so great that she seems to have the same power as God. Her prayers and requests are so powerful with him that he accepts them as commands in the sense that he never resists his dear mother’s prayer because it is always humble and conformed to his will.”

    I had read No 27, but must not have been paying attention to No 19.

    Chapter V of “Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant” by Ignace De LA Potterie and Bertrand Buby (Apr 1992) zooms in on details while magnifying revelations of Cana.

    I hoped to learn more about changing water to wine for a 10 or so minute talk. These few pages and your words can only lead to greater and deeper meditation on our Blessed Mother.

    Thank you.

  8. Thank you, Monsignor, for an illuminative post, as usual. I took the liberty of reposting it to the Religion Forum on As you can imagine, the protestants are all over this thread. One poster, though, has challenged your statement:

    “In Jewish culture a man could well respectfully call a woman “Woman,” but it was unheard of for a son to call his mother “Woman.” Hence this text stands out as unusual and signals us that Jesus is speaking at a deeper level here. …So far from being disrespectful to Mary, Jesus is actually exulting her …”.

    The postern then cites: Luk 13:11-12, John 4:19-21, and John 8:10, to say that “Our Lord referred to many other people as “Woman” besides Mary. If anything, rather than “exulting” her, He was equating her the same status as the woman at the well, the prostitute, and the woman who lost her son.”

    Apologetics can sometimes prove more challenging than expected. Would truly value your response on our Lord’s use of the term “Woman” in the cited examples.

    God bless you, Monsignor!

  9. My sixth-grader is cruelly tasked with doing sermon/homily reports as part of Faith Formation. She asked me to do an “extra” report so that she could earn more computer time, so I had her read your post and listen to the recording of your homily. Here is her report:

    Preacher: Father Monsinior Pope
    What Sunday of the Church Year: 2nd sunday ordinary time
    What Season: Epiphany
    What was the main point of the homily? Mary is the mother Model of all people
    What illustration was used in the homily? Mary has a great and important place in Cana’s wedding, like, Mary Mother of Jesus! like Mary is most Important
    What part of the homily did you find to be most important to you? That sometimes it seems women are more important, like the men are ignored, although they should be equal
    What would you ask the preacher about the homily? Why does this woman-man thing only apply to important events, such as weddings, but somewhat the opposite in common life?

  10. Monsignor Pope; Thank you for sharing your insights on our Mother at the Wedding Feast at Cana. I would like to appendix some of it in my forthcoming book “The Virgin Mary’s Revolution;” do I have your permission? Your article prompts me to sign with the name with which my father had me baptised almost 75 years ago, Gonzalo Tomas de Maria Auxiliadora Palacios.

  11. This manifestation (epiphany) of JESUS’ divine power on the miracle of changing water into wine reminds us that JESUS has power over time. For to have a premier wine takes skill and requires aging. I am not belittling Mary’s role but at this point, I believe what must be stressed is JESUS’ control over time. As for Mama Mary’s role, I believe she is now prodding her Son, GOD’s SON, to begin HIS ministry, though it will prove to be the beginning of both their passion for the salvation of mankind.
    As usual, profundissimus. GOD bless you, Monsignor.

  12. We are just so privileged to be Catholic. I am 71 and still learning about Gods one true Church and the riches of the scriptures, love it!

  13. Monsignor, You made me so happy, today. This exegesis exsites me, as we move into deep meditation . Bless you and many thanks.

  14. What struck me most about that passage, this week was not just the interaction between Mary and Jesus – yes, the “look” 😉 but also the interaction between Mary and the servers.

    First, she tells the servants to “do whatever he tells you” and Jesus tells them to lug 150 gallons of water from the local well and pour it into six stone jugs, at a time that they were probably incredibly busy dealing with a wedding. Second, they apparently obey her without argument or referral to higher authority, not because she is their “boss” but because she apparently has significant (presumably moral) influence despite her lack of authority. Third, just as the lowly shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth, the lowly “drawers of water,” doing the thankless and invisible jobs on the lowest rung of the totem pole are the first to know that God has begun His ministry. It makes me wonder how many other people were in Mary’s “invisible army.” Probably quite a few…

    One more point, Msgr. Is it really normal for the average Jewish home to need 150 gallons worth of water for purification? What kind of a place was this? Are we talking about a temple, or a palace? Do we have any idea whose?

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