When I was a girl, a popular feature of Catholic Good Friday was the Stabat Mater. I copied this one from a website devoted to the Stabat Mater — the owner has over 200 recordings of music created for this piece — and she offers multiple translations, so I selected the ones that seemed to reflect the text most accurately:
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, Lo! the piercing sword had passed.
Oh how sad and sore distressed was that mother highly blessed, of the sole-begotten One!
O that silent, ceaseless mourning, O those dim eyes, never turning from that wondrous, suffering Son
Who on Christ’s dear Mother gazing, in her trouble so amazing, born of woman, would not weep?
Who on Christ’s dear Mother thinking, Such a cup of sorrow drinking, Would not share Her sorrow deep?
For the sins of His own nation saw Him hang in desolation, all with bloody scourges rent.
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender child, till His Spirit forth he sent.
O, thou Mother, fount of love, touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord.
Make my heart to glow within me for the God who came to win me, burn with love for Christ, my Lord
Those Five Wounds on Jesus smitten, Mother! in my heart be written, Deep as in your own they be.
Thou thy Savior’s Cross didst bear; thou thy Son’s rebuke didst share: Let me share them both with thee.
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 of thee I ask to give.
Virgin, of all virgins blest, O refuse not my request: let me in thy weeping share
Make me after thine own fashion Christ’s companion in His Passion all His pain and dying bear
Wound me with thy Son’s affliction, kindle through his crucifixion zealous love within my soul
Thus aflame with fire of love, shield me, Virgin, from above, when I hear the Judgement call
Christ, when thou shalt call me hence, be Thy mother my defense, be Thy cross my victory.
While my body here decays, may my soul Thy goodness praise, safe in Paradise with Thee. Amen.
So what is this Catholic thing doing on an Orthodox Christian’s blog? I think of it every year, when I read this, from the Matins for Holy and Great Friday:
Seeing her own Lamb led to the slaughter, Mary His Mother followed Him with the other women, and in her grief she cried: “Whither goest Thou, O my Child? Why dost Thou run so swiftly? Is there another wedding in Cana, and art Thou hastening there, to turn the water into wine? Shall I go with Thee, O my Child, or shall I wait for Thee? O Word, do Thou speak some word to me; pass me not by in silence. Thou hast preserved me in virginity, and Thou art my Son and my God.”
–Ikos following Canticle Five, from the Canon by St. Kosmas
Well, no, it doesn’t have quite the same rhythmic elegance of the Stabat Mater. But I like it better, for two reasons: one, it doesn’t focus on me at all, and two, I think it’s much more realistic. I mean, think what is happening. Think what it is to see your own child suffering horribly for something he didn’t do. All parents witness this at one time or another, but none of us has to watch our kid being put to death for the crime of loving too much. This is what she’s witnessing; and, with an exquisitely human grief, she simply — blocks it out. Goes into denial, on a scale none of us can fully comprehend. This can’t be happening to my Son, so He must be doing something else, like going to another wedding.
For a few years now, I’ve been able to read a number of canons written specifically for Great Lent, and the Theotokia of all of them focus on the agony of the Mother of God. And I find, with each succeeding year, that I enter more and more deeply into her pain; more and more of a sense of what she felt wounds my soul. Last year, I even found myself addressing Christ, “How could You do that to Your Mother?” And this year came the answer: He went to Hades, so she wouldn’t have to. If He hadn’t come, if He hadn’t died, it wouldn’t have mattered at all how good she was, how devoted to God she was; she would have suffered the same fate as everyone else, up to Holy Saturday. Of course He went through that for all of us, but I bet His Mom was at the top of His list.
Somebody — I think it was Louis Evely — once wrote that it was just great that she said Yes at the Annunciation, but this one, at the foot of the Cross — this was the Yes that mattered. What a thing to have to say Yes to. What a thing to have to forgive. And so great is her love for her Son that — she does it.
Most holy Theotokos, save us!