Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stabat Mater

Stabat Mater dolorósa      
iuxta crucem lacrimósa    
dum pendébat gládius.      

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, or Mater Dolorosa.  This line we know well.  It begins the traditional hymn used in the Stations of the Cross.  This afternoon in going through my daily missal is was filled with both joy and sorrow at finding this.  This familiar hymn is one of a few sequences we have in our liturgical year.  It would have been a great addition to a daily liturgy, but unfortunately it was never even mentioned.  I wish to share it with you, along with a small commentary on a few of the verses.

Stabat Mater dolorosa         At the cross her station keeping
iuxta crucem lacrimosa       stood the mournful mother weeping
dum pendébat gladius.        close to Jesus to the last.
Notice she is standing.  Despite her overwhelming sorrow, she stands at the foot of the cross.  She is not sitting.  The English translation gives the impression of her keeping vigil, like a watchman standing on the parapet in the night.   She is there with the fruit of womb, and there for the fruit of womb.  Her standing could indeed impart that she shares in her Son's passion.  St. Mary Magdalene is usually picture lying against and embracing the cross.  Mary stands with her Son as he is lifted up.  

Cuius animam gementem,     Through her heart, his sorrow sharing
contristatam et dolentem        all his bitter anguish bearing
pertansivit gladius.                now at length the sword had passed.
All three images show the swords piercing her heart.  This is in reference to the passage in Luke about the Presentation of the Christ-child in the temple.  "Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted-and you yourself a sword will pierce-so that the thoughts of many hearts be revealed.'" (Luke 2:34-35).  The image of the Seven Sorrows shows the seven swords that pierced Mary's heart as she, without sin, shared spiritually in the sufferings of her Son.  The third sword seems special to me.  It pierced her when He, at the age of twelve, went missing from their pilgrimage group.  As any mother can agree, the disappearance of a child is certainly a sword that can pierce the heart.  Imagine the piercing of such a pure and tender heart as Mary's, it would have reacted like a warm butter does a knife.  

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