Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. So, on this day, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, we conclude our brief work.
1st Sorrow – The Prophecy of Simeon
2nd Sorrow – The Flight into Egypt
3rd Sorrow – The loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem
4th Sorrow – Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary
5th Sorrow – The Crucifixion of Jesus
6th Sorrow – The Piercing of the Side of Jesus, and His Deposition
Now we turn to and to conclude with…
The Burial of Jesus (Matthew 27:57–61, Mark 15:43–47, Luke 23:50–53, John 19:40–42)
It was necessary to work swiftly. It was time for Mary to feel the particular pain of Christ’s piercing sword through His burial.
The Romans and the people had committed what she knew was homicidal deicide: they had, all had, collectively killed the God made Man. Darkness fell and the earth shook at the Creator’s demise. Rocks cracked and the earth gave up the dead. It is time for the New Eve – theotokos – to take the New Adam from the Death Tree and plant in the earth as the new Life Tree, soon to bear first fruit – prototokos – for a New Eden.
Romans usually left corpses on crosses to be picked over by the crows and vultures and insects. But this was a special day and they had orders from Pilate. There would be hell to pay if these guys were still visible after sunset. One can image the gentle words of the soldiers of the occupying Roman force: “Please, if you don’t mind, just try to speed things up a little?” In fact, they probably urged them along with the help of their pila, at least when the Centurion wasn’t looking. Thus, all of the well-wishers and followers of the Lord who had made it to this point, the Gospel talks of the women who came from Galilee, leapt into action.
They had to take care of the Body of the Lord at least by wrapping it in linen cloths and getting it into a tomb.
Here is an image to take with you to Holy Mass. Bede was careful to point out that we consecrate the Lord’s Body not on silk or gold cloth, but on a clean linen cloth. (Harmony of the Gospels 3.23). In the traditional Roman Rite, the priest lays the Host to be consecrated directly upon the linen “corporal” and he hides away the golden paten under the cloth until the “resurrection moment” of the recombination of the Body and Blood.
Be clean at Holy Mass, and contemplate the richness of the symbols in your still hearts, like Mary who saw, heard and pondered. Origen says that if anyone wants to be buried with Jesus in baptism cannot be an old, used tomb or a dirty cloth. He must be a clean cloth. (Comm. Rom. 5.8).
In no way would Mary have excluded herself from wrapping her boy in cloths, she who had wrapped Him countless times in his infancy. He was still her baby.
Joseph of Arimethea -“secret disciple” who was “looking for the Kingdom of God” – had come out of hiding and provided a new, a virginal, tomb, in which no body had yet been placed. Both Jerome and Augustine underscore the importance of a tomb that had never been occupied, its connection with virginity.
Because of the controversy of the situation, Pilate sent guards, probably nervous because of the task and because there had been an earthquake and, I suspect based on some calculations, there was a total lunar eclipse producing a portentous “blood Moon”. Twilight was fast approaching which would mark the point at which work must cease for the sabbath. The future evangelist and author of apocalyptic visions, newly ordained Fr John, is there, young and healthy, helping with the heavy work. He wrote that Nicodemus (Greek “victory of the people”) provided 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes, a spectacular quantity. Fit for a King. Gifts from the Greek and Jewish Joseph.
I envision the “beloved” Apostle, John, carrying in the spices for the Galilean women to use, marveling at their quantity. What might he have been thinking? The casting of lots on Christ’s garment revealed Him as High Priest. The quantity of burial spices reveal Him as High King.
Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures points to the planting of Christ in the garden. “I am the vine”, said Christ. Christ will transform the earth, choked with thorns after the Fall, with new life. Thus, Cyril:
“And what will he that is buried in the garden say? ‘I have gathered my myrrh with my spices’ and again, “myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices” (Song of Songs 5:1; 4:14). Now these are the symbols of burial.”
It was necessary to work swiftly in the virginal tomb. They could return after the sabbath and complete their ministrations with the necessary anointing.
What was going on around them as they worked in the tomb, for surely nearby there were other tombs? Matthew 27:51-52 says that when Jesus died, “the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised”. It was immediately after this that the Centurion acknowledge Christ as God. The dead would, after the resurrection, walk among the living in Jerusalem.
In ancient writings time accounts are sometimes tidal, ebbing backward and forward. But it seems that at the death of the Lord, the dead started to rise and tombs started to open. If they didn’t leave their tombs until the after the resurrection – Christ must be the prototokos, the first of Creation and the first to rise – maybe at this point dem’ dry bones were stirring, knitting up. Maybe at this point there were sounds. That could have been be somewhat disconcerting to those gathered about Christ’s virginal tomb. If these people had faith and were bolstered by their time with Christ, the soldiers would have been rather freaked out under the “blood Moon”.
Meanwhile, while they scramble to beat the appearance of the sabbath stars, the soul of Christ has gone to harrow Hell. Things are stirring up there, for sure.
At the same time Mary, theotokos, with the new Fr John and the disciples work hurriedly in the earthy tomb, carved out from the rock, the Lord is comforting holy souls who died before the “fullness of time”. Perennial masters of paint show in their devotion a triumphant New Adam, also before a tomb-like opening, door and demons both gaping in the shadows, as with His recently spiked hand He draws out the dead from darkness to light, the old Adam first along with the old Eve still at his side. New Adam with a New Eden. New Noah with a New World. New Moses with a New Jerusalem. New… New… New…
“Behold, I make all things NEW.”
Benedict XVI, in his Jesus of Nazareth Part Two, Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection writes [US HERE – UK HERE] writes about Mary as the “the Woman” of the New Adam of the Book of Revelation. John – again, John, eyewitness to the burial – describes the Woman appearing in heaven, a sign of the entire Church throughout time until the end of things. Mother/Bride she is continually, in the vision granted to John, giving birth to Christ, to the Church. Mary, at the tomb of her Son, with the “beloved” Apostle John, are living icons of discipleship and the ministry of the Church. They are historical figures doing, now, historical things, but through Christ they are the Church already in action, still wet from the Blood and water of the Lord’s side, birthing the sacramental life.
But right now all Mary can see in the close and murky, shadow-flickering tomb of the old Earth is the work to be done.
Were the tears flowing down all of their cheeks from sorrow or from the stinging smoke of the torches or oil lamps? The presence of all those spices?
On the matter of the tears of the Mother, in The World’s First Love Fulton Sheen writes, about the Lord’s burial:
At such moments, there is not loneliness but desolation—not the outward desolation such as came through the three days’ loss but an inner desolation that is probably so deep as to be beyond the expression of tears. Some joys are so intense that they provoke not even a smile; so there are some griefs that never create a tear. Mary’s dolor at the burial of Our Lord was probably of that kind. If she could have wept, it would have been a release from the tension; but here the only tears were red, in the hidden garden of her heart! One cannot think of any dolor after this; it was the last of the sacraments of grief. The Divine Sword could will no other thrusts beyond this, either for Himself or for her. It had run into two hearts up to the very hilt; and when that happens, one is beyond all human consolations. In the former dolor, at least there was the consolation of the body; now even that is gone. Calvary was like the bleak silence of a church on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament has been removed. One can merely stand guard at a tomb.
On Good Friday, the Blessed Sacrament is removed. There is no Mass, though Communion is possible.
Through Holy Saturday there is neither Mass nor Communion. The Church is silent, still as a dark tomb.
Mary stands outside the closed tomb. Still and silent.
Mothers will say that they feel that their children are still part of them, even into their old age.
In fact, during pregnancy, the cells of babies cross into their mother’s bodies and become part of them. For the rest of their lives, mothers carry with them, as part of themselves, the genetic material of their children. It is possible to find fetal DNA in a mother’s blood. In fact, mothers therefore have encoded within them, the DNA of both children and her husband.
Mary, who was with Child by the Holy Spirit, carries within her flesh and blood the DNA of Christ. She is at this moment the sole living Tabernacle of Christ on Earth. Dead in the tomb, He lives in her. She is the Ark of the Covenant. By the tomb, she is the “singular vessel of devotion”, the living “house of gold”, “tower of ivory” and “of David”.
As she stood by Christ’s tomb as it was being officially sealed, did Mary have inklings of the seals of the tomb of sheol shattering at the comforting coming of Christ? Might not the Comforter Himself have provided a comforting vision for the one who would be sung to with litanies through the centuries as “comforter of the afflicted”?
Her piercings have made her Holy Church’s greatest minister of comfort.
The very first time I was in Rome, before I was even Catholic, I stayed at a place next to the tiny church that houses the body of St. Vincent Pallotti. It is across the street from the flanks of the church where I now always say Mass, Ss. Trinita dei Pellegrini, where I said my 3rd Mass, which has a lovely altar of our Sorrowful Mother. I feel, therefore, a kind of spiritual thrum between these churches, and a friendship with St. Vincent, as if he has been watching out for me all these years. St. Vincent was deeply attached to the devotion of Our Lady of Sorrows. He often said that he heard a demon through a possessed person admit that no one who had prayed the devotions of Our Lady of Sorrows had ever been taken by the fallen angels and that God restrained demons from attacking dying souls with temptations who prayed these devotions.
St. Vincent preached that the Mother of God will assist at the hour of their death anyone who shared with compassion a devotion to her Sorrows. St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote that anyone who loves God and says of name of Mary while dying cannot be lost. St. Bridget said that Mary became the Mother of all the dying through her own Sorrows. Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows changed the life of the young St. Gabriel Possenti who entered the Passionists with her very title.
St. Bridget of Sweden (+1373) wrote that Our Lady of Sorrows grants seven graces to the souls who honor her daily by saying seven Hail Marys as they meditate on her tears and sorrows:
- “I will grant peace to their families.”
- “They will be enlightened about the divine Mysteries.”
- “I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.”
- “I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.”
- “I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.”
- “I will visibly help them at the moment of their death—they will see the face of their mother.”
- “I have obtained this grace from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness, since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son will be their eternal consolation and joy.”
St. Alphonsus in his Via Crucis penned the dolorous phrase, “And they closed the tomb, and all withdrew”.
To where did they withdraw? My heart yearns after the image of John taking Mary and the others to a safe place, perhaps back to the upper room. They would talk, as people do, after burials, exhausted, remembering the good and the bad. I hear John relate to the Apostles who were not there what happened on Golgotha. I hear him then relate to Mary what happened at the Last Supper. He wants to make sure that everyone knows the whole story. The events are connected and the blanks filled in. Matthew listens carefully.
John was the Apostle Jesus loved most, but Peter loved Jesus more than the others. If my heart wants that image of John telling the story to be true, no less do I picture Peter, after the intertwined stories of the Last Supper and of Calvary were related and connected in their minds, saying decisively, “He told us to do something in His memory.”
Peter, the one who had betrayed the Lord three times, looks at Mary for comfort and affirmation. After pondering all these things, pondering Peter for a moment, she who is the living Tabernacle of Christ, says,
“Do whatever He tells you.”
Newly ordained, young Fr. John, future evangelist and the youngest of that first ordination class, rises to pray.
וְאָבֹואָה אֶל־מִזְבַּח אֱלֹהִים אֶל־אֵל שִׂמְחַת גִּילִי וְאֹודְךָ בְכִנֹּור אֱלֹהִים אֱלֹהָֽי׃
And everyone responding…
מַה־תִּשְׁתֹּוחֲחִי נַפְשִׁי וּֽמַה־תֶּהֱמִי עָלָי הֹוחִילִי לֵֽאלֹהִים כִּי־עֹוד אֹודֶנּוּ יְשׁוּעֹת פָּנַי וֵֽאלֹהָֽי׃
Mary ponders these things in her heart as they pray Psalm 42/43 together and the new priests set a table.
I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth. To thee, O God my God, I will give praise upon the harp: why art thou sad, O my soul? and why dost thou disquiet me? Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God.
Let us pray:
O Mother of Sorrows, thou, who beneath the Cross of Jesus were given to us as our Mother, look down with pity on us, thy children, who weep and mourn in this valley of tears. By that sword of sorrow which pierced thy Heart when thou looked upon the Face of thy dead Son, obtain for us that comfort we so sorely need in our sufferings.
Thou were given to us our Mother in the hour of thy greatest grief that thou might be mindful of our frailty and the evils that press upon us. Without thy aid, O Sorrowful Mother, we cannot gain the victory in this struggle against flesh and blood. Therefore, we seek thy help, O Queen of Sorrows, lest we fall prey to the wiles of the enemy. We are orphans in need of the guiding hand of our Mother amid the dangers that threaten our destruction. Thou whose grief was boundless as the sea, grant us by the memory of those sorrows the strength to be victorious.
Intercede further, O Mother of Sorrows, for us and all who are near and dear to us, that we may ever do the Will of thy Son, and may direct all our actions to His honor, and to the furtherance of devotion to thy sorrows.
Virgin Most Sorrowful, pray for us.
Our Father, …
Hail Mary, …
Glory Be …
PRAYER FOR A HAPPY DEATH
O Mother of Sorrows, by the anguish and love with which thou didst stand beside the Cross of Jesus, stand by me in my last agony. To thy maternal heart I commend the three last hours of my life. Offer these hours to the Eternal Father in union with the agony of our dearest Lord. Offer frequently to the Eternal Father, in atonement for my sins, the Precious Blood of Jesus, mingled with thy tears on Calvary, to obtain for me the grace to receive Holy Communion with most perfect love and contrition before my death, and to breathe forth my soul in the actual presence of Jesus.
Dearest Mother, when the moment of my death has come, present me as thy child to Jesus; say to Him in my behalf: “Son, forgive him, for he knew not what he did. Receive him this day into Thy kingdom.”