MARY ON CALVARY. PART 3.
Crowds of spectators lined the streets and stopped up the ways: some openly showed a savage joy, and cried anathema upon the son of David ; others pitied the fate of that youthful prophet, who had done nothing but good to men, and whom men had forsaken and betrayed. But these signs of barren sympathy made hardly any impression; the good wept in silence ; all those whom he had fed with five loaves in the desert, those whom he had healed, those whom he had loved were there, lost in the crowd, and no voice protested against his punishment; 1 that one among the apostles who loved him most had cowardly denied him! the rest, with only one exception, had fled away and left him !
As he painfully passed down the long street which leads to the Judiciary Gate, a woman made her way through the crowd: this woman, remarkably beautiful, and bearing in her mild and sweet countenance the image of virtue, seemed wholly absorbed in unutterable grief; she suffered so much; she was so pale; her eyes, which had shed all their tears, cast a look so dead—a look of sorrow so holy upon the frightful wounds of our Saviour—that, when they beheld her, the daughters of Jerusalem muttered with compassion, " Poor Mother ! " She glided through the people, who made room for her by an instinctive feeling of pity and sympathy. Some of the Pharisees with hardened hearts called Jesus, bathed as he was in perspiration, and ready to die with fatigue beneath the cross, by insulting names; she did not hear them: the foreign soldiers who surrounded her Son made threatening signs to her; she did not see them: but when a number of lances, with their points directed to her breast, were thrust between her and Jesus, there came from her fixed and piercing eyes a lightning flash which revealed the blood of David, and her fine and inspired head assumed such an expression of sorrowful grandeur, and cool contempt of death, that the soldiers, overcome, slowly lowered their arms before the heroic and saintly woman. Savage as the life of the camp had made them, they remembered their own mothers. '
Mary turned her trembling steps towards our Saviour; she fixed eyes full of anguish on that humiliated form, dragging himself along, bleeding and half clothed, beneath a heavy burthen ; on that imposing, merciful, and mild countenance, which she would have feared to ruffle by the slight contact of her chaste lips, and which, now swollen, blue, covered with filth and blood, scarcely retained any longer the image of the Creator. She passed her hand in sorrow across his forehead, as if to make sure that she was not the sport of some horrible hallucination. Not a groan relieved her oppressed heart, no gesture of despair initiated the spectators in the mysteries of her agony; they only thought she was going to die : and indeed she would have died a thousand times during that solemn and heartrending pause, if He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb had not divinely supported her. Jesus soon perceived that motionless and mute figure, a few paces from him; bending down before her, his forehead bowed beneath the burthen of the cross, he pronounced the name of " Mother ! " At that word, which sounded like a funeral knell in the ears of the holy Virgin, a sharp pain pierced through her heart; she was seen to stagger and turn pale; then, sinking down, she fell at fall length on those rough and reddened stones where Jesus had left traces of blood as he passed ! 2 ....
A young Galilean with a dark and dejected countenance, and a young woman drowned in tears, made themselves a passage to Mary; thanks to their attentions, the Virgin of sorrows recovered the use of her senses and the consciousness of that physical and moral martyrdom which no martyr, according to the Fathers, ever equalled. Doubtless John and Magdalen did everything to remove her from the scene of blood and death which was preparing on Golgotha ; but their entreaties were useless; and rising with difficulty, Mary began to climb, beneath a burning sun, the steepest side of Calvary: it was the shortest way, and that which they had made Jesus follow. 3
They had reached the fatal and hallowed place where the Lamb of God was about to satisfy the justice of incensed Heaven, by substituting himself for all other victims and loading himself with all our miseries. There was it that the great sacrifice was about to be offered, the efficacy of which goes back on the one hand to the original transgression, and reaches on the other in the night of future things, even to the consummation of ages. This small rocky declivity was the new altar, whence the blood of Christ was to flow in streams to wash away the sins of the world, and annul for ever the compact of perdition, which delivered us over at our birth to the angels of the abyss. But what had become of the sacred victim ? Where did his executioners conceal him from the desolate eyes of his mother ? Mary cast her anxious looks all over the bare mountain: the people she saw in expectation ; the crosses laid down upon the ground, and workmen digging with perfect indifference the deep holes which were to receive the three instruments of punishment . . . . And Jesus, where was he then?
He appeared, but in what a condition !—stripped of the last of his garments, without a shred to cover his discoloured flesh and bleeding wounds,—he who was so chaste and pure I His executioners, dragging him ignominiously along, exposed him thus some time to the derision of the people; then the Just One laid himself down upon the cross,—that bed of honour offered to him by the gratitude of men as the price of his immense love! It was a spectacle too frightful to behold for those who loved him: they dragged Mary some paces off, into a sort of natural grotto, where she remained standing, white and cold as marble. 4 There came from without a confused noise, like that of the bees of Engaddi, when the Israelite shepherd drives them out of the hollow of their oak-trees. From time to time, in the midst of this gloomy recitative there arose all at once a tempest of shouts, cries of derision and frightful bursts of laughter : the populace of all nations has ever had ferocious instincts, but that of the Hebrews surpassed itself on this occasion.
In an interval of profound silence, employed, no doubt, in some new barbarity which captivated the attention .of the multitude, a stroke of the hammer was heard,—a dull stroke, falling upon the wood and the bruised flesh. Magdalen, shuddering, pressed close to Mary, and the beloved disciple leaned instinctively against the side of the grotto. A second blow, duller, more stifled, and more ill-omened, was again heard; it was followed by two or three others, falling at regular intervals, and then all was told. "See, they are nailing him to the cross," coolly observed a Roman soldier. John and Magdalen exchanged looks of desolation; they were under a sentiment like that which is felt in the midst of a nocturnal tempest, when the cries of the shipwrecked, whom it is impossible to succour, are borne on the waves, and are extinguished, one after another, at the bottom of the waters. But Mary! a cold perspiration spread over her frame, a convulsive trembling shook her limbs; she too, poor feeble woman, had just been crucified; for never did confessor, stretched upon the rack,—never did martyr in the midst of flames,—undergo in soul and body tortures so dreadful.
They soon distinguished the sharp friction of the cords on the pullies; the cross was slowly raised up in the air, and the Son of Man, with his face turned towards those western lands which had so long waited for the light, was planted like a standard in the sight of unbelieving nations: so it was written. Then the reprobate people gave a hoarse and prolonged roar of joy: " Hail, King of the Jews ! If God loves him, let him deliver him ! If thou art the Son of God, O Nazarean, come down! " And the thief crucified on his left hand cursed him also, amid the chokings of his agony; the wretch did his utmost to he a Jew to the end. Jesus, maintaining with calm and sublime dignity his great character as prophet and God Saviour, sealed in silence with his blood the exalted doctrines of the new law. No complaint, no reproach escaped him amid the infamous punishment which he underwent in the sight of a whole city; he looked down with mercy upon this people so far gone astray ; and, wishing to appease the divine justice in favour of those who crucified him, "Father" he said with his dying voice, " Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
1 We read in the Misnah that, in the time when the Jews were governed by their own laws, when a condemned person was conducted to the place of punishment, a herald of arms went before him, on horseback, making this proclamation,—" Such a one is condemned for such a crime; if any one can bring forward anything in his defence let him speak." If any one came forward, the criminal was taken back, and two judges, who walked one on each side of him, examined the validity of the reasons which it was attempted to substantiate; the prisoner might he led back in this manner as far as five times.—(Misnah, Tract, de Syned., c. vi. p. 233.) Jesus Christ being condemned by the Romans, could not avail himself of this national custom.
2 Tradition, fortified by the authority of St. Boniface and St. Anselm, relates that Jesus Christ saluted his mother with these words, " Salve, Mater I " As we find the Blessed Virgin again at the foot of the cross, this tradition of the Fathers is very probable. " faith is not opposed to these traditions/' says M. de Chateaubriand; "they show how deeply the marvellous and sublime history of the passion is graven in the memory of men. Eighteen centuries have rolled away; persecutions without end, revolutions without number, have been unable to efface or conceal the trace of a mother coming to weep over her son." There was built, in memory of the Blessed Virgin's swooning away, a church which was consecrated under the name of Our Lady of Spasm. "It was there," says F. de Geramb, "that Mary, repulsed by the soldiers, met her Son painfully dragging along the ignominious wood on which he was about to die."
3 This way, which formerly led to Calvary, and by which our Saviour passed, no longer exists: it is covered with houses, in the midst of which is found a large pillar which marks the ninth station. The fanaticism of the Turks has delighted in making the approach to it disagreeable by heaps of filth, in order to keep the Christians away. _sr-(F. de Geramb, t. L p. 363.)
4 Near the place where our Saviour was fastened to the cross by the hands of the executioners, is seen a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Dolours. It was into this place that the Blessed Virgin retired during the cruel preparations for the death of her Son.—(F. dt Geramb, t. i. p. 151.)