Stabat Mater Translation

We did not observe the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows in the Ordinary Form this year, since September 15th fell on a Sunday. A hymn often associated with Lenten celebrations of the Stations of the Cross, the Stabat Mater Dolorosa, is actually the Sequence for Our Lady of Sorrows, to be read or sung before the Alleluia in the Ordinary form, where it is optional, or following (hence the term sequentia) the Alleluia in the Extraordinary form.

Sequences like hymns declined in the fifteenth century, and reached their lowest stage of decadence where they had most flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth (viz. in France). 5000 sequences of the most varying value have already come to light; they are a testimony to the Christian literary activity in the West during seven centuries, and are especially significant for the influence they exercised on the development of poetry and music. For the Gregorian melodies were taken over by them and preserved with fidelity and conservatism; with the admission of sequences and tropes into the liturgy, ecclesiastical music found its opportunity for further development and glorious growth. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

When translating the Stabat Mater, I was rather surprised by the depth of its meaning, something that might be lost when simply rendering a text into English as a devotional or processional hymn. The sequence itself is highly theological, expressing a hope of entering into the expiating power of the Crucifixion by standing beside Mary, who stands beside the cross.

On the Cross her Son was dying.
Mary stood beneath Him crying,
Sharing in His saving cross.
As He hangs, her soul is grieving,
and a sword her heart is cleaving
and she weeps the bitter loss.

O, the sad, afflicted Mother
of the Son beyond all others:
only Son of God most high.
Full of grief, her heart is aching;
watching Him, her body, quaking,
trembles as her offspring dies.

Who would see Christ’s mother crying
at the bitter crucifying
without tears of sympathy?
Who could see her depth of feeling—
thoughts of many hearts revealing—
and not share her agony?

Pardon for our sins entreating,
She saw Him endure the beating.
All our guilt on Him was cast.
She stood by in contemplation
When her Son, in desolation
Breathed His spirit forth at last.

Font of love, O Blessed Mother,
lend me tears to mourn my Brother.
Never let my ardor dim.
Let my heart be burning freely,
Christ my God be pleased to see me
all on fire with love for Him.

This I ask, O Holy Mary,
that His wounds I too may carry:
fix them deeply in my heart.
Mine the burden He was bearing;
let me in His pain be sharing;
of His suffering take a part.

Let me join in your lamenting,
through my life weep unrelenting
tears for Jesus Crucified.
Let me stand and share your weeping,
all the day death’s vigil keeping,
glad to stand close by your side.

Queen of all the virgin choir,
judge me not when I aspire
your pure tears to emulate.
Let me share in Christ’s affliction—
death by bitter crucifixion—
and His wounds commemorate.

Let me taste the pains He offered,
drunk with love for Him who suffered.
May His wounds become my own.
On the day of Christ’s returning
may my heart be lit and burning.
Virgin, aid me at His throne.

May His Cross be interceding
and His death my vict’ry pleading.
May He hold me in His grace.
When my flesh by death is taken,
may my soul to glory waken
and in heaven take a place. Amen.

5 Replies to “Stabat Mater Translation”

  1. Keep in mind that the familiar hymn tune setting of Stabat Mater Dolorosa is functional but not the proper tune for the Sequence of the same text.

  2. two different tunes!
    See page 1424 of the Liber Usualis provided on the CMAA website. There are ten verses set to the traditional hymn tune.
    However, on page 1634v, you will find the twenty (ten plus ten more) verses set to the Sequence tune.

  3. The tune on p. 1424 is from the 12th century. The lovely "sequence tune" is neogregorian, composed at Solesmes (by Dom Paul Jausions, if memory serves) in the 19th century.

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