I hope that all of us have experienced the Stations of the Cross at some point during our formation as Christian disciples. The Stations are a prayerful way to share in Christ’s walk to Calvary, from his sentencing to death by Pontius Pilate until he is laid in the tomb. A common hymn to accompany the praying of the Stations is called the “Stabat Mater,” or in English, “At the Cross her Station Keeping.” This hymn has been associated with Mary as Mother of Dolors (sorrows) since the 13th century. It imagines how Mary must have felt during her Son’s suffering and death. Jesus suffered the utmost physical pain while he died for our sins, but Mary suffered the utmost emotional pain as she witnessed her Son experience this.
Many of us have been asked by God to suffer with Jesus physically. Some people seem to never be able to escape physical suffering or illness, and in a mysterious way, Christ’s cross can be present through these illnesses. However, a suffering that can be more deeply felt is emotional suffering. Some people suffer not from their own physical pain, but from witnessing people around them making bad choices or suffering from their own illness. Both of these sufferings can be a share in the cross of Jesus, if we respond with faith and ask Jesus for healing and to carry our cross with us. It is significant that Mary stood at the foot of the cross. I recently noticed in the Cathedral’s stations of the cross that Mary is depicted as standing by the cross, looking up at Jesus. Other characters in common depictions of the crucifixion scene often show Mary Magdalene lying on the ground or leaning against the cross, overcome with grief. However, even though Mary suffered immensely because of her great love for her Son, she also had a great hope – even the hope that he would rise from the dead. This same faith is what allowed Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis. And this hope seems to give Mary the confidence to stand by her Son as he died for our sins. I invite you to join us at the Cathedral at 5:45 for the Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent. The time of prayer is simple yet profound, as we reflect more deeply during this Lenten season on our need for a Savior. Here are a few verses of the beautiful hymn Stabat Mater for your consideration.
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 passed.
O how sad and sore distressed,
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,
Whelmed 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?
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender Child,
All with bloody scourges rent.
Our praying of the Stations of the Cross is meant to unite our hearts more deeply to the love that Jesus had for each one of us as he walked to Calvary. Mary is the one who embodies this closeness to Jesus, because while she did not physically die like Jesus, she was united to him in his suffering and death. I love the scene in The Passion of the Christ in which Jesus meets Mary while he carries his cross. In the chaos, Mary had somehow found a way to greet and comfort her son. In this depiction, Mary simply says, “Son,” to Jesus, and he replies, “See, Mother, I make all things new.” This quote is taken from Jesus in the book of Revelation, and I think it is artistically appropriate to place these words on his lips as he meets his mother.
The fourth station of the Cross is when Jesus met his Blessed Mother. The following is from a meditation that St. John Paul II wrote on the fourth station: “Mary meets her son along the way of the Cross. His cross becomes her cross, his humiliation is her humiliation, the public scorn is on her shoulders. This is the way of the world. This is how it must seem to the people around, and this is how her heart reacts: “A sword will pierce your soul.” The words spoken when Jesus was 40 days old are now coming true. They are reaching complete fulfilment. Although the pain is proper to her, striking deep into her maternal heart, the full truth of this suffering can be expressed only in terms of shared suffering – ‘com-passion.’ That word is part of the mystery; it expresses unity with the suffering of the Son.”
Here are some more verses of the Stabat Mater for your prayer. Last week, I included the first part of the hymn.
O, thou Mother, fount of love,
touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord.
Make me feel as thou has felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ our Lord.
Holy Mother, pierce me through;
in my heart each wound renew
of my Saviour crucified.
Let met 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 mourned for me,
all the days that I may live.
By the cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
this I ask of thee to give.