Today is the feast of Theophany, or Epiphany. Before the celebration of Christmas began in the fourth century, the various manifestations of the Godhead-made-Man were recalled by the Church on this day, namely the birth of Christ, the visit of the gentile astrologers, the Baptism of Our Lord by St. John in the Jordan, and the transformation of water into wine during a wedding at Cana. The Lord's Baptism in the Jordan is now on the octave day of Epiphany, completing the week wit the revelation of the Holy Trinity, and the visit of the Magi occupies most of the feast proper. It is the last act of Theophany, however, that seasonally gives this writer the heeby-jeebies, and not because of the miracle itself.
As a child I read the story of the Miracle at Cana not as Christ doing something against His will because His Mother told Him to do so, but Christ drawing out His Mother's pity so He could in turn show His own compassion for the bridegroom and bride. It may not be a "Traddie" idea, merely a devotionalist idea, but whenever the Miracle of Cana is recounted in the second Sunday after Epiphany, the Roman Catholic blogosphere seems to saturate with articles on why devotion to Mary is essential for Christian life—and it is—on grounds that seem faulty. It usually goes something like "Jesus is both justice and mercy. Mary is all mercy." Call me an effrontery to piety, but is this not quite impious? Ought we call Our Lord and God's justice something else from His mercy, as though the two are separate? Or as though they oppose each other? Or as if one crowds out the other within the infinity of His Godhead? Or that His justice is supplanted by His Mother's kindness?
The Greek Theotokon texts for the Church Offices often employ phraseology like "No one knows a Son like a Mother" and commends all our confidence in prayer to the Blessed Mother for this very purpose. Along a similar vein, one of the most beautiful Roman collects in the Sundays after Pascha (one of the great Latin treasure troves) is this:
"O God, Who makest the faithful to be of one mind and will, grant to Thy people the grace to love what Thou dost command and to desire what Thou dost promise, that amid the change of the world, our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are found."Is this not true of Mary more than it is of any other saint? That she, above all, understands what Her Son desires and can point the faithful to His will? The multiplication of Marian apparitions in the last few centuries, particularly that from Fatima, carry messages from heaven about Christ's dissatisfaction and desires for the world, not the Virgin's free-standing mercy.
Interestingly, the most common depiction in all Western art, after the Crucifixion, is probably the Annunciation. Even the Crucifixion rarely excluded Mary until the years after the Reformation, with the Virgin "swooning" or appearing opposite Saint John on Rood screens. In Greek iconography Mary is almost never shown without Christ; the Deesis images and the Seat of Wisdom are especially poignant reminders of the congruity between the Mother and Divine Son. And yet more modern religious art, often kitsch as can be, has Mary standing on a globe, almost ruling the world and crushing sin on her own, without her Son in sight. The common Catholic who prays in front of such an image in the local parish likely does not share the dodgy Mariology that elicited such artwork, but that same Mariology continues in some quiet, narrow corners of the Church whenever the Second Sunday after Epiphany of Our Lady of Mount Carmel rolls around.