A Dialogue at the Cross

Seven or eight years ago, I started a thread about a wonderful medieval text in which Christ and his mother engage in a dialogue as he hangs upon the cross. But I thought I might bring it up to date with more recent links.

I imagine we are all familiar with the Stabat Mater (if not, here's a link to both Latin and English), which focuses on the sorrow and pain of Mary at the foot of the Cross. This dialogue between Christ and Mary, dating from the thirteenth century, is very rich theologically and spiritually, and dramatically poignant. Decades ago, I was struck  when I heard it sung on an LP which some miscreant borrowed and never returned.  I have given below the first two verses in middle English after the modern translation. 

You can find the full text and a modern translation, with some clarifying notes, here. A couple sing the first few verses of the dialogue here. A woman sings the whole of it beautifully here. Another woman recites the whole here. And The Anonmyous 4 have recorded it in their CD The Lily and the Lamb

Mother, stand firm beneath the Rood!
Look on your Son in cheerful mood;
Joyful, Mother, should you be.
    Son, how should I joyful stand?
    I see your foot, I see your hand
    Nailed upon the cruel tree.

Mother, leave your tears behind!
I suffer death for all mankind;
No mortal sin I suffer for.
    Son, your hour of death I see;
    The sword is at the heart of me,
    As Simeon prophesied before.

Mother, mercy! Let me die,
That Adam and his kind who lie
Forlorn I may redeem from hell.
    Son, my grief is death to know,
    So grant I die before you go.
    What words from me could sound so well.

Mother, pity your children all
And stem your bloody tears that fall:
They hurt me more than that I die.
    Son, I see your heart-stream flow
    In blood to where I stand below;
    Then how can eyes of mine be dry?

Mother, I shall tell you why:
Better that I alone should die
Than all mankind to hell should go.
    Son, I see your body lashed,
    Your feet and hands with deep wounds gashed:
    No wonder that I suffer woe!

Mother, listen to me well:
If I die not, you go to hell;
I undergo this death for you.
    Son, of my grieving think no ill,
    Nor blame me that I sorrow still,
    Your nature is so meek and true.

Mother, now you learn in care
What grief they have who children bear,
What grief it is with child to go.
    Son, such grief I know full well:
    Unless it be the pain of hell,
    I cannot think of greater woe.

Mother, grieve your mother’s woe,
For now a mother’s lot you know,
Though virgin you of spotless life
    Son, give help in word and deed
    To all who cry to me their need–
    The foolish woman, maid or wife.

Mother, on earth I may not dwell:
My time is come to go to hell;
The third day I shall rise again.
    Son, beside you I shall go:
    I die for all your wounds and woe
    And death unequalled for its pain.

When he rose, then died her sorrow:
Her bliss began the third morrow:
Joyful, Mother, were you then!
    Lady, for that bliss begun,
    Shield us from the Evil One,
    And beg your Son to pardon sin!

Blessed are you, full of bliss.
Heaven may we never miss,
Through your Son’s most tender might!
    For that blood and cruel loss
    You shed and suffered on the Cross,
    Bring us, Lord, to heaven’s light!

(Translation by Brian Stone in Medieval English Verse (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1964) 195-96.)

'Stond wel, moder, vnder rode,
byholt þy sone wiþ glade mode,
blyþe, moder, myht þou be!'
'Sone, hou shulde y bliþe stonde?Y se þin fet, y se þin honde
nayled to þe harde tre.'

'Moder, do wey þy wepinge.
Y þole deþ for monkynde,
for my gult þole y non.'
'Sone, y fele þe dedestounde,
þe suert is at myn herte grounde
þat me byhet Symeon.'

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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