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Today is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Sorrows
Let us reflect on the beautiful tradition of the Stabat Mater
Our Sorrowful Mother
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, focusing on the suffering and grief of Mary as she watches her son Jesus suffer and die on the cross. This feast reminds us that Mary fully participated in the passion of her son, uniting her immense sorrow with his redeeming sacrifice.
As the hymn Stabat Mater poetically describes, Mary stood at the foot of the cross, her heart pierced as Jesus was pierced by the soldier's lance. She endured this agony with faith, joining her suffering to Christ's out of love for the world's salvation. Though grief-stricken, she remained steadfast, offering her son back to the Father for the forgiveness of sins.
Mary understands human suffering because she has suffered. She stands with us in our trials and sorrows, offering us her maternal compassion and intercession. United with Christ, she desires to draw us closer to God, who can bring meaning out of pain and life out of death. May we seek the aid of Our Lady of Sorrows in our difficulties, trusting in divine providence even in life's darkest moments.
The Stabat Mater Hymn
At the Cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last:
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has pass'd.
Oh, how sad and sore distress'd
Was that Mother highly blest
Of the sole-begotten One!
Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
Whelm'd in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother's pain untold?
Bruis'd, derided, curs'd, defil'd,
She beheld her tender Child
All with bloody scourges rent;
For the sins of his own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His Spirit forth He sent.
O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with thine accord:
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ my Lord.
Holy Mother! pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified:
Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn'd for me,
All the days that I may live:
By the Cross with thee to stay;
There with thee to weep and pray;
Is all I ask of thee to give.
Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share thy grief divine;
Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.
Wounded with his every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon'd,
In His very blood away;
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In his awful Judgment day.
Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy Mother my defence,
Be Thy Cross my victory;
While my body here decays,
May my soul thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.
Translation by Edward Caswal
Embracing the Sorrows: The Stabat Mater's Journey through Time and Faith
The cross, an enduring symbol of Christianity, has long been an emblem of sacrifice, redemption, and love. At its foot, during that crucial moment in religious history, stood the Virgin Mary, watching her son suffer for the world's sins. The profound agony and pain of a mother witnessing her child's death is deeply human, transcending time and culture. This emotion, almost palpable, finds its poignant expression in the Stabat Mater.
Origin and Tradition
The title "Stabat Mater" translates from Latin to "the mother was standing," a reference to Mary's presence at the foot of the cross. This medieval hymn, which originated in the 13th century, is attributed to the Franciscan friar Jacopone da Todi, though there are debates about its true authorship. Throughout its verses, the Stabat Mater paints an intimate portrayal of Mary's sorrow, creating an invitation for the faithful to join her in her grief and to reflect on the profound sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Artistic Endeavors and the Stabat Mater
The power of the hymn's words inspired countless artists over the centuries. In religious art, Mary is often portrayed standing by the cross, her face a canvas of sorrow. This artistic theme not only symbolizes her grief but underscores her strength and faith. Such depictions serve as a reminder of the cost of divine love and the deep interconnection between joy and sorrow.
Renowned artists like Rogier van der Weyden, Sandro Botticelli, and Pietro Perugino, among many others, have presented their interpretation of the Stabat Mater. These masterpieces resonate deeply with viewers, offering them an opportunity to contemplate the mystery of the cross and its significance.
A Melody of Sorrow and Hope
If art presents a visual interpretation of the Stabat Mater, then music gives it voice. The hymn's poignant verses have been set to music by numerous composers, each bringing a unique sound and perspective to the ancient words. From the reverent tones of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's setting to the sweeping drama of Antonín Dvořák's version, the Stabat Mater finds diverse expressions across different epochs.
These compositions serve a dual purpose: they are both a meditation on the Passion of Christ and a testament to the universal human experience of sorrow and hope. When performed during Lent, especially on Good Friday, the music evokes a spiritual pilgrimage, guiding the faithful through reflection, penance, and ultimately, redemption.
Conclusion: An Invitation to Reflection
The journey of the Stabat Mater, from its origins to its manifestations in art and music, is a testament to the enduring power of faith and the human capacity for empathy. In immersing ourselves in its tradition, we are called not just to witness but to participate actively in the Passion narrative.
For believers and even those outside the faith, the Stabat Mater serves as a bridge to deeper spiritual contemplation. It encourages us to confront our own sorrows, stand resilient in the face of adversity, and recognize the profound interplay of love, sacrifice, and redemption in our lives.
From a sermon of St Bernard of Clairvaux
His mother stood by the cross
The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of our Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted. He went on to say to Mary: And your own heart will be pierced by a sword.
Truly, O blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart. For only by passing through your heart could the sword enter the flesh of your Son. Indeed, after your Jesus – who belongs to everyone, but is especially yours – gave up his life, the cruel spear, which was not withheld from his lifeless body, tore open his side. Clearly it did not touch his soul and could not harm him, but it did pierce your heart. For surely his soul was no longer there, but yours could not be torn away. Thus the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly call you more than martyr, since the effect of compassion in you has gone beyond the endurance of physical suffering.
Or were those words, Woman, behold your Son, not more than a word to you, truly piercing your heart, cutting through to the division between soul and spirit? What an exchange! John is given to you in place of Jesus, the servant in place of the Lord, the disciple in place of the master; the son of Zebedee replaces the Son of God, a mere man replaces God himself. How could these words not pierce your most loving heart, when the mere remembrance of them breaks ours, hearts of iron and stone though they are!
Do not be surprised, brothers, that Mary is said to be a martyr in spirit. Let him be surprised who does not remember the words of Paul, that one of the greatest crimes of the Gentiles was that they were without love. That was far from the heart of Mary; let it be far from her servants.
Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.