The Passion Of Jesus; Mary's Compassion And Merit; Her Spiritual Motherhood — The Last Supper, Good Friday, The Cross—The Burial Of Jesus And The Solitude Of Our Lady (March Of The Year 29 ?) part 4.

All was finished. With a loud cry, Jesus committed His spirit into the hands of His Father, bowed His head, and expired. While the crowd passed by and beat upon their breasts, Mary and the friends of the Saviour remained at the foot of the cross. Love would not permit them to leave the body of the Master, and they waited in the hope of being able, without yet knowing how they might find the means, to bury Him.

After this came the soldiers, who were sent to dispatch those of the condemned who were not already dead. The morrow's Sabbath was especially solemn; many, particularly among the priests and those of the upper classes, considered it, that year, as the true day of the Feast of the Passover. They wished to hide from sight the repugnant spectacle of the crucified victims, before the setting of the sun should mark the beginning of the great day. The legs of the thieves were broken. Mary trembled lest, yet again, the body of her Son should be insulted. But the soldiers perceived that Jesus was already dead, and one of them plunged his spear into the right side of the Saviour, and out of it there flowed forth a stream of blood and water. If the soul of Mary was yet once again pierced by that fresh stab, she was now too enlightened not to comprehend in all its austere beauty the mystery of that wounded side of Christ. The heart of the Redeemer, in letting flow these last drops of the blood He shed for us, revealed His unspeakable love. The water signified baptism ; the blood, the Eucharist; and, under the symbol of these sacraments which give and sustain the life of the Church, it is the Church itself which seems to be born from that open heart. As the companion of the first Adam issued from his side during his mysterious sleep, so did the Church come forth from the side of Christ while He slept upon the cross. This birth of regenerated mankind, which was expressed in the words, " Behold thy Son!" was now expressed by the symbol of blood and water in its turn.

Finally, two new-comers appeared, and this time they were friends. Joseph, originally from Arimathea, one of the few members of the Sanhedrim who were favourable to Jesus, and Nicodemus, also of the Sanhedrim and a doctor of the Law, who had already had some private intercourse with the Master; and both were accompanied by servants. Joseph had obtained from Pilate permission to bury Jesus, and he offered for this purpose his own tomb which was already prepared in his garden situated at a little distance from Calvary. He brought a white linen cloth in which to shroud the body; Nicodemus added perfumes, about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes.

The body was taken down from the cross, and we may suppose that Mary gave it a last long embrace. There is still shown between the site of the cross and that of the sepulchre, a kind of stone platform, quite low, but very long and wide. It is called the stone of anointing; and it was on this, says tradition, that the body of the Saviour received the last ministrations. It was perhaps upon this stone that Mary was seated, as Christian piety represents her. In her arms she supported the head and shoulders of her Son, while she gazed at him in silence. What feelings must have flooded her heart at that final contemplation! Love of God who has loved men so well, horror of the sin which had been the cause of this death, but nevertheless mercy and prayer for the sinners, and even maternal tenderness towards those for whom Jesus had sacrificed His life. And her tears flowed also upon her only Son, for the sword, as had been predicted, pierced to the depths of her heart; henceforth she was alone and forsaken in the world. She is Our Lady of Pity, because her soul melted in pity and compassion for the sufferings of Jesus; Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, because at that moment she recalled with intensity all the bitterness of her life. Beautiful in past days as Jerusalem, she is today as sad as Jerusalem in captivity, wrecked and " ravaged" in the day of the anger of the Lord:—

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
Behold, and see
If there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow . . .
What thing shall I take to witness for thee ?
What thing shall I liken to thee,
O daughter of Jerusalem?
What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee,
O Virgin daughter of Zion ?
For thy breach is great like the sea:
Who can heal thee ? 1

Reverently the friends of Jesus were obliged to interrupt Mary's silent prayer, for sunset drew nigh, and it was necessary to hasten their preparations. The body sacrificed for us was washed, anointed with perfumes, and wrapped in bands of linen. After this it was carried into the tomb and placed upon the stone prepared to receive it; then, according to the eastern custom, the entrance to the cave of sepulture was closed with a large stone. Mary Magdalene and Mary of Cleophas would not leave their beloved Master, and silently they seated themselves opposite the tomb. 2

Local tradition appears to suggest that Mary, unable now to do more, would not go far away from the remains of her Son, and that she awaited His resurrection in a house quite near, perhaps in a dwelling close by the garden of Joseph of Arimathea. It appears more probable however, and more in accordance with the Gospel text, that "from that hour," she followed John to the humble abode in which he dwelt at Jerusalem. It was there, it seems, that Mary passed those two nights of death and that memorable day of Saturday.

She weepeth sore in the night, 
And her tears are on her cheeks : 
Among all her lovers 
She hath none to comfort her. 3

Vainly the holy women and her adopted son gathered round her; there was only One who could have given her consolation, and He had departed.

However, we cannot doubt but that her inexhaustible love gave her strength to talk with the disciples and apostles, who, on Saturday, returned in fear and trembling to join the group of the faithful. She received and consoled them, more than ever mother, now that she alone must watch over them. She sought to revive in their troubled souls faith in the resurrection. The faith that Christ would vanquish death never faltered or wavered in her most pure soul. And one of the reasons why Christian piety has made that Saturday especially sacred to her, seems to be because she preserved and vivified in the infant Church that faith in the Messiah, already glorious in her soul and soon to be raised to life again.

How was it, that amid that steadfast and near hope, her pain was so acute at having lost Jesus ? But how was it that Jesus Himself, whose soul never lost the beatific vision of God, could, during His Passion, suffer so intensely in His soul, and suffer in it even separation from God ? The power and wisdom of Him to whom all hearts are open, and in whose keeping were those two hearts above all others, explains at once this twofold mystery. Without seeking too deeply here to know the cause of Christ's desolation, it was the divine will that Mary, during those days, should suffer with Jesus, that she should endure for all humanity that great grief for the death of God made man, and that her suffering should be intense. And, though fully mistress of her mind and feelings, heavenly wisdom turned Mary's thoughts aside from consoling visions, or ordained that the sweetest truths should bring no consolation. On the contrary, she directed all her thoughts and recollections towards the things that could afflict her, without ceasing recalling to her memory and imagination the terrible Passion in which her Son had been taken away. She saw again all the past trials of her Son, with all the sufferings which they entailed upon her and which she endured for Him and with Him; she saw in the future the separation which must soon follow the triumph of the Resurrection ; then, the struggles of the infant Church, the stubbornness of the Jews, their reprobation, and the loss of souls,—and everything, just as it happens to us in our sorrows, presented itself to her under its most profoundly sad and most grievous aspect.

Jesus had had to suffer bodily death, and was, even then, enclosed within the tomb. Why could not Mary have died with Him through her heart? Or, rather, why should not her heart remain shrouded in death with the body of her Son ? Christ's Passion was the work of such love as never lived in the greatest human heart; and Mary's compassion was also the work of a love, which, after that of Jesus, no other has ever equalled. " He only is astonished at this, who forgets that Saint Paul reckons it one of the chief faults of the pagans, that they are without affection. Far from the heart of Mary be any such reproach, and far be it also from the souls of her servants."4


1 Lamentations i. 12 ; ii. 13.

2 St Matthew xxvii. 61.

Lamentations i. 2.

St Bernard : Sermon on the twelve stars (PL. clxxxi. 275).