Commentary on the Stabat Mater
Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B.
This beautiful hymn is ascribed to Jacopone da Todi, O.F.M. (d. 1306). The Stabat Mater is recognized as the tenderest and most touching hymn of the Middle Ages. In the simplest, and at the same time in the most vivid manner, it represents the Blessed Mother of God plunged in grief and weeping beneath the Cross on which her beloved Son was suffering so unmerited and so painful a death. The historical event (John 19, 25) is narrated in the first, second and fourth stanzas. The remaining stanzas are made up of reflections, affections, petitions, and resolutions arising from the contemplation of Our Lord's bitter sufferings and death. There is an excellent article on this hymn in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The same article treats of another hymn---the Stabat Mater speciosa which is a sort of imitation of the " Dolorosa." It represents our Blessed Mother watching beside Our Lord's cradle at Bethlehem. The two hymns are probably by the same author. The Stabat Mater speciosa is given below with a translation by that "sweet and powerful versifier," Denis Florence MacCarthy. Mr. MacCarthy's translations of both hymns are in the Annus Sanctus.
1. "The sorrowful Mother stood weeping beside the Cross, while her Son hung thereon: a sword pierced her sighing, compassionate, and grief-stricken soul." Stabat: Stabant autem juxta crucem Jesu mater ejus, etc. (John 19, 25). Pertransivit gladius: Et tuam ipsius animam pertransibit gladius (Luke 2, 35). Read the beautiful Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2, 29-32). The sword of Simeon's prophecy, which was to pierce the soul of the Mother, was the sword of grief that transfixed her as she stood beside the Cross on Calvary., Mary is the "Sorrowful Mother," and her Divine Son is the "Man of Sorrows" (Is. 53 3).
2. "O how sad and how afflicted was that Blessed Mother of the Only-Begotten! How she grieved and suffered, that loving Mother, when she beheld the pains of her glorious Son."
3. "Who is there that would not weep, if he should behold the Mother of Christ in such great distress? Who would be able not to grieve, if he should contemplate the Mother of Christ suffering with her Son?" Constr.: Quis posset non contristari. Contemplari = si contemplaretur.
4. "For the sins of His own nation, she saw Jesus in torments and subjected to stripes. She beheld her sweet Son dying, abandoned, until He yielded up the ghost." Pro peccatis suae gentis: Ipse enim salvum faciet populum suum a peccatis eorum (Matt. 1, 21). For a history of the Passion of Our Lord, Cf. Matt. 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19. Emisit spiritum: Jesus autem iterum clamans voce magna, emisit spiritum (Matt. 27, 50).
5. "Ah, Mother, fount of love, make me feel the force of grief, make me weep with thee. Make my heart burn with the love of Christ, my God, that I may be pleasing to Him." Sibi, for ei or ipsi. This use of the pronouns is quite common in Late Latin and in, the Vulgate; e. g., Matt. 16, 21; Mark 10, 32 ; Gen. 2, 18 ; Tobias 3, 11.
6. "Holy Mother, mayest thou bring it to pass, that the wounds of the Crucified may be deeply stamped upon my heart. Share with me the sufferings of thy wounded Son who thus deigned to suffer for me." The Prophet Zacharias had long foretold these same plagae in the sacred members of Our Lord: Quid sunt plagae istae in medio manuum tuarum? Et dicet: His plagatus sum in domo eorum qui diligebant me (Zach. 13, 6). The following is D. F. MacCarthy's rendering of this stanza
Blessed Mother of prediction,
Stamp the marks of crucifixion
Deeply on my stony heart,
Ever leading where thy bleeding
Son is pleading for my needing,
Let me in His wounds take part.
7. "Grant that I may devoutly weep with thee, and suffer with the Crucified as long as I shall live. I long to stand beside the Cross with thee, and to unite myself to thee, in thy grief."
8. "O peerless Virgin of virgins, be not unfavorably disposed towards me now; grant that I may mourn with thee. Grant that I may bear about (in my body) the death of Christ; make me a sharer in His passion, and make me mindful of His sufferings." Amarus, bitter; unkind, illdisposed. Portem mortem Christi: A reference to II Cor. 4, 10. Fac (me) consortem.
9. "Grant that I may be wounded with His wounds, that I may be inebriated with the Cross and with the Blood of thy Son. That I may not be tormented by the flames of hell, may I, O Virgin, be defended by thee on the day of Judgment." Succensus, from succendo, set on fire; used here pleonastically. Inebriari: As in Ps. 35, 9: Inebriabuntur ab ubertate domus tuae : et torrente voluptatis tuae potabis eos. Translation: "They shall be inebriated (i.e., plentifully filled, sated, filled to overflowing) with the plenty of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure." See also Ps. 22, 5.
10. When, O Christ, the hour has come for me to depart hence, grant that through Thy Mother I may obtain the palm of victory. When my body shall die, grant that the glory of Paradise be given to my soul."
There are more than sixty translations of the Stabat Mater. It is used litergically for the Sequence for the Mass of the Seven Dolors on the 15th of September. when another Feast of the Seven Dolors is celebrated.
AT the Cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last:
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.
Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blest
Of the sole-begotten One!
Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying, glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
Whelmed in miseries so deep
Christ's dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother's pain untold?
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender Child
All with bloody scourges rent;
For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His Spirit forth He sent.
O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with thine accord:
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ my Lord.
Holy Mother! pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified:
Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live:
By the Cross with thee to stay;
There with thee to weep and pray;
Is all I ask of thee to give.
Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share thy 'grief divine;
Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.
Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swooned
In His very Blood away;
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In that awful Judgment day.
Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy Mother my defence,
Be Thy Cross my victory;
While my body here decays,
May my sould Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.
Another version taken from the April 1880 edition of Catholic World.
Broken-hearted, lo, and tearful,
Bowed before that Cross so fearful,
Stands the Mother by the Son!
Through her bosom sympathizing
In his mortal agonizing
Deep and keen the steel has gone.
How afflicted, how distressed,
Stands she now, that Virgin blessed,
By that tree of woe and scorn;
Mark her tremble, droop, and languish;
Gazing on that awful anguish
Of her Child, her Only-Born!
Who may see, nor share her weeping,
Christ the Saviour's mother keeping
Grief's wild watch, so sad and lone?
Who behold her bosom sharing
Every pang his soul is bearing,
Nor receive them in his own?
Ransom for a world's offending,
Lo, her Son and God is bending
That dear head to wounds
'Mid the body's laceration, [blows;
And the spirit's desolation,
As his life-blood darkly flows.
Fount of love, in that dread hour,
Teach me all thy sorrow's power,
Bid me share its grievous load;
O'er my heart thy spirit pouring,
Bid it burn in meet adoring
Of its martyred Christ and God!
Be my prayer, O Mother! granted,
And within my heart implanted
Every gash whose crimson tide,
From that spotless victim streaming,
Deigns to flow for my redeeming,
Mother of the crucified!
Every sigh of thy affliction,
Every pang of crucifixion--
Teach me all their agony!
At his cross forever bending,
In thy grief for ever blending,
Mother, let me live and die!
Virgin of all virgins highest,
Humble prayer who ne'er deniest,
Teach me how to share thy woe!
All Christ's Passion's depth revealing,
Quicken every quivering feeling
All its bitterness to know!
Bid me drink that heavenly madness,
Mingled bliss of grief and gladness,
Of the Cross of thy dear Son!
With his love my soul inflaming,
Plead for it, O Virgin! claiming
Mercy at his judgment throne!
Shelter at that Cross, oh! yield me!
By the death of Christ, oh! shield me!
Comfort with thy grace and aid!
And, O Mother! bid my spirit
Joys of Paradise inherit,
When its clay to rest is laid!
Stabat Mater dolorosa,
Juxta crucem lacrymosa,
Dum pendebat Filius:
Cujus animam gementem,
Contristatam et dolentem,
O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Quae moerebat et dolebat,
Pia Mater, dum videbat
Nati poenas inclyti.
Quis est homo qui non fleret,
Matrem Christi si videret
In tanto supplicio?
Quis non posset contristari,
Christi Matrem contemplari
Dolentem cum Filio?
Pro peccatis suae gentis,
Vidit Jesum in tormentis,
Et flagellis subditum.
Vidit suum dulcem Natum
Dum emisit spiritum.
Eja Mater, fons amoris,
Me sentire vim doloris
Fac ut tecum lugeam;
Fac ut ardeat cor meum
In amando Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.
Sancta Mater! istud agas,
Crucifixi fige plagas
Cordi meo valide.
Tui Nati vulnerati,
Tam dignati pro me pati,
Poenas mecum divide.
Fac me tecum pie flere,
Donec ego vixero.
Juxta crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociare
In planctu desidero.
Virgo virginum praeclara,
Mihi jam non sis amara,
Fac me tecum plangere.
Fac ut portem Christi mortem,
Passionis fac consortem,
Et plagas recolere.
Fac me plagis vulnerari,
Cruce hac inebriari,
Et cruore Filii.
Flammis ne urar succensus,
Per te, Virgo, sim defensus,
In die judicii.
Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
Da per matrem me venire
Ad palmam victoriae. 1
Quando corpus morietur,
Fac ut animae donetur
1 Instead of these three lines we sometimes find the following:
Fac me cruce custodiri,
Morte Christi praemuniri,
Stabat Mater speciosa
BY the crib wherein reposing,
With His eyes in slumber closing,
Lay serene her Infant-boy,
Stood the beauteous Mother feeling
Bliss that could not bear concealing,
So her face o'erflowed with joy.
Oh, the rapture naught could smother
Of that most Immaculate Mother
Of the sole-begotten One;
When with laughing heart exulting,
She beheld her hopes resulting
In the great birth of her Son.
Who would not with gratulation
See the happy consolation
Of Christ's Mother undefiled?
Who would not be glad surveying
Christ's dear Mother bending, praying,
Playing with her heavenly Child?
For a sinful world's salvation,
Christ her Son's humiliation
She beheld and brooded o'er;
Saw Him weak, a child, a stranger,
Yet before Him in the manger
Kings lie prostrate and adore.
O'er that lowly manger winging,
Joyful hosts from heaven were singing
Canticles of holy praise;
While the old man and the maiden,
Speaking naught, with hearts o'erladen,
Pondered on God's wondrous ways.
Fount of love, forever flowing,
With a burning ardor glowing,
Make me, Mother, feel like thee;
Let my heart, with graces gifted
All on fire, to Christ be lifted,
And by Him accepted be.
Holy Mother, deign to bless me,
With His sacred Wounds impress me,
Let them in my heart abide;
Since He came, thy Son, the Holy,
To a birth-place, ah, so lowly,
All His pains with me divide.
Make me with true joy delighted,
To Child-Jesus be united
While my days of life endure;
While an exile here sojourning,
Make my heart like thine be burning
With a love divine and pure.
Spotless Maid and sinless Woman,
Make us feel a fire in common,
Make my heart's long longing sure.
Virgin of all virgins highest,
Prayer to thee thou ne'er denyest,
Let me bear thy sweet Child too.
Let me bear Him in my bosom,
Lord of life, and never lose Him,
Since His birth doth death subdue.
Let me show forth how immense is
The effect on all my senses
Of an union so divine.
All who in the crib revere Him,
Like the shepherds watching near Him,
Will attend Him through the night,
By thy powerful prayers protected,
Grant, O Queen, that His elected
May behold heaven's moving light.
Make me by His birth be guarded,
By God's holy word be warded,
By His grace till all is done;
When my body lies obstructed,
Make my soul to be conducted,
To the vision of thy Son.
STABAT Mater speciosa
Juxta foenum gaudiosa, Dum
Cujus animam gaudentem,
Laetabundam et ferventem
O quam laeta et beata
Fuit ilia immaculata
Quae gaudebat, et ridebat,
Exultabat, cum videbat
Nati partum inclyti.
Quisquam est, qui non gauderet,
Christi matrem si videret
In tanto solatio?
Quis non possit collaetari,
Christi matrem contemplari
Ludentem cum filio?
Pro peccatis sum gentis
Christum vidit cum jumentis
Et algori subditum;
Vidit suum dulcem natum
Nato Christo in praesepe
Coeli cives canunt laete
Cum immenso gaudio;
Stabat senex cum puella
Non cum verbo nec loquela
Eja, mater, fons amoris,
Me sentire vim ardoris
Fac, ut tecum sentiam;
Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
In amatum Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.
Sancta mater, istud agas,
Prone introducas plagas
Cordi fixas valide;
Jam dignati foeno nasci
Poenas mecum divide.
Fac me vere congaudere,
Donec ego vixero;
In me sistat ardor tui,
Puerino fac me frui,
Dum sum in exsilio.
Virgo virginum praeclara,
Mihi jam non sis amara,
Fac me parvum rapere;
Fac,ut pulchrum infantem portem,
Qui nascendo vicit mortem,
Volens vitam tradere.
Fac me tecum satiari,
Nato me inebriari,
Stantem in tripudio;
Inflammatus et accensus
Obstupescit omnis sensus
Tali me commercio.
Fac me nato custodiri,
Verbo Dei praemuniri,
Quando corpus morietur
Fac, ut animae donetur
Tui nati gloria!
This item 3290 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org