Holy Week & Easter 2018 Flier (Please click to download PDF)
The Rector writes …
Could there be a more emotive human image than that of a mother cradling her dead child in her arms? In conflict situation after conflict situation, in famine after famine, the pictures of desperation never fail to shock and disturb. The maternal role is to provide life and nurture and when this pattern is broken down, either through violence or natural disaster, we sense that something has gone profoundly wrong – this is not how it was meant to be. In the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Mary is portrayed at the foot of the cross utterly distraught, a peasant woman screaming in total incomprehension at the tragedy which is unfolding. This picture of the Mother of Jesus deranged by grief is a far cry from Michelangelo’s statue of the Pietà where Mary remains calm and dignified in the face of her Son’s suffering Composers, too, have added their own gloss in interpreting the “Stabat Mater” (a thirteenth century hymn used as the sequence at Mass on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows) – which we had the privilege of hearing members of our choir perform last Friday in Giovanni Pergolesi’s powerful score of 1736.
At the back of the church, our own version of the Pietà attracts great devotion, and there is never a time when there are not candles alight and people kneeling before the statue. Catholic intuition is to be trusted here in that, as well as providing a focus for a genuine religious sentiment, the Pietà emphasises the reality of Christ’s passion and death. There have always been elements in Christianity which have wanted to undervalue Jesus’s humanity in favour of his Divine identity: Saint Paul’s Greek converts, for instance, found it so very hard to accept a God who could manifest himself in apparent weakness – “here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23). The truly horrific dimension of the crucifixion can only be plumbed in the recognition of just who it is who is dying on the cross. The Incarnation allows the Divinity to experience human pain, a truth which the Catechism sums up in these words: “to the benefit of everyone, Jesus Christ tasted death (Hebrews 2:9). It is truly the Son of God made man who died and was buried”.
As the first Christian generations tried to express the mystery of Christ’s combination of both human and divine natures in a single person, the woman from whom he had derived his fleshly reality had to come more and more into focus. “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ”. The subsequent history of Christianity bears out the validity of Ludwig Feuerbach’s view: “when faith in the Mother of God declines, faith in the Son of God and God the Father declines also”: Marian devotion has always acted as a guarantor of an orthodox Christology and where it is side-lined or rejected there is a danger that the crucified Christ is no longer preached with total conviction. Perhaps we need a modern day Saint Francis of Assisi to bring home to us – as he did to the people of the 13th century – the damaged flesh of Jesus which continues as a living reality in heaven. The blood of Jesus and the tears of Mary intermingle as Mother and Son are united under the cross and offer an icon of such profound compassion that no one of good will can fail to be affected and draw, almost by osmosis, the right conclusion: “through his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
The unique insights which are to be gained from the perspective of the Mother of Jesus – particularly through his passion – are precious gifts and ones that we should treasure. Romano Guardini makes a specific point which allows for wider application: “the rosary means lingering in the sphere of Mary’s life, the content of which is Christ”. I have a Pieta of my own – it was carved in Romania and was the gift of someone who died last year. It is not pretty and the expression on Mary’s face as she handles the corpse deposited in her lap encapsulates the grief experienced by so many as they watch those dear to them suffer and die. As we enter Passiontide and move into Holy Week may the Mother of Sorrows be our close companion.