In the early 1940s, in anticipation of the centenary of her Apparition at La Salette — the occupation of France by Nazi Germany notwithstanding — Our Lady’s Missionaries intensified their appeals to Vatican officials for the privilege of a proper Office and Mass in her honor. Word reached them in early 1942 that the Holy See was willing to accede to their wish.
The La Salette General Council of the Congregation saw to it that a formulary for the new Office and Mass be drafted and submitted to the Congregation of Rites. Suitable prayers were written up, hymns were composed and, more importantly perhaps, appropriate Scripture passages were selected.
The second reading for the La Salette Mass, taken from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, was an obvious choice, as was the classic passage from St. John’s Gospel which places Mary at Calvary.
Particularly insightful and inspired, though, is the first reading, borrowed from the Book of Genesis, focusing as it does on both the renewed covenant of reconciliation between the Creator and every creature and on the rainbow, the sign and reminder of our restored friendship.
When the Lord smelled the pleasing odor of Noah’s sacrifice the Lord said in his heart: “I will never again curse the ground because of the human creature, for the imagination of the human heart is evil from youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen 8:21-22).
We human creatures are prone to perverse or reverse reconciliation. We are too easily reconciled to what is blatantly unjust. Too readily do we come to terms with the inconsistency and complicity which mar our Christian witness. Too willingly do we make our peace with the collective exploitation and corporate manipulation that enrich the haves and disadvantage the have-nots.
This flaw, endemic to our fallen nature, the Lord counters by means of a stupefying mystery, the mystery of the Divine Transference, the Divine Conversion, or the Divine Change of Heart.
In the golden age of prophecy — the 8th-century B.C.E. (before the Christian Era) — the prophet Isaiah tells us that, on the point of restoring Jerusalem, Israel’s Redeemer remembered the pledge he had given to Noah once the Flood waters receded.
“In a brief instant I abandoned you, but in great compassion I will gather you. In a flood of wrath I hid my countenance from you. But in eternal love I had mercy on you. This is like the days of Noah for me: when I swore that the flood waters should not pass over the earth again. So I swore not to be angry at you, not to rebuke you. For the mountains may move and the hills may totter, but my love will not move from you, and my Covenant of friendship and peace will not totter, says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:7-10, Anchor Bible).
At the turning point in human history, on Calvary and in the astonishing mystery of the Divine Transference, God solemnly ratified and sealed forever the Covenant God once made with Noah.
- Behold the man, born of woman, God from God, come from God. Behold his face, his billions of possibilities, which are our countless faces, the billions of our human possibilities.
- Behold the man, Light from Light, come from God, in the likeness of our sinful flesh. At the cross God broke the power of sin and pronounced sentence on it (Rom 8:3).
- Behold the man, true God from true God, come from God to make peace. “For our sake, (God) made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
It is in the crucifixion that God dealt decisively with evil. We must then look cruelty, injury, injustice, violence straight in the eye. We must never dismiss these harsh realities or brush them aside, as what was “meant to be” or “the will of God”.
In the gospel passage for the Mass of La Salette, we see that, beside the cross of Jesus stood his mother (John 19:25). Her tears at La Salette remind us that we Christians are called, as was Christ’s Mother herself, to face pain and suffering, and to view them as tragedies that befall God as well as ourselves. God ultimately bears the vengeance of God. God truly pays the price!
The dazzling light of resurrection enfolding Mary’s entire person at La Salette reminds us that it is not by the brutality, the cruelty, the pain and the suffering Christ endured that we were reconciled, but by the loving, unflinching trust in the Father with which he endured his passion. By his firm, unwavering resolve to break the spiral of violence once for all, we have been made children of God.
For us and for our salvation, Mary opened for God’s Word the way into our sinful flesh by bearing God’s Son. Her divine motherhood belongs to that utterly decisive event in which the reconciling and peacemaking Word came into our sinful flesh, and thus, inevitably, into his death and, by the grace of God, into his – and our – resurrection.
We celebrate the gift of Mary’s Apparition at La Salette – a rainbow and reminder of God’s love. At the heart of the Marian mystery stands the divine will that joined together the lowly and obedient Handmaid of the Lord and the Suffering Servant of the same Lord.
The gift bestowed on Mary is one of loyal perseverance in one and the same role through a lifetime of circumstances and contingencies. She really did only one thing: she conceived her Son, she brought him forth, she gave him to the world, and then she served him — “with love beyond all telling” — in his person and in his work.
Everything else was simply the unfolding of this single theme of her marvelously graced, uniquely blessed life. In this she is a model for all Christ’s disciples.