I heard a priest say that Mary wasn’t at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, even though John’s gospel says she was. Where is this notion coming from?
There is a little bit of ambiguity in the Gospels on this point:
There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
- Matthew 27:55-56
There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
- Mark 15:40-41
…but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.
- Luke 23:49
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.
- John 19:25
I would find it difficult to definitively say that Mary was not at the foot of the cross since the Gospel of John explicitly places her there. However her presence is conspicuously not noted by the other 3 Gospels and those Gospels have everyone looking on from a distance, not at the foot of the cross. But we should not view this as a 3 vs. 1 account of the event since Matthew, Luke & Mark are all considered to share a common source. So what we have are really two accounts of the crucifixion. The two accounts have differences but they are not contradictory.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, in Christian tradition there are also two accounts of what happened during our Lord’s Passion. In one tradition Mary fainted when she saw Jesus carrying the cross. In the second tradition Mary followed Jesus all the way to the foot of the cross. Similar to the two Gospel traditions they are slightly different but neither negates the other.
The generally accepted tradition has been to accept the Gospel of John’s account that Mary was indeed at the foot of the cross. Since she is explicitly placed there in John’s account and the other Gospels while not mentioning she was there do not explicitly state she was not present. It is entirely possible that Mary fainted at the sight of Jesus’ Passion and then pulled herself together and went to the foot of the cross. Its also entirely possible that Matthew, Mark & Luke did not mention Mary at the foot of the cross because their focus was on the actions of the other followers of Jesus.