Monday, September 5, 2011

September: Month of the Seven Sorrows, a commentary on the Stabat Mater

September, The month of the Seven Dolors
While September 15th is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the entire month of September is dedicated to the seven dolors (seven sorrows) of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Mater Dolorosa is the great companion and consolation of all those who suffer.
Today, near the beginning of the month of September, I offer a little commentary on the Stabat Mater – a hymn which contains a most beautiful devotion to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and which has traditionally been used as the sequence at the Mass of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Text of the Stabat Mater
English translation is of Edward Caswall, published in Lyra Catholica (1849)
Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.

Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!

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 Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.

Eia, 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,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum praeclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriae.

Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animae donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen.
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O 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?

For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,
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 Savior 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 His awful Judgment Day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
by Thy Mother my defense,
by Thy Cross my victory;

While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee. Amen.

Commentary on the hymn
Notice that the first eight stanzas, consider the Passion from our Lady’s perspective. They are written in a narrative format, speaking entirely in the third person – i.e. they do not directly address either our Lord or our Lady, nor the faithful who recite the hymn. They are in the voice of a narrator and set before our hearts and minds the scene of the Crucifixion – this is an act of meditation.
The middle eight stanzas (from Eia mater to Flammis ne urar inclusive) implore the Dolorous Virgin. Notice that the tense of the verbs turns from third person (i.e. he/she) to second person (i.e. you) – the hymn address our Lady directly. Moreover, we are no longer reading the voice of a narrator, now we are speaking to the Sorrowful Mother in our own voices. We speak to our Lady directly and ask her blessings upon us, most especially we ask a share in her sorrows.
Finally, in the last two stanzas, we implore the Savior. Again, the hymn speaks directly to our Lord rather than in a distant third person. Moroever, once again, we ask particular blessings of our God – most especially, that we may gain the grace of life everlasting.
In many ways, this little hymn is a paradigm for the prayer method of St. Alphonsus (as distinct from that of St. Ignatius Loyal and others). The Doctor of Morals who is also the Marian Doctor tells us that the body of our prayer must begin with a meditation on the scene or the mystery which we wish to contemplate, but (unlike St. Ignatius) St. Alphonsus does not focus too much on entering into the scene. Rather, he adopts the style of a third person narrator – much like the first eight stanzas of the hymn.
Then, in the second place, St. Alphonsus directs us to make acts of love in response to the love which we recognize in the mystery upon which we have meditated. This is much akin to the middle eight stanzas of the Stabat Mater.
Finally, the saintly Doctor tells us that we must pray for graces – especially, for the grace of final perseverance. More than anything else, the purpose of prayer is to beg the good Jesus to bring us with him to heaven. This the hymn does in the final two stanzas, finishing with the words paradisi gloria.


sherrybella said...

Thank you for posting this most helpful analogy of the Stabat Mater. I have Fr Pablo Staubs reading of the praying the 7 sorrows of Mary on cd using St alphonsus prayers. I play it every night as I'm falling asleep.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father, I have a question on the middle stanzas, particularly stanzas 11-12 ("Holy Mother! pierce me through" and following).

In those stanzas, as you point out, we are the ones who are truly praying those words in our own voices. The thing that I don't get is that these don't seem to be the kind of simple prayers that anyone can say, like prayers for mercy or an increase in love and virtue. Rather, when you pray those words well, it seems to me that you are sincerely asking to be allowed to suffer with the sufferings of Christ and His Sorrowful Mother. That's a very significant prayer and request to make.

I don't think it is simply poetic hyperbole, since many saints and others really have offered themselves to bear sufferings of the Passion.

Can you clear this up for me? Is this really an act in prayer that anyone should make, without the guidance of a very good spiritual director? Am I just misinterpreting the verses?

Thanks, Father.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Very good question!
Certainly, not all (in fact, not even most) are called to be so-called "victim-souls" and we should definitely speak with our spiritual director / confessor about that before we ask to be one ... in fact, we really shouldn't even ask God to make us one, we should wait for his request.

However, the middle stanzas are asking for a spiritual participation in the Passion of Jesus (and also that of Mary).
Most especially, we should suffer the sorrow for our sins -- since it was this sorrow which caused our Savior the most intense suffering. "mourning Him who mourned for me"

...To carry the Passion constantly in our heart ... that is our great desire. Still, this doesn't mean being mopey and sad all the time ... recall that Christ experience the greatest joy and delight insofar as he enjoyed the beatific vision (i.e. the intimate and loving communion with God and the Father), and yet still experienced the worst of sufferings insofar as he sorrowed for our sins and suffered many physical torments.

Thus, in one respect we mourn constantly, but in another respect we rejoice! Consider how St. Paul tells us to "rejoice always", but also has so identified with the Passion of our Savior that he tells us "I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body".

So, we all want to share in Christ's sufferings (especially insofar as we desire sorrow for our sins), but we do not generally ask to share physically (as in requesting the Stigmata).

Peace and blessings to you! +

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Father! I can see now how the stanzas are speaking of the suffering of seeing our sins are they truly are.


Angela said...

Fr. Ryan, when you mentioned that the month of September is dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, I went ahead and bought this novena in order that I could honor her. I seem to have been blessed by the fact that when I prayed this, I was feeling that one cannot participate in this novena without being touched by it; like, one's heart seems to be drawn into experiencing the Blessed Mother's feelings, and therefore, it became a personal prayer. I seemed to have participated in the Son's and Mother's heart beating as one, and just as you said that there was sorrow in the Joyful Mystery, there also exists joy in the Sorrowful Mystery. I don't have the right words to express this sensation, but being involved in such an experience, one cannot help but ask for deep forgiveness, and the grace to surrender one's life or comfort, and be allowed to participate in the pains or sorrows of both Mother and Son. And it is not a feeling of being heroic and sentimental, but I think, more of an expression of deep gratitude and love. Even just for the fact that one's heart is able to beat as one with theirs, I seem to get into a deep understanding of their communion, something that I cannot fully verbalize because I don't have the words to describe the ambivalent feeling of joy in sorrow.
Thank you, Father, for sharing this hymn and the commentary, as well as, for the information you have given us about the Blessed Mother. I am coming to know her a lot better and loving her more because of that. I am also wondering how she must have felt when the baby Jesus' heart was beating in her womb in unison with hers.

Anonymous said...

I began the Seven Sorrows devotion just recently. I think that growing up I had only thought of her in connection with rosaries, flowers, favors, apparations. I never appreciated just how much she suffered, even before the Passion.


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