WE are of course without any direct guidance from the Evangelists as to the time at which our Blessed Lady left her retirement, in order to be present personally, as far as was possible for her, at the sufferings of her Divine Son. That it was the will of God, for many most sublime reasons, that she should be so present, is certain from the Gospel of St. John, and there can only be a question as to the point in the history at which her companionship in this way with our Lord began. It seems, however, reasonable to follow what is the common belief of contemplatives in this matter, and what is also in itself the most reasonable conjecture. This is, that our Blessed Lady joined our Lord about the time of His passing through the streets on His way either to or from the palace of Herod, and that she continued to witness a great part of what He endured and did from that time to the Crucifixion itself, and afterwards to the end. The portions of this time when she could not have been actually present may have been those which He spent, almost alone, with Pilate in His conversation with that official.
Our Blessed Lady's companionship must have been both consoling and painful to our Lord, as has been said. For if He derived comfort from the witness of her incomparable faithfulness, and the unwearied activity with which she followed every phase of His sufferings, He must also have been most tenderly pained by the sorrow which her grief caused Him, founded in the main on the conscious ness that her sorrow came from seeing Him suffer, and from her wonderful knowledge as to the reasons and the measure of His sufferings. But we need hardly say how much of glory to God and honour to our Lord was produced by her Compassion, nor how fruitful it must have been to her own soul, nor how beneficial to others in the increase which it brought about of her power in intercession for them. It must always be remembered that the whole life of this Blessed Mother was divinely arranged so that she might have all possible opportunities of advancing ever higher and higher in grace, and that no stage of her whole life could be so important, under this aspect, as that with which we are now concerned. At the very end of the Passion she was to be crowned for her incomparable fidelity and her enormous sufferings with that full motherly power over all the children of our Lord which is the highest of her privileges and the most fruitful of blessings to us. This was the great work of God in Mary which was being so rapidly carried on to its consummation during these few last hours of our Lord's Life, which were to her occasions of grace such as she had never met with before. Our Lord said to the disciples on the way to Emmaus," Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?" 1 And it may be said in like manner of Mary," Ought not the Mother of God to have suffered these things, and so to enter into that glory of hers which is second only to that of her Son ? " There can be no comparison between the rapidity of her advance in grace and perfection now, and its rapidity at any other time. We marvel at the height of grace to which, almost in a few minutes, the penitent thief was raised. But the Passion was a time in which everything of this kind was matured almost in an instant.
The presence of our Lady was now required, in the sense in which we speak, at that suffering of our Lord which has a character of its own of the deepest shamefulness, and of which it is difficult to find words in which to speak adequately. And if her presence at any one of the many insults and torments which He had to undergo must have added to His pain in an almost inconceivable degree, much more must this have been the case with His most painful and shameful Flagellation, in which not only was His Sacred Flesh torn to pieces and His Body made one great mass of wounds, but, still more, His virginal modesty and the sacred dignity of His Person were subject to the most brutal outrage, even by their simple exposure to the gaze of the crowds of both sexes who were the spectators of this profanation. It is a thing of which, as has been said, the Evangelists seem afraid to speak, and when we consider the extreme brutality of our Lord's enemies, and their diabolical delight in exposing Him to every imaginable insult, gloating, for that purpose, over every such triumph of malice, it may well be supposed that in none even of the revelations which remain to us on this subject have we the full tale of this suffering in honour to which our Lord was now exposed in the sight of His Mother. St. Bridget tells us that He was left absolutely without the slightest covering, till a spectator darted from the crowd to supply what decency required. And we are also told that His clothes were maliciously taken away and "hidden, so that He had a difficulty in finding them when the scourging itself was over. It was to this, besides all that pain, that the Incarnate God submitted. It was this that His Blessed Mother was now to witness.
It has been already said that Mary would never lose sight of the judicial character of the Passion, and of each one of its details. The multiplicity and variety of our Lord's sufferings represented to her the multitude and the variety of the sins for which they were inflicted. With this thought in our minds, it is easy to understand what chastisement it was which was now being inflicted on the Purest of the Pure, on the fountain and source of Purity, under the eyes of His most chaste Mother. It was the sin which, more than any other, is said to people Hell with hundreds of souls day after day, the sin which under various forms brought down the uncontrollable anger of God in the Deluge and in the destruction of the Cities of the Plain, the sin which the Apostles found so rampant all over the heathen world that they were obliged to proscribe it as if its heinousness was a new revelation, and to add its denunciation in Epistles written to Churches which were rich in spiritual gifts. It is the sin which in the pagan days presented itself to the eyes, the ears, the imagination, on every side, painted on the walls, celebrated by the poets, rehearsed and taught in the theatres, entering into every conversation, worshipped on the altars, while the pollutions which it wrought in the heart were too great, too universal, too foul, to be accounted for even by these means of propagation. It is the sin which it is the great aim and tendency of modern fashions and customs, not to revive, for it has never died, but to intensify and spread more and more widely in Christian society. For it is in the prevalence of this sin, with all its degrading and blinding and hardening power, that the best hope of Satan lies for the destruction of souls, and the fashions and customs of the world are always under the control of its Prince. It is the sin in which men make themselves lower than the animals, who follow the instincts of appetite without defiling an intelligent nature, made for the contemplation of God, by the pollution of imagination and the filthiness of thought and desire.
It is this sin for the exclusion of which from the hearts of His redeemed and from the society into which He has formed them, our Lord chose to be born of a Virgin, and to give us His own most pure Mother to be the Patron and Queen of our homes and of our hearts. There is thus in the position of our Lady at the Flagellation at once an intensity of suffering, and a Divine fitness in that suffering, which are nowhere more conspicuous. And we learn from it both how to measure the love which could submit to so much for the expiation of our sins, and the immense power of help against such degradation which is stored up for us in the heart of Mary. If there were no other reason for exerting ourselves to the utmost to increase the honour of and devotion to our Blessed Lady among Christians, this would be enough and more than enough for spending lives in such exertions, that Providence has placed in that honour and that devotion so singular and powerful a remedy against an evil which spares nothing that is innocent, nothing that is naturally fair and beautiful, an evil that desolates homes, poisons friendships, degrades intellects, dissolves society, an evil which no civilization can shut out, no refinement or cultivation palliate, which arms man against his own peace, his own honour, his own dignity, which corrupts the whole world, and gives its greatest triumphs to Hell.
We may see from this that the incident of the Scourging of our Lord, which seems to have suggested itself to Pilate and to have been adopted without any great amount of deliberation, was not, in the Providential order of the Passion, anything accidental. It had been dwelt on especially in the later predictions of our Lord to the Apostles, though not when He had just warned them of the approach of the Passion. 2 In truth, it seems to have been a Roman punishment, far more severe than what was inflicted by the Jews, and was a preparation for Crucifixion. The Jewish rulers had set their hearts upon bringing about our Lord's death by the way of the Cross, probably on account of its great infamy, which would make His name hateful and despicable, and perhaps their anticipations, on this score, included also the Scourging. And God was working out in this way, by means of their malignity and of the heedless cowardice of Pilate, who almost thought he was doing our Lord a service by means of which His life might be spared, the decrees of His own justice for the expiation of the most prevalent and most degrading of sins. Nor was the presence of our Blessed Lady at the Flagellation without its Divine purpose. It is natural to ask whether any thing of the same kind may be said with regard to the torment which followed immediately on the Scourging, that is, the mocking and crowning with thorns. Those who see in each one of these particular sufferings of our Lord the chastisement of some one class of corresponding sins in men, find in this part of our Lord's humiliation the expiation of sins of pride and vanity and ambition, the aspiring to royal honour, worldly dominion and rule. In this way the humblest of all the saints—for humility was the special virtue of our Lady, as of her Son—was allowed to witness the insults and outrages vented on our Lord on this account. But there is yet another aspect of this part of the Passion, on which it may be worth while to dwell for a few moments.
It has already been noticed that, all through the Passion, there is a constant recurrence of incidents which point to the truth of our Lord's kingly dignity. It was for being a King that He was really condemned by Pilate, out of fear of the Roman Emperor, and the Governor bore witness to this truth in the title which he wrote for the Cross. Our Lord would never deny to Pilate that He was King, as to the Chief Priests He would not deny that He was God. It would appear that it were as the decree of Providence that He should suffer something especially on this account, as in His Scourging He had suffered most severely on account of the doctrine and example of purity which He had preached and set, and which was so hateful to the world at large. The purple robe, the crown of thorns, the reed placed in His hands for a sceptre, and all the mockery and all the insults to which He was now exposed, may be looked on as the manifestations of the fury of the world against this doctrine of the royalty of Christ and of the Church, a doctrine in which the salvation of society as such is wrapped up, as much as all personal holiness and sanctity are enfolded in the doctrine of purity. The Scourging was the rage of sensual human nature, stirred up by Satan, against the purity of our Lord and of His children, and per mitted by God as the expiation of the immense evils of sensuality. The Crowning with Thorns, with all its accompanying horrors, is the savage anger of the spirit of the world let loose upon the royalty of Jesus Christ, allowed for the expiation of the sins of ambition and worldliness which have made the social and political condition of mankind so entirely different from what they might have been if His sceptre had been accepted instead of rejected. Mary is Queen where He is King. She is the Help of Christians, the Defence of Christendom, the Guardian of the Holy See, the protector of the supernatural order of society, and because she was to be these, she was in her right place in witnessing, as far as she did witness, these outrages in the Praetorium of Pilate.
The remainder of the incidents which preceded the actual beginning of the Way of the Cross must have struck on our Blessed Lady's heart with terrible pain—the defeat of Pilate's desire for the liberation of our Lord by means of the compassion of His enemies, the horrible cries after the Ecce Homo, the charge of making Himself the Son of God, which frightened the Governor, then the last dialogue between him and our Lord, which seems to have determined him to set Him free, and last of all, his yielding to the fear of Tiberius. "If thou release this Man thou art not Caesar's friend, for every one who maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." And the Priests answered at last, "We have no king but Caesar," thus shamefully denying all the best hopes and privileges of their nation. Perhaps after the tender compassion with which the sorrow of our Lord would strike on the heart of His Mother, the point which is most prominent in this part of the scene is the national sin of which the Jews now made themselves guilty, and its terrible consequences in this world as well as in the next. This was a part of the Providential decree of the Passion, that it was to destroy, through their own act, the exclusive rights, such as they were, of the Jews, make them liable to the most fearful national chastisement, and transfer the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles. The execution of this sentence had formed a part of the great prophecy of the Weeks of Daniel, who had said, "And the people that shall deny Him shall not be His." 3 It had been more than once spoken of by our Lord in the Parables, especially in one of the last He delivered, that of the Wicked Husbandmen.
The Chief Priests had made the accusation against Him of being a King, for the sake of inducing Pilate to be more ready to listen to their request for His Death, and in this they had deliberately changed the subject-matter of the charge on which they had themselves judicially condemned Him. It was that new charge which practically brought about the final consent of Pilate. But, what is more, by that Providential change of the accusation, which was contrary to all justice and truth, the idea of our Lord's kingly character was suggested to Pilate, and led to his interrogation of his Prisoner on that particular subject. It led also to the taunt of Pilate against the Priests and the people about crucifying their King. It led to our Lord's rejection by them in favour of Barabbas. It was in itself so palpably absurd to outward eye, that it showed Pilate the real motives of the Priests, and so helped to convince him of our Lord's innocence. This again was the reason for his washing his hands before the people, and declaring himself innocent of the Blood which they were forcing him to shed. This action drew from the people their fearful imprecation of the guilt of that Blood on themselves and on their children. Thus by the Providence of God, the whole nation, both rulers and people, were solemnly associated by their own act in the crime of the murder of our Lord, and the sentence was at once incurred which was first executed in the destruction of their city and nation by the Romans, and is still weighing upon them till the end of time. We shall find that it was in the thoughts of our Lord on the way to Calvary, for He spoke of it in His words to the daughters of Jerusalem. Since this was so, it is natural to think that this whole judicial process, whereby the sentence of rejection was incurred by the whole nation, was a matter on which the thoughts of His Blessed Mother were closely fixed. When Pilate pronounced the sentence by which our Lord was to suffer, the sentence of the condemnation and chastisement of the Jewish nation was passed in Heaven.
This was one of the momentous issues of the Passion as to which no one but our Blessed Lady could keep company with the thoughts and affections of our Lord. It is a part of the Providential government of the world, which is too often for gotten, that God deals with nations and com munities and families as wholes, as having a continuous life and as inheriting responsibilities to His Justice from generation to generation. They do not survive in the next world, as the souls of whom they are made up survive, and the dealings of God with them have to be accomplished in chastisements and in rewards, within the time which the history of this world is to cover. Again, it is never to be forgotten that individuals cannot altogether separate themselves from the acts of the body and the moral consequences of those acts. Nay, it often happens that a generation comparatively innocent in a family or in a nation, is the generation chosen by God to suffer for the sins the penalties of which they inherit. There are many other points of the same kind which might be drawn out if it were to the purpose here, with relation to national crimes and their punishment. But it is enough to say that this must have been one of those subjects on which our Blessed Lady's intelligence was wonderfully en lightened. Whether she knew or not, by any super natural intimation, that the rejection of the Jews involved the fulfilment of all the glorious prophecies which spoke of the reign of our Lord over the Gentiles, we cannot tell. At the present moment, her chief thought may well have been that of the loss of her own people, and, while she adored in silence the Divine decrees in their regard, she must have mourned most deeply over the sin which brought down the chastisement of forfeiture upon them. It was this thought which afflicted our Lord so much when He wept over Jerusalem on the Day of Palms, and which also grieved Him so much on His path of Calvary. The heart of His Blessed Mother must have shared in both cases in the intensity of His sorrow.
1 St. Luke xxiv. 26.
2 See St. Matt. xx. 19; St. Mark x. 33, 34; St. Luke xviii. 32.
3 Daniel ix. 26.