Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
In 1244, devout citizens of Florence, Italy founded the Confraternity of Mercy in their beloved city. They dedicated themselves to bringing the sick to hospitals, collecting charity for orphaned children, burying the dead and providing assistance to those in need. The confraternity still exists today. Its members offer medical care and supply ambulances, continuing the very same mission of mercy as in the Middle Ages.
From a century before Columbus discovered America, the members of the confraternity have treasured a fresco of the Madonna della Misericordia painted in their original headquarters. In this painting, Mary stands maternal and majestic as “Our Lady of Mercy.” There are three reasons why Mary rightly deserves this title.
First, Mary herself is the masterpiece of God’s mercy. A mother and father love their child from the moment they know that they are becoming parents. The child in the womb does nothing to earn the parents’ love. But, right from the start, the parents love the child and do all they can to protect and care for their child. This is human mercy: unearned love. It is but a faint reflection of the divine mercy of God who always surrounds us with his love and protects us with his care.
At Mary’s conception in the womb of her saintly mother, God took special care of Mary, protecting her from all taint of original sin. From the first moment of her existence, God flooded her soul with the fullness of his grace. This is why the angel, at the annunciation in Luke’ gospel, addresses her as “full of grace.”
To bestow on Mary the unfading fullness of grace is pure mercy on the part of God, preparing her to be the Mother of Word Incarnate. It is his love in action in her, his grace given not only for her, but for all of us. God makes Mary the masterpiece of mercy so that each of us may experience his mercy in the death and resurrection of His Son, who became flesh in her womb.
There is a second reason why Mary is the Mother of Mercy. The confraternity’s image of the Madonna della Misericordia depicts, on Mary’s mantle, medallions in which are inscribed the corporal works of mercy. By her example — in the Visitation, in caring for Jesus from his infancy throughout his public ministry, from Cana to the Cross, Mary shows us how to feed the hungry, care for the lonely, console those in sorrow — unselfishly and generously. Mary, indeed, is the Mother of Mercy.
But, there is a third reason why Mary is the Mother of Mercy. The fresco in Florence shows Mary, crowned as queen, with her mantle spread open, embracing the citizens of Florence under her protection. Beneath her feet is found the entire city with the earliest depiction of its famous baptistery and cathedral. With great love, Mary cares for Florence.
But Mary, who cares for this one city and its citizens, cares for each of us. When dying on the cross, Jesus made his mother our mother. And, so, just as she cared for him from the crib to the cross, she stays with us and cares for each of us in all our needs as only a loving mother can. Mary takes all of us under the mantle of her protection. Even before we ask, Mary anticipates our needs and is already presenting them to her divine Son. She is indeed the human icon of divine mercy. With great confidence, therefore, we make our own the powerful invocation that Christians since the time of the Crusades have been praying and we cry out:
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, our hope!