Monday, April 14, 2014

Mater Dolorosa

There was a song occasionally sung at Christmas in my parish when I was growing up that always annoyed me, partially because it didn't seem a joyful enough reflection of the glories of the season, but also because of the person who usually sang it.

"Mary, did you know?" was usually performed by a cantor whom my brothers and I dubbed "The Great Tenor "(even though he isn't a tenor at all), largely because of the grandiose, stentorian manner in which he presented the song -- emphasizing and drawing out the word "know" at every opportunity so it came out, deeply, as "Mary, did you knooooooooooow that you baby boy," etc... It was just overdone to me.

So what does a Christmas song have to do with Holy Week? Well, as much as my impressions of the song were colored by my childhood (and the sarcastic whispers my brothers and I would exchange: "Well, of course she knew!"), without Christmas there would be no Easter, and the lyrics of the song themselves are a foreshadowing to Jesus' earthly ministry and His ultimate sacrifice of the Cross:

"Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will make a blind man see?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the mute will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am."

By the manner of His conception alone, yes, of course she knew. But in the way that things imagined are always utterly different when ultimately seen or experienced in real life, how could she? Despite however much she pondered things in her heart, how could Our Lady possibly have envisioned the tortuous, bloody reality of her son -- the boy she saw playing, growing, working, preaching -- executed so cruelly? Was there any foretaste that her acceptance, her fiat at the Annunciation, the trusting in the will of God whatever may come, would lead to the Crucifixion? 

Perhaps, and perhaps not. But she said yes, anyway.

Mater Dolorosa
By John Fitzpatrick, O.M.I.

She stands, within the shadow, at the foot
Of the high tree she planted: thirty-three
Full years have sped, and such has grown to be
The stem that burgeoned forth from Jesse's root.
Spring swiftly passed and panted in pursuit
The eager summer; now she stands to see 
The only fruit-time of her only tree:
And all the world is waiting for the Fruit.

Now is faith's sad fruition: this one hour
Of gathered expectation wears the crown
Of the long years with which the years were rife:
As in her lap -- a sudden autumn shower --
The earthquake with his trembling hand shakes
The red, ripe Fruitage of the Tree of Life.

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