MARY ON CALVARY. PART 4.
" And yet for eighteen centuries the Father has not forgiven them, and they drag their punishment with them all over the earth, and all over the earth the slave is obliged to stoop down to look them in the face." 1
The Virgin had left the temporary asylum where she had taken refuge, and walked with her head cast down towards the place of execution. At a little distance from the tree of infamy, rough soldiers were casting lots for the seamless robe which she had wrought with her hands, 2 and were making a noisy partition of those sacred garments which had wrought so many miracles. 3 A slight shudder passed over the features of Mary; she thought of the time' when, rich in nothing but the love of Jesus, but free from immediate cares, she used to work in the evenings at the texture of this holiday tunic, and this thought gave her a desolating sorrow, for the lightning flash which showed her in the past the sight of her days of happiness did but deepen the darkness of her misery. She lifted up her eyes to heaven, to seek thence, as she ever did, strength to suffer, and her look met that of the crucified God. At that dreadful spectacle her languid feet were fast fixed to the ground, and she remained petrified with so great horror, with so frightful a shock, that what she had felt up to that time appeared to her no more than a sorrowful dream—a frightful, but almost effaced vision ; all was absorbed in the cross. 4
Jesus, casting on the Blessed Virgin a sweet and mysterious look, seemed to say to her, as on the previous evening to his apostles, " Mother, the hour is come ! "
The hour most memorable and fruitful in extraordinary events, of which the sun's shadow had marked the passage since man had parcelled out the duration of time to keep account of its passage; the hour when the Son of God was about to triumph over the world, over death and hell, and even the divine justice itself; the hour of the accomplishment of the oracles, the abolition of the sacrifices, the reinstatement of woman, the freedom of the slave, and our eternal redemption. And the Virgin thought she saw passing before her eyes the patriarchs, the righteous kings, the prophets inspired of God, who bowed down before Christ, like the sheaves of the sons of Jacob before the mysterious sheaf of Joseph. And she thought she saw Moses and Aaron laying at the foot of the new tree of life the ark of the covenant, the ephod, the rational, the plate of gold, and the almond rod, the symbol of the Hebrew priesthood, the mission of which was about to terminate; then David, placing there his prophetic harp by the side of the sword of Phineas, the sacred knife of Abraham, and the brazen serpent. The priests and the victims, the rites and ordinances, the types and symbols, gathered about the cross, there awaited their consummation; and the book with the seven seals of brass was laid open at the feet of the Great High Priest according to the Order of Melchisedech, who took place of the Aaronites. The old world, receding like the waves, which slowly recoil upon themselves, gave place to other images. Mary then thought she saw all the nations of the earth waiting at the foot of the cross, there to receive the gospel. Ethiopia and the islands stretched out their hands towards the Messias; the desert which began to rejoice, flourished like the rose ; the knowledge of God filled the earth, as the great waters cover the sandy bed of the oceans; and a thousand voices seemed to repeat in a thousand barbarous idioms, " Christ has overcome, blessed be his name! "
The noble and generous woman forgot for a short time the poignant sufferings which tortured her, and united herself in sympathy with the triumph of the law of grace, and the great social regeneration; but the vision of glory was not long before it vanished, and sorrow re-entered at every pore; like Rachel, Mary wept over her firstborn, and would not be comforted!
Meanwhile, all nature seemed to participate in the suffering of her God; the daylight gradually became obscured, and the decreasing light gave a mournful tint to that vast and sterile region, so well suited for the crime of which it was the theatre. Every moment the darkness thickened; the dew fell by the sudden interruption of the heat; the eagles shrieked as they resumed their nocturnal shelter; the jackals howled on the banks of the Cedron; and Calvary, in itself so melancholy, took the appearance of a huge catafalque of black marble. The people, strongly impressed by this unusual event, began to keep the silence of fear; and some few voices, insulated and disdainful, the voices of the Pharisees and chiefs of the synagogue, alone continued to utter maledictions against Christ.
The stars soon appeared through the dark crape which veiled the face of the firmament, like funeral torches burning round a coffin, and cast a fearful greenish light upon the theatre of the deicide, which gave the masses of spectators standing in groups on the sides of Gihon the air of an assembly of demons and spectres. They looked at each other and turned pale. In vain did the scribes and Pharisees—too far plunged in the waters of crime to attempt to regain the bank—strive to attribute this prodigy to natural causes; the more the absence of light was prolonged, the less did their reasons appear conclusive. The old men, shaking their grey heads, declared that they had never seen such an eclipse; and the learned men versed in the science of the Chaldeans maintained, on the other hand, that no eclipse was either foreseen or possible in the actual position of the moon. 5
This eclipse, of three hours duration, was one of the prodigies connected with the Messias, which were intended to mark the anger of Heaven when Christ should be put to death- The prophet Amos had said, " And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that the sun shall go down at midday, and I will make the earth dark in the day of light." This darkness extended to Egypt, where at that time was St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who was studying philosophy at Hermopolis. Struck with terror, the young Greek cried out, addressing himself to his preceptor Apollophanes, " Either the world is coming to an end, or the God of nature suffers." 6
Amidst the general consternation, Jesus was occupied with his faithful friends, who had rallied round his cross in the hour of his ignominy. Touched with the courage of John, and the profound sorrow which this young and ardent disciple did not attempt to conceal, he would leave him a pledge of his divine affection. He could not bequeath to him a part of his earthly goods, he who had not a stone whereon to lay his head, and who was about to owe to the charity of a disciple even the loan of a tomb; he had nothing left in the world but his mother!—his mother, who had never left him, and who was dying at his death. He solemnly bequeathed her to his favourite disciple, as a pledge of those heavenly goods which he reserved for him in the kingdom of his Father. Knowing how much he was loved by these two holy souls, he foresaw, with his adorable goodness, the dreadful isolation in which his death was about to leave them, and would strengthen these two plants, devoid of support, by intertwining their separated branches.
1 M. l'Abbe de la Mennais.
2 It is an ancient tradition that the Blessed Virgin had herself woven the tunic of her son.
3 The cathedral of Treves possesses one of these sacred garments, and on its being exhibited in the year 1845, the returns of the police certified the presence in the city of twenty-five thousand pilgrims.
4 The fathers and the doctors of the church place the sufferings of the Blessed Virgin on Calvary above those of all the martyrs. "Virgo universos martyres tantum excedit quantum sol ad reliqua astra," says St. Basil; and St. Anselm adds, " Quidquid crudelitatis inflictum est corporibus martyrum, leve fuit aut potius nihil comparatione tuæ passionis."—(De Ex. Virg., c. 5.)
5 Phlegon relates that in the 202nd Olympiad, corresponding with the year 33 of our era, there was the greatest eclipse of the sun ever seen, and that at the hour of noon the stars appeared in the heavens; but astronomy demonstrating that there was no eclipse in that year, obliges us to acknowledge that the cause of that darkness was wholly supernatural. " We observed," says St. Dionysius the Areopagite— who was at that time at Heliopolis—"that the moon came unexpectedly to interpose between the sun and the earth, although it was not the time for such a conjunction in the natural order of those laws to which the heavenly bodies are subject, &c."— ( Seventh Epistle to Polycarp.)
6 St. Dionysius, Seventh Epistle to Polycarp.