THE final condemnation of our Lord by Pilate seems to have taken place some time before noon. The space of time must have been long enough to allow of the procession to Calvary before the sixth hour arrived, as it was still nominally the third hour, that is, within the time between nine and twelve, when the Crucifixion was accomplished. The distance from the Praetorium to Calvary is not great, but it must be supposed that such a procession would move on slowly, and in this case the narrow streets were thronged with people. Also, the great bodily weakness of our Lord, under the weight of the Cross, made Him fall many times, and it was necessary to force Simon the Cyrenian to help Him, if He was to arrive alive at the place of execution. The line of this most sacred way has been preserved to us by tradition, and it is natural to think that it was one of our Blessed Lady's special devotions, during the time of her residence in Jerusalem after the Ascension, to venerate every single spot thus hallowed by the footsteps of our Lord, and especially the Way of the Cross. This devotion was brought from the East, apparently, by the Franciscans, and has taken, as was natural, a very great hold on the affections of the Christian people. Even if it could be doubted that the various " Stations" are authenticated by genuine tradition, there would still be nothing in this devotion to which any reasonable objection could be made. All the incidents which are not directly mentioned by the Gospels are in themselves such as were certain to occur, the only exception being the beautiful anecdote of the Veronica, which rests on a traditional basis of its own. It will not be necessary here to go through the whole story of the Way of Sorrows, as our subject confines us, in the main, to the companionship of our Blessed Lady with her Divine Son. She was, as it seems, near at hand, and witnessed the departure from the Praetorium, which was made with a certain amount of pomp and solemnity, and with an escort of soldiers under a centurion, while the people thronged on every side, the news having spread rapidly through the city. It seems likely that here also the Chief Priests, in their triumph, forgot all the decency and gravity of their character, and showed themselves prominently, for the greater insult to our Lord.
Our Lord was now again clothed in His own garments, probably at the instance of the priests, who wished Him to be presented to the people in His usual dress, that He might be the more easily recognized. Thus it came about in the Passion that He was several times stripped in the eyes of the crowd, and each of these occasions was a great outrage on His modesty and dignity, as well as a time of fresh pain, because the garments which He had to lay aside were fastened by His Blood to the wounds with which He was now covered. His loss of blood had already been very great, and it was thus continually increased. The very stones and mire of the street were covered with His Blood. When His Cross was brought to Him, the saints tell us that He broke out into a rapturous welcome of that long desired instrument of His sacrifice, whether in words or in heart. His martyrs, such as St. Andrew, have often done this, but no one with so much intensity of love as our Lord Himself. His Heart was full of the desire of which He had once spoken to His Apostles, and it may be of this moment, in particular, that St. Paul says, "That having joy set before Him, He endured the Cross, despising the shame." 1
We must consider that in the same way, our Blessed Lady's heart was full of the great issues which were to be accomplished by the Passion, and so far she could grasp them with a longing desire, in union with our Lord, though this hope and prospect did not dull the pain either in His case or in hers. It was her business to be with Him, to follow His thoughts and sufferings, to give Him the "bitter sweet " consolation of her faithful presence, of witnessing her peace and union with the will of God under all the storm of sorrows, to rejoice Him by the boundless perfection of the graces which she exercised at every moment. Some devout souls consider, also, that her prayers were allowed to obtain for Him the omission of some of the insults which Satan, or the servants of Satan, were continually devising for Him, when there was any extreme indignity contained in them to which there was no need that He should be exposed. Thus this passage through the streets, both to Him and to her, was at once a solemn triumph, because it led to His mounting the throne of the Cross from which His Kingdom was to begin, and the most intense suffering, on account of the extreme pain which now gave Him no rest in His weakness, His thirst, His weariness, the torture of the wounds clinging to His vestments, the thorns piercing His Head, the burthen of the Cross which soon wore a great wound in His shoulder, the unsteadiness of His steps which made Him totter and fall, and strike His Head against the Cross from time to time, and, all the while, the jeers and insults of His enemies, the mocking's of the people, and, worse than all, the continually fresh sins which added to the weight of His pain and the sorrow of His Heart. In all these causes, whether of pain or of consolation, Mary's heart beat in perfect union with His.
The incidents of the Way of Sorrows, as they are arranged in accordance with the tradition as to the several Stations, fall easily into three groups unequal in number. Our Lord had already fallen once under the weight of the Cross when He met His Blessed Mother. This most touching incident is placed after this first fall, and it is accompanied or followed by the two other anecdotes of the Veronica and of the assistance given by Simon of Cyrene. After this, the procession went on its way again, and the words addressed by our Lord to the daughters of Jerusalem are placed before the third and last fall, which seems to have happened on the arrival at the summit of Calvary. The remaining Stations follow in their natural order, the stripping of our Lord, the Crucifixion, the death on the Cross, the deposition, and the placing of the Sacred Body in the sepulchre.
The point at which our Lord met His Blessed Mother may have been some spot at which the road widened, or perhaps the procession had paused after His first grievous fall, and thus our Lady was able to gain somewhat on the little crowd of officers and executioners immediately around Him. This meeting, the memory of which has been pre served to us by tradition, must not be supposed to imply that our Lady now for the first time became present at the sufferings of her Son, or that He was now for the first time aware of her presence. We have supposed her to have been an eye-witness of a large part of the Passion before this point, and it is not likely that He did not advert to her being so near to Him. But it was perhaps the first time at which she approached Him so near as to be able to exchange looks, if not words and embraces, to throw herself at His feet, and give Him the consolation of the expression of her most tender and faithful love. Or it may have been that, as the actual execution of the sentence passed upon Him had now begun, it was fitting in the designs of Providence that they should exchange a few solemn words of leave-taking, that He should give her His last blessing, and that she should for the last time profess her devotion. There would be no time for this on Calvary, at least while He hung on the Cross nothing could pass between them which others might not hear.
This meeting, then, summed up, as it were, the companionship of our Lady with her Son. They had time to gaze on one another, each to see in the other the traces of the terrible sufferings which had been already inflicted on them, and thus she would be able to drink in, as it were, the whole of the chalice of pain which His sufferings had been preparing for her, while she would also present herself to His eyes as the victim of the compassion which it was her place to render to Him. A terrible sight indeed to-the Sacred Heart, and an immense addition to the weight of the Cross which He was bearing. For His eye alone could fully trace out in her soul and heart all the interior tortures to which she had been subjected, and which had not availed, though felt by her with the keenest sensitiveness, to make her repine or complain, or indulge in a thought or a desire at variance with the will of God. The whole of the tenderness of her soul was laid bare before Him, and at the same time that most marvellous work of grace which had been going on during the last few hours, a multiplication and intensification of supernatural gifts to which there had been no parallel even in her own most rapid advances in sanctity. And to her who can conceive what it must have been ? To look into His eyes darkened with blood, to see His most lovely Face besmeared with foul spitting's or with the blood flowing from the wounds in His Head, His mouth all parched with thirst and half choked with congealed blood, His knees trembling under Him, His arms marked with the rents made by the scourging, His whole Body, indeed, one great wound, and to notice the faintness of death, as it seemed, already creeping over His whole frame, livid with blows and unnaturally white from the exhaustion of His veins! That indeed was a last blow to the heart of the Mother, which might have slain her life at once, but for the Divine support, and that last loving moment of companionship, in the intensity of its pain, might well seem enough to give the final crown to the merits of the Compassion, which were to be so wonderfully rewarded when our Lord came to speak His last words on the Cross.
Of the Stations which precede the actual Crucifixion, that one which reveals to us most of the interior of our Lord at this time must of course be that which commemorates His gentle words to the daughters of Jerusalem. They were lamenting, as women would naturally lament, His own hard case, the sufferings He had already endured, the sufferings which He was yet to undergo, His early Death, and the like. There may have been some among them who understood the dignity of His Person, and all must have at least heard of the holiness and bound less beneficence of His Life. But the mere sight of Him in His actual state would have been enough to move the hardest heart, even if they had not known Who He was or what He had done. It seems to have been our Lord's intention to raise them from simple unprofitable pity of His own intense sufferings, which were infinitely meritorious and faithful in the eyes of God, to a serious compunction of heart for the great national sin which had been committed, and which was to be visited on them and on their children, and which, as it had not yet fallen on them in vengeance, was a fit matter for prayer, by which the guilt at least might be in some degree effaced, their own souls freed from participation therein, and per haps the chastisement made less severe in the case of particular persons. Our Lord set before them in plain words the Divine punishment which was imminent, the thought of which might make them enter into themselves, and prepare themselves for it by contrition and supplication. It seems natural to think that our Blessed Lady's heart was already occupied with the thoughts and prayers now suggested to those weeping women by our Lord, and that she read in the extreme severity of the chastisement which was inflicted on the Immaculate Lamb of God Himself, a lesson which set before her how far more terrible must be the chastisement to be inflicted on sinners, who would be to the fire of the Divine wrath as dry wood already fit for the burning, in comparison to the green wood which could only be burnt with difficulty. For our Lord had in Him self nothing that could be the fit fuel for such anger, and yet with all His innocence He was made to suffer so severely, as if to teach us what will be the measure of God's angry vengeance when it falls upon them to whom it is justly due.
The process of the Crucifixion itself was full of barbarity and savage outrage, for our Lord's wounds were again opened when His robes were torn off, the Crown of Thorns left on His Head while He was being nailed to the Cross must have caused a great aggravation of torture, and it seems that there was a brutal and needless infliction of pain when His arms were stretched out, beyond their natural span, in order that the Hands might be fastened by the nails at the places where the Cross had been pierced to receive them. There again came that refinement of insult, which left Him for a time without the slightest covering in the sight of all the crowd, and, as soon as the Cross was settled in its socket, and our Lord raised up so as to be seen by all, the mocking's and reviling's and blasphemies began again on all sides, so as to make it almost intolerable for our Lady and St. John to stand and listen to them in silence.
Many, no doubt, of those who mocked and jeered were men who knew no better, and only indulged the ordinary savagery of their disposition in the taunts which they threw at Him. But there were graver persons there, the Priests of the Temple, the Scribes learned in the law, the Pharisees with their broad phylacteries, and these men did not fail to> make themselves very conspicuous in their triumphant insults to Him, and as He hung upon the Cross His very deeds of mercy were thrown in His teeth. "He saved others, Himself He cannot save.' r He was invited to come down from the Cross, and they would believe in Him. The soldiers joined, the passers-by joined, the thieves by His side on their crosses, or one of them, joined. And His Mother and His friends were to stand there, and listen in silence, as He listened in silence ! Thus it may be that the unwearied malice of His enemies-would have left no moment of all the three hours which were yet to elapse before He was to breathe out His Soul, without some fresh insult or blasphemy. But nature spoke in its own way in His defence, and imposed on them all an awful silence, under which the loudest voices died away and the boldest hearts quailed with fear. It was mid-day, and yet the sunlight began to fail. Rapidly the darkness spread over the whole land, bringing with it a fearful hush, and a sense of the anger of God, against which even men like Annas and Caiphas could no longer hold up their heads. The Maker of the world hung upon the Cross, and the physical universe itself was wrapt in the. shroud of mourning. The last three hours, except just at their beginning, were to be passed in darkness and mainly in silence, while the most wonderful mysteries were being worked out to their accomplishment, in accordance with the decrees of God.
1 Heb. xii. 2.