MARY ON CALVARY. PART 5.
By this arrangement, which added a new and cherished interest to her life, the Virgin must have understood that it was not granted her to follow her Son to the tomb, and that she had not arrived at the termination of her pilgrimage on earth. She resigned herself to the divine decrees out of love for us, whom she adopted in the person of the holy apostle. The sacrifice of Mary almost equalled then, humanly speaking, that of Jesus Christ. He willingly consented to die; and she to live! . . . They were two mighty hearts, inflamed with love for men, and which alone fully understood each other; for their thoughts were not our thoughts, and the gold of their virtues was without alloy.
The manner in which Jesus bequeathed Mary to the young fisherman of Bethsaida was dignified and simple, like every act of his mortal life: "Woman, behold thy son;" and to the beloved disciple, "Behold thy mother."
If he did not use a more tender name when speaking to his mother, it was because he knew the power of the name which he thought proper to omit, and because he would not reopen wounds already so painful and profound.
"Afterwards, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scriptures might be fulfilled, said I thirst.
"Now there was a vessel Set there full of vinegar. And they put a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, and put it to his mouth."
Infamous wretches to the very end !
Jesus having taken the vinegar, said, "It is consummated." Then, willing to prove to the world that he died, not by the power of death, but by a formal act of his will, he uttered a loud cry, bowed down his head, and expired ! . . . .
At that moment the idols of paganism shook upon their pedestals; the star of Moses, which had shone from only one point of the globe, and was to shine only for a time, descended to the horizon of the valleys, and the sun of the gospel, destined to give light to the world from one pole to the other, and to endure as long as the world, arose brilliantly from the side of the aurora. But God owed prodigies to the despised dignity of his Son, and they were not delayed. To the supernatural darkness, which began to clear away, succeeded the horrible convulsions of an earthquake, which overthrew twenty cities in Asia. 1 At the same time, the veil of the temple was rent, the rocks were split, and many bodies of the saints, which were in the sleep of death, arose and came into Jerusalem, where they caused fresh alarm among the people, already filled with consternation.
Then it was that a wonderful reaction was effected in favour of Jesus: the centurion and his soldiers,- who had presided at the execution, cried out with one voice that the prophet of Nazareth was certainly more than man; and that immense multitude of people, who had overwhelmed Christ in his agonies with insults, shouts, and mockery, returned down the mountain striking their breasts, and repeating with terror, " Indeed this was the Son of God !"
In the midst of the cries of distress of the people, who fled without knowing which way to direct their steps, and while Golgotha was rending her rocky sides, there was seen, by the pale light which gleamed on this scene of horror, a woman standing and completely unmoved in the midst of the convulsions and ruins of nature. This woman seemed inaccessible to the general alarm ; with her hands joined in the attitude of prayer, she was absorbed in the sorrowful contemplation of the crucified prophet.
And the daughters of Jerusalem began again to shed tears, saying with compassion, " Poor mother!"
Towards evening, the Pharisees, unwilling that the bodies should remain on the cross, lest the sanctity of the Sabbath, which would begin at nightfall, should be violated, went to request of Pilate permission to take them away. This permission being obtained, they set up ladders against the gibbets, where the two crucified thieves were still in agonies, and after rudely unfastening their feet and hands, they finished them by breaking their arms and legs. As to Jesus, as he was quite dead, 2 a soldier contented himself with piercing his side with a lance, and the divine blood which was to wash away the crimes of the world ran down in great drops upon the earth. At some distance, two women covered with veils, one of whom leaned upon the other in an attitude which betrayed the most heartrending grief, timidly beheld the proceedings of the Roman soldiers: they were Mary and Magdalen, for Magdalen too was there; and in the distance were perceived the other women from Galilee, who had left all to devote themselves to Jesus, and who had not forsaken him in the hour of punishment and ignominy. " Honour to them !" says Abeilard, " for when the disciples and apostles fled like cowards to the mountains, these weak but courageous creatures accompanied Christ even to the foot of the cross, and did not leave him till he was laid in the sepulchre !"
Then Joseph of Arimathea came up, a rich senator, who had obtained of Pontius Pilate the body of Jesus, of whom he was a disciple in secret, to pay him the honours of sepulture. He took him down from the cross, and prepared to wrap him up in a winding-sheet of fine linen from Egypt, which he had purchased at Jerusalem, when he beheld at his feet a woman pale as death, who stretched out her arms with the most affecting and sublime sorrow, to receive the crucified God. This woman, whose whole body trembled and was convulsed with shudderings of agony, had no voice left to articulate the request which seemed to move upon her lips, hut there was not, upon her face bathed in tears, a muscle which did not petition. The senator, who recognised Mary, made a sign of sympathetic compassion, and laid upon her trembling knees the divine burden with which he had respectfully laden his shoulders. Then the Blessed Virgin could give herself up to the bitter joy of pressing to her suffering and bleeding heart the disfigured body of her Son, and of applying her colourless lips to the wounds which had been made by the nails of the cross. Magdalen on her knees, bathed with her warm tears the bleeding feet of her Lord, and moaned like a wounded dove. In the background of this picture of desolation were the women of Galilee, weeping. 3 During this time, some of Joseph's servants prepared the perfumes on the stone of unction, 4 and others opened the sepulchre hewn out of the rock, which was to receive the mortal remains of the Son of God.
1 Pliny and Strabo speak of this earthquake. " It was so violent," say both these authors, " that it was felt even as far as Italy."
2 According to the Mussulmans, Jesus Christ is not dead. " The Jews did not put Jesus Christ to death," says Mahomet; " a phantom body deceived their barbarity; they did not crucify him; God assumed him to himself." (Koran, c. 4.) The Mussulman tradition says, that when the judgment trumpet shall sound, Aisa (Jesus Christ) will descend from heaven to the earth, and will announce to all its inhabitants the great day of the last judgment: then he will die, and be buried at the side of Mahomet: when the dead shall come forth from their graves, both shall arise together, and ascend into heaven. Burckhardt, who visited the great mosque of Medina, where are the tombs of Mahomet, Aboubekir, and Omar, three tombs of black stone, covered with precious stuffs and surrounded with magnificent ex voto's, says that a vacant place has been left by the side of Mahomet's tomb for the reception of Jesus after his death. Above this place and the tomb of Mahomet, was hung a magnificent brocade cloth enriched with diamonds, which was stolen by Sioud when he took Medina.
3 There are some authors who hold that these holy women picked up some of the earth quite saturated with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and that it was by this means that some of it has been in the possession of certain churches in France, as St. Denis, and the Sainte-Chapelle, of Paris.
4 The stone of the anointing is at present in the chapel of Calvary; it has been necessary, for its preservation, to cover it with white marble and surround it with an iron balustrade.