Can the Human Heart Refrain?

One of the things that I most enjoy about participating in the Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent is the singing of the verses of the Stabat Mater after each station. The Stabat Mater is one of the most beautiful Christian Latin poems and has been set beautifully to music by many composers.

Here is a nice poetic translation of the poem into English:

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 has passed.

Oh how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother highly blessed,
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
saw Him hang in desolation,
all with bloody scourges rent.

Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
she beheld her tender child,
till His Spirit forth He sent.

O, sweet Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with yours accord.

Make me feel as you have 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 met share with you 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 you to stay,
there with you to weep and pray,
this I ask of you to give.

Virgin, of all virgins blest!
O refuse not my request:
let me share your 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 has 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 you shall call me hence,
be your Mother my defense,
be your Cross my victory.

While my body here decays,
may my soul your goodness praise,
safe in Paradise with thee. Amen.

And here is one of the most famous musical settings. This piece, as it was composed, is actually around 40-45 minutes long, but this 4-minute clip below is a very abbreviated performance, containing just the most famous theme.

The guy singing alto there is called a “countertenor“, and Americans tend to be pretty insecure about countertenors, having a reaction that is similar to the one they have for rose vestments. But there is a long and venerable musical tradition concerning countertenors; it’s serious stuff. Moreover, in this particular piece, having a countertenor singing the alto part provides a fitting visual element: we see a female and a male singing, as it were, at the foot of the Cross, just as it was Mary and John who stood at the foot of the Cross as Christ was dying.

I hope that you will be able to make it to the Stations of the Cross today and join in singing this beautiful hymn! Singing countertenor is optional, and in any case, probably not advisable.

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