At the Cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Just in typing those few words, the familiar melody of the Stabat Mater returned to my heart and mind. And if you’re of a certain age, you know exactly what I mean. For how many generations did the verses of the Stabat Mater accompany our praying of the Stations of the Cross during Lent, especially on Fridays? Hopefully it’s still used regularly today, for it’s a haunting hymn, a beautiful meditation, and an endearing part of Catholic life and culture.
The hymn presents the compelling image of Mary standing at the foot of the Cross, having followed Jesus on his tortuous climb to Calvary, staying close to Him until His final breath. What did she feel as she saw her Son betrayed, arrested, denied, flogged, ridiculed, spat upon, nailed to the Cross, and lifted up to the blasphemy of the vengeful crowd? We can only begin to grasp the emotions that washed over her heart and flooded her soul as her only son expired His last breath and prayed, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
At the moment of Jesus’ death on the Cross, Mary’s heart became the spiritual intersection of profound human sorrow and the ineffable divine plan.
Here we see Mary fulfilling her vocation as the Mother of Sorrows. The Feast is celebrated each year on September 15th, the day after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, but its fullest expression is found in the events of Good Friday. The Sacramentary of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary explains that “The co-suffering of the Blessed Virgin in the drama of salvation is rightly celebrated, because she stood by the Cross of the Lord, ‘firm in faith, strong in hope, burning with love.’ How blessed was the Virgin Mary in her sufferings: she gained the palm of living martyrdom at the foot of the cross of her Son.”
Fr. Larry Lovasik, S.V.D., has written that Mary’s sorrow on Calvary was deeper than any sorrow ever felt on earth, for no mother in all the world had a heart as tender as the heart of the Mother of God. “As there was no love like her love, there was no sorrow like her sorrow.” He continues, “Devotion to the Sorrows of Mary is the source of great graces because it leads into the depths of the Heart of Christ.”
The Seven Sorrow of Mary most frequently identified are: the Prophecy of Simeon; the flight into Egypt; the three days when Jesus was missing; the meeting with Jesus carrying His Cross; His Death on Calvary; the Body of Jesus being taken down from the Cross; and His Burial in the tomb. In each of these moments Mary faithfully participated in God’s plan of salvation; in each of them she shared in the suffering of her son. But taken together, they give us a context in which to understand the suffering that inevitably comes our way, the crosses we bear, for indeed, as Mary stood at the Cross she represented you and me.
And so, if you’re dealing with a debilitating or painful illness or struggling with a depressing personal problem, Mary is with you at the cross.
If you’ve recently lost a loved one to death and are overcome with a feeling of emptiness and loneliness, Mary is with you at the cross.
If your child is ill, or struggling with school, or feels that he or she is an outcast, the object of bullying and ridicule, Mary is with you at the cross.
If you have an adult child going through the disappointment and the pain of a bitter divorce, or you’re worrying about the future and well-being of your family, Mary is with you at the cross.
If you’ve been unemployed for a long time and are anxious about saving your home and providing suitably for your spouse and children, Mary is with you at the cross.
If you’re wrestling with a demonic addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling, or are trapped in a dangerous situation of violent domestic abuse from which you’ve no means of escape, Mary is with you at the cross.
If you’re plagued by persistent moral weakness, a serious sin that you confess over and over again, an apparently invincible evil that’s keeping you apart from God, Mary is with you at the cross.
You see, dear brothers and sisters, there is no pain or suffering so difficult, so intractable, so enormous that Mary doesn’t make room for it in her Immaculate Heart. And with your pain or sorrow in her heart, she continues to stand close to Jesus, whispering to Him of your need, asking for His grace and mercy for you. For that reason we always pray with confidence, “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary. . .”
As we prepare to enter into Holy Week and to share intimately in the suffering and death of Christ, remember that we do so not alone, but in the company of our Blessed Mother Mary, who has already made the Way of the Cross, who has already stood at the foot of that Cross on our behalf.
Father Lovasik puts it this way: “The Church urges us to give ourselves over to the love of Mary completely and bear our cross patiently with the Mother of Sorrows. It was His last Will that she should be our Mother.”