Mary and the Mystery of Cana
A second very important thing about this gospel is that at the wedding feast at Cana, which symbolized the new Kingdom of grace, the Mother of Jesus was there. Mary’s presence at Cana was not just an aside. She was not there by mistake. She was not there by happenstance. Notice, the Mary is spoken of in this gospel passage even before Jesus is mentioned. John says, “There was a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the feast.”(2:1-2)
We could say that there are three very important ways in which Mary stands out in the passage. First of all, she is there as “the woman of faith.” Returning to the Gospel, we see that Mary is “already there” at the wedding. Jesus’ disciples “begin” to believe in Jesus only after his miracle. But, Mary is “already there” in the sense that she is the one who, absent any miraculous deed on the part of her Son, already understands and has faith in her Son’s ability to bring salvation to the human race. Unlike others, she does not need any signs that prove that Jesus is God’s Servant-Son. She believes before the sign of the changing of the water into wine. In other words, Mary is where we should be, standing before Christ in trusting faith.
Again, Mary is present at Cana as one who intercedes. Her motherly concern for the couple at Cana, leads her to say to Jesus, “They have no wine.” So, by bringing the matter to Jesus’ attention, Mary is there as one who petitions on behalf of others. She is there as one who asks for the miracle which will lead Jesus’ disciples to believe he is Messiah and Lord. Indeed, the fact that Mary brought the lack of wine to Jesus’ attention shows that she has a special maternal role in God’s plan of salvation.
In Church teaching Mary is often spoken of as mediatrix, as intercessor. Among Catholics, Mary has ever been looked upon and addressed as one who can present their requests and their needs to her Son and to the Father, just as she implored her Son at Cana on behalf of the wedding guests.
This passage from the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium speaks of Mary’s place in the Church as the Mother who intercedes or her children: “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix." LG #62
So, Mary is perpetually our advocate before her Son Jesus. At Cana, Mary’s trusting faith leads her to put the need for wine in Jesus’ hands. And, it is interesting that in presenting this petition to her Son, she does so with the utmost discretion. Trusting that her son Jesus can and will do what is best, as the Mother in grace of those at the wedding, she simply brings the absence of wine to her Son’s attention.
In his book, The Spiritual Canticle, John of the Cross speaks of Mary as the model of Christian prayer, as the one whom by her simplicity and trust shows us how to pray. John of the Cross suggests that by her good judgement, by her reserve, Mary becomes the model of discretion in prayer. So, we should follow Mary’s example in asking for the things we truly need.
This idea comes to expression in John of the Cross’ commentary on Stanza 2 of the Spiritual Canticle which reads as follows:
Shepherds, you who go
up through the sheepfolds to the hill,
if by chance you see
him I love most,
tell him I am sick, I suffer, and I die.
And John comments on this stanza with these words:
2.8. It should be pointed out that in this verse the soul does no more than disclose to the Beloved her need and suffering. The discreet lover does not care to ask for what she lacks and desires, but only indicates this need so the Beloved may do what he pleases. When the Blessed Virgin spoke to her beloved Son at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, she did not ask directly for the wine, but merely remarked: They have no wine [Jn. 2:3]. And the sisters of Lazarus did not send to ask our Lord to cure their brother, but to tell him that Lazarus whom he loved was sick [Jn. 11:3]. There are three reasons for this: First, the Lord knows what is suitable for us better than we do; second, the Beloved has more compassion when he beholds the need and resignation of a soul that loves him; third, the soul is better safeguarded against self-love and possessiveness by indicating its lack, rather than asking for what in its opinion is wanting. The soul, now, does likewise by just indicating her three needs. Her words are similar to saying: Tell my Beloved, since I am sick and he alone is my health, to give me health; and, since I suffer and he alone is my joy, to give me joy; and, since I die and he alone is my life, to give me life.
Sometimes in the spiritual life, or life in general, we may feel as though we are in desperate circumstances and that the Lord is not listening when we call. We are sick of our circumstances of life, we are suffering nearly to death … and the Lord seems to be paying no heed. Or, there are times when we feel we know exactly what we need and will not be satisfied unless God answers in an expected way. By her wonderful example, Mary teaches us how we are to pray, with faith, with humble trust, discretely placing ourselves in God’s care.
In all the various circumstances in which we find ourselves, whether in our material or spiritual life, we must trust. Following Mary’s example, we are to have confidence that the Lord, who knows what is suitable for us better than we do, will respond to our needs in the best way possible. And, we will recognize that the Beloved has more compassion for the soul when he beholds its need and resignation. So, we will simply let the Lord know what we are lacking and then we will put the matter in his hands.
This passage from John is truly to be prized. It helps us to understand the central role of Mary in the life of the Church. It encourages us to follow her example and imitate her faith.
Lastly, this passage from John’s gospel helps us to “hear” Mary. I say that the passage helps us to hear Mary because this is the only place in John’s gospel where Mary speaks. And, it is likewise the only place in any of the gospels where Mary gives us direction, where Mary acts as a Mother offering guidance to her children by her speech. This is the third very important role that Mary plays at Cana.
Interestingly, there is a sense in which the servers whom Mary addresses at the wedding at Cana represent us. Notice, that John says that the headwaiter did not know where the new wine that tasted so good had come from, but “the servers who had drawn the water knew.”
Thanks to our faith, we are “servers” because we understand the significance of this miracle. We know where the wine of the new covenant of grace comes from. We know that Jesus provides the very best wine (his own Blood) for the marriage feast between God and his people.
Now, just as Mary gives guidance to the servers at the wedding in Cana, so she gives guidance to us. Very simply, like a loving Mother who knows what is best for her children and wishes to guide them to maturity, she says, “Do whatever he tells you.” We could receive no better guidance or advice as to how we can find the fullness of life. The nearer we draw to Mary’s Son in faith, the more deeply we drink the blood of the New Covenant, the more fully we will be transformed in grace.
Pope Francis has spoken eloquently on the deep significance of Mary’s words at the marriage feast at Cana. Let’s end with a reflection on the Pope’s words:
Mary's words to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you", complete the spousal image of Cana and are her last two words in the Gospel: they are the legacy that she leaves to all of us. "It is an expression that recalls the formula of faith used by the people of Israel to Sinai in response to the promises of the Covenant: 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” … “Indeed, at Cana, the servants obey. Jesus said to them, 'fill the jars with water.' And they filled them up to the brim … 'Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast'. During this wedding, a new Covenant is truly stipulated and to the servants of the Lord – that is, all the Church – a new mission is entrusted: 'Do whatever He tells you'. Serving the Lord means listening to His Word and putting it into practice. It is the simple but essential recommendation of the Mother of Jesus and it is the program of life for the Christian. For each one of us, drawing from the jar is equivalent to entrusting oneself to the Word of God, to experience its efficacy in life. So, along with the master of the banquet, who tasted the water that had become wine, we too can exclaim, 'You have kept the good wine until now'. Indeed, the Lord continues to reserve the best wine for our salvation, just as it continues to flow from the pierced side of the Lord. (Francis General Audience June 8, 2016)
Thanks to her presence at the wedding at Cana, Mary, our mother, has left us this “legacy of faith” in her Son, Jesus. She has left us an example of discipleship and of discerning prayer. In the guise of a teacher, she has given us guidance as to how we can discover true life by doing whatever her Son tells us to do. She continues, throughout the ages to act as our intercessor and our loving Mother, summoning us to believe in the signs of God’s love given to us by her Son, to strive understand them more fully and allow them to lead us, one day, to celebrate Cana perpetually at the marriage feast in heaven with her Son, Jesus.