Welcome to our Holy Saturday Programme. On this day the Church does not celebrate Holy Eucharist as it is a day of repose with the body of Jesus laid in the tomb, we shall bring you a meditation with Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of Sorrows.
“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, now came with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden, there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19, 38 – 42)
Let us contemplate the heart-breaking pain of the Mother of Jesus. Let us move to Golgotha and stay with Mary, the Mother of Sorrows. Along with Mary let us look at the cross. Jesus is dead and his side is pierced by the soldier. It is evening and it is quiet around the Cross of Jesus. The soldiers were busy in dragging the dead bodies of the two robbers who were crucified with Jesus down the hill to the common burial-place. Let us see the Immaculate Mother; her eyes fixed on Jesus. Oh, with what unutterable pain Mary looks at the Holy Body of her Son, now robbed of all form and beauty, torn and shattered, hanging on the Cross for no fault of his own. She could not take Him down and she had no grave for Him. Every thing seems so uncertain for her. The Holy Mother feared that at any moment the soldiers would come and drag away her dear Son’s Body also to the burial-place of criminals. It was considered a disgrace among the Jews, not to be buried in their own family sepulchre. The Mother of Jesus had always been poor — poor in Bethlehem, poor in Egypt, poor in Nazareth — but never had she felt her poverty so painful, as now at the sight of her son’s dead body, not having a proper burial place reserved for him.
We now look at the party of men passing through the judgment-gate bringing ladders and many other things. They are hastening towards Calvary . Mary troubled at heart asks John anxiously whether he knows the persons approaching the cross. John too is anxious and worried. When they are near enough, he whispers to Mary that she has nothing to fear. He tells her that those persons are their friends: Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews. These persons, Joseph and Nicodemus at this moment are not afraid of anyone. Their love for Jesus and his Passion has strengthened them. Scarcely had Jesus breathed His last sigh than the efficacy of His Blood instils in them much courage they had not known before. They are determined to honour the Body of Jesus whom they recognize as the Messiah. Jesus had said behold, I make all things new and in His Death he has made all things new. The moment Joseph heard of the death of Jesus, he went to the Palace of Pilate and boldly asked for the Body of Jesus. He secured the needed permission to take the body of Jesus from the cross and give him a religious burial.
It is not without significance we are told that Joseph went “boldly” to Pilate. He really needed courage to do this, seeing the fanatical hatred borne by the Chief Priests and Rulers towards Jesus. Crucifixion of Jesus was indeed the victory they gained over Him. The sympathy of Joseph and Nicodemus manifested to the Crucified Jesus, their intervention for Him with the authorities, and the public burial arranged by them, might well be regarded as a demonstration of opposition, and likely to result in worst consequences for themselves. But they are not worried about it. They came to know Jesus, they loved Him, and did everything to serve and honour Him. Their deep love for him is manifested by their deeds. Their attraction to Jesus was something unique. Jesus had said: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth shall draw all to myself.” He did not take it amiss that they kept the fact of their discipleship secret for a time. Jesus waited patiently, and His patience has borne fruit at this moment. Indeed, this is all the more wonderful seeing that they were the only ones of all the disciples and Apostles, except St. John , who openly declared themselves for Jesus and stood with him at this difficult moment.
Look at them and see with what ardour and reverence they approach the Sacred Body of Jesus. They salute the Mother of Sorrows, but are unable to speak as their hearts are full of sadness and deep sympathy for the Mother and Son. They are aware that an innocent person has been brutally killed. John the beloved disciple of Jesus joins them. All of them stand before the cross and silently adore their beloved Master. Then the ladders are placed against the Cross, and they begin the most sacred of duties.
Let us contemplate how lovingly and reverently they touch the Sacred Body. First, the crown of thorns is removed. Reverently they hold it in their hands and then give it to the Immaculate Mother, who stretches out her hands to receive it; she too kisses it and presses it to her heart. She is aware of the unbearable physical pain experienced by Jesus at the crowning of thorns. With utmost tender care the nails are drawn out, and passed one after another to the heroic Mother. See how gently and with what reverent love, Joseph and Nicodemus wind linen bands around the limbs and then lower the Sacred Body to the ground. John holds the Adorable Head, Joseph and Nicodemus support the Body, and Mary Magdalene who is present takes the Sacred Feet of the Divine Master. Look at the reverence with which these holy persons treat the Body of Jesus. Let us join them in adoration and worship.
As soon as the Sacred Body is lowered from the cross, they place the “World’s Treasure” in the winding-sheet that our Lady has spread on her knees. Then all prostrate and adore. Let us also kneel and adore, fixing our eyes on the Sacred Body of Jesus and on Mary. Let us contemplate lovingly, and mark how all who surround the Sacred Body of Jesus preserve a religious silence. How the Blessed Mother’s heart speaks to her Beloved Son as she gazes on His bleeding face, His glazed eyes, His mangled body, His pierced hands and feet, His open wound in his chest. She speaks to the Eternal Father, the Holy Angels, the faithful friends of her adorable Son, she looks over the whole human race for whose redemption her Son has suffered and died. She prays for all of us; she prays for me specially. How reverently the faithful ones of Jesus listen to the Immaculate Mother: her words are loving and tender. They enlighten their minds and move their hearts. It is she, who is consoling them in their grief and supporting them. Mary’s incomparable grief alters neither the peace of her soul, nor the majesty of her countenance. For those present she is the Mother of Consolation.
What were the Holy Mother’s thoughts as she looks at the Sacred Body covered with gaping wounds and bruises, battered out of shape by the cruelty of humankind! O Mother of Sorrows, great as an ocean is your sorrow! What must be your hatred of sin, when you see what it has wrought in the Divine beauty of your spotless Son! What a mixture of agonizing compassion and mournful sorrow, hope and consolation, gratitude and triumphant joy, fills her holy soul, while she looks on the dead Body of her Son. Tears role down her eyes but her heart is full, as with her son she has fulfilled the call of Incarnation. The day, on which Jesus died, is indeed well called Good Friday. It is the day when Jesus won His victory over death.
Shall I not condole with Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, as with unutterable pain she lives through the whole Passion again, following it out by the dreadful traces it has left? Now she sees it all close at hand. What have I to say to her as she arranges the hair, touches, kisses, and closes the wounds? And what passes through her mind now? Surely of happier times: the little babe of Bethlehem, the simple childhood at Nazareth, lost in the Temple, leaving for his public life, the majesty and nobility during the three years of His public life, the last Supper. She certainly remembers the baby born to her 33 years ago. She remembers the moment she played with him and held him in her arms. But how differently she sees the lifeless body of Jesus placed on her lap. Like any human mother she experiences the pain seeing her only son so badly tortured and killed. Everyone passing by the Cross sees Mary with her dead Son lying on her lap. They have a prayer of blessing and they feel sorry for the suffering mother. But she is in consolation as her beloved son has fulfilled the mission. He has given his life for humanity. Blessed are you Mary mother of God, specially chosen by God and now remain above all. O Holy Mother, Queen of Martyrs, imprint deeply in our hearts the wounds of thy Crucified Son. O Mother of Jesus, and our Mother, your heart burnt with love for your son and it will burn to influence all hearts with the same fire of love. O Mother, give us to Jesus, now, and at the hour of our death, Amen.
The evening shadows grew longer and the painful Friday was drawing rapidly to a close. The following day was holy Sabbath and so the men make haste to bury Jesus. Joseph, John, and Nicodemus beg the Holy Mother to allow them to complete the embalming of the Sacred Body. They reverently lift the Sacred Body of Jesus from His Mother’s lap, and carry it to the stone of anointing, which is still shown and venerated in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There they prepare the Body of Jesus for burial according to Jewish custom. They wrap the Body of Jesus in fine linen cloths and bands, and place spices and sweet-smelling herbs; sprinkle the linen itself with sweet perfumes and cover the Sacred Head with a napkin. Let us look at Mary herself performing this final duty. With deep affection she gazes for the last time on the dead face of her beloved Son. His body is now prepared for the burial.
The preparation of the Body for burial was such as done for rich and respected men. The preparations being completed, they proceed to inter the Body. It was already late, about five o’clock in the evening. The place where our Lord was to be buried was situated about fifty paces northwest of the spot of crucifixion. The sepulchre was in a garden. It was hewn in the rock and thus protected by nature against violation and profanation. It was totally new and unused, as befitted our Lord, in regard to whom everything must be pure and inviolate, as had been the womb of His Mother, to which the Holy Sepulchre is often compared. As one Joseph had once helped Mary to lay the Infant Saviour in the manger, now too is another Joseph, who helps Mary to lay her son in the grave. Let us reverently follow the little procession of mourners as they go down the hill, through the ravine, straight across to the garden, three or four men carrying the Sacred Body of Jesus. His Mother, Mary Magdalene, the Holy Women, and a few servants follow closely. When they reach the sepulchre our Blessed Lady spreads a white cloth in the tomb. Then the Body of Jesus is placed on the stone and it will remain there until the hour of its joyful Resurrection.
Let us now prayerfully contemplate the sacred body of Jesus as laid in the Sepulchre, disfigured by countless wounds and scars, apparently lifeless, nevertheless the joy of God, and worthy of our highest adoration. Soon the lifeless human body of the divine person will be transformed into the radiant, glorious resurrected Body. As we stand before his lifeless body, we see in him the glory of his suffering. Apparently he seemed helpless and even his beloved Father seemed to be far away. The God-Man is now placed in the tomb under the watchful eye of his loved ones. We now prayerfully watch the closing the entrance to the sepulchre. All fall on their knees and adore the Sacred Body, with moist eyes and saddened hearts. Let us prayerfully join all these loyal, devoted friends of Jesus and adore, love, and thank God for the gift of Jesus to us. After completing the ceremony, they lead Mary back to the Cenacle, leaving their hearts where their Treasure rests. While passing before the Cross, our Blessed Lady prostrates, and is the first person to adore the Sacred Sign of our Redemption. All who accompany Mary follow her example. Let us meditatively watch as the Holy Mother and Jesus’ devoted persons reach the Cenacle, and listen to their prayerful talk among them. Our Lady, before entering with John, Mary Magdalene, and the Holy Women, thanks most tenderly these faithful friends of Jesus. She blesses them for the love with which they have performed the last duties, saying with fullest confidence: “The God of our Fathers will not permit His Holy One to see corruption.”
Let us reflect for a while on Jesus lay in the tomb. He has already begun His work of triumph; announcing glad tidings of salvation to the holy Souls in Limbo. We can see among them the penitent thief, in fulfilment of His promise: “This day you shall be with me in Paradise “. For the many just persons who had lived a favourable life for God, Jesus now becomes the hope of salvation. In obedience to his Father he had accepted the great mission of redemption: “Here I am ready to do your will.” This mission is fulfilled today with his death on the cross, when he uttered the last words: “It is accomplished; into your hands I commend my Spirit.” He knows that his beloved Father will reward him for his Obedience and will raise him from the dead.
As we come to the Good Friday Night we contemplate the sufferings of Mary. From the Sepulchre they go to the Cenacle and finally to her house. On this painful night we see the Mother of Jesus, John, Mary Magdalene, and the other Holy Women who are staying with her. They are all sad at the sudden loss of Jesus. They spend the first hours of the night in speaking of the sufferings and death of Jesus. St. John relates to them all that took place at the Cenacle the evening before. We shall listen to the beloved disciple the manner and devotion with which he relates how the Divine Master ate the Paschal Lamb with the Twelve; how Jesus washed their feet; how He broke the bread and gave it to them and then shared the wine, thus instituting the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He explains how their hearts glowed with love when He spoke to them after the departure of Judas. How He told them all that was to happen to Him, how He prayed for them, and led them from the place of last Supper to the Garden of Olives . On the way He told them His Soul was sorrowful unto death, and that they would all be scandalized in Him that night. Then John describes with many tears the awful Agony in the Garden, his prayer to his Father, the kiss of the traitor and the arrest of Jesus. Tearfully he explains how they were all ran away leaving him alone. He tells them how with some courage he entered the house and took Peter too who out of fear denied him but later regretted his denial. Thus, John the adopted son consoles Mary and the Women with all details of the previous day.
Now Mary is all alone, as other companions have gone away or are resting. She is unable to sleep. She is the woman who kept all things in her heart and contemplated on them, and now she contemplates the mystery of her son. For her, the Annunciation is fulfilled. The angel had told her, that her son would be a king. Today she witnessed the type of Kingship her Son Jesus presented to the world. A king hanging naked on the cross, empty of all things, bruised, nailed, with a crown of thorns on his head. Yet she knows that he is really the king who has established his kingdom in this world. At the same time she is filled with the hope of Resurrection. She knows her son will rise again and he will be the king forever. As a mother she is proud of her son’s sacrifice to save humanity.
Having spent Friday night in pain and sorrow, they now enter the Holy Sabbath day, a day of quiet mourning and hope. Its character is a mixed one: the dusk of Good Friday and the dawn of Easter Sunday seem to blend together. On this day the occupants of the Cenacle are quiet, very quiet. They have much to reflect upon, much to mourn for, and so much to repent of. One sees their eyes reddened with weeping, tears still flowing; they have no words to express. The preceding day with all its terrible incidents oppresses every heart with bitter pain. Jesus, their beloved Master, the God-man who had suffered every possible pain, was dead, and now lay buried outside the city. It was indeed a tragic event. They cannot forget ever that their dear Lord has suffered and died the previous day. A noble heart made his sacrifice for others. How silently reverent are some of the occupants of this house. And yet what deep consolation they find in the thought that they have remained true to our Lord to the very end: John, Mary Magdalene, and the Holy Women. We now see the Apostles and disciples coming one after the other humbly requesting to be admitted. See the sadness on their face and at the same time shame for having run away when Jesus needed their closeness and support.
Peter comes overwhelmed with contrition and shame confessing his sin with many tears. All the Apostles too return and are sad and inconsolable. They dare not think of the past, or of the future. From now on, whom could they approach for their comfort and support? They only hope is Mary, the Mother of their beloved Master. In the midst of all the woe, pain and struggles, Mary was still calm, firm, unbroken in her trust and comes forward to comfort them all. It is she who consoles them, and tells them that he is the Good Shepherd who has given his life for his sheep. He is their hope, and he will be the king forever. John now tells them that Jesus has given his mother to all of them, as their mother and they are now a new family with Mary.
The Apostles are now in grief, as their Master has been killed and betrayed by one among them and they see that they are now reduced to eleven. The thought of the ruin of Judas was bitter and it hurts them a lot. If only the unhappy man, detesting his awful crime and ingratitude, had come like Peter, to cast himself at the feet of the Mother of Mercy, how tenderly she would have received and consoled him! This teaches us that in our weakness and unworthiness, we must not lose hope. We only have to go to the Refuge of Sinners, the Mother of Mercy, the Mother of Jesus and she will gain for us full pardon, and the grace of true and perfect conversion from the loving Heart of her Divine Son. John in his first letter tells us: “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin; but if we sin we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Just”. We ought to remember that we have also our advocate, the Mother of our Saviour, whom Jesus gave us before dying on the Cross.
We now move on to Saturday evening. Having consoled the Apostles and comforted the Holy Women, Mary recommends all to remain in the Cenacle. Then she retires to her home as on the preceding night to occupy herself solely with the thought of her Divine Son. Let us look at our Blessed Mother wrapt in deep contemplation, looking forward to the Resurrection of her Son. We may reasonably suppose that on this happy night, as the Church calls it, the Mother of God knew all that was taking place in her son after his Soul was separated from His Sacred Body. He is now active with his redemptive work bringing the holy souls to the Father. He is their triumphant King, the King of Glory.
Mary, the Mother of the Saviour, witness of these marvels, comprehends that an infinite price was paid for the redemption of the human race, and sees its inestimable happiness in being so gloriously and abundantly redeemed. Mary sees the new Church that Jesus had founded, enriched with His Sacraments and the treasury of His merits. She penetrates the deepest mysteries by the light her Divine Son gives her, and contemplates over them. By her incomparable fidelity she shows her love for her Divine Son. Her heart is now full of joy and her body is still experiencing the suffering as she remains close to her son.
Mother most pure, most holy, most kind, may the love of Jesus and of you grow in our hearts. Strengthen us to deny ourselves constantly and generously. Confirm our faith, hope, and charity, and be with us in the hour of our death. O Mary, our Mother, you are our hope in life, and will be our joy for ever. From you, dearest Mother, we receive all blessings, for through you we have Jesus, the source of all our grace. Dearest Mother, you watched your Divine Son on the Cross, and learnt that immense compassion and boundless pity, which made you the Mother of the Apostles, the Refuge of sinners, the Promoter of the Sacred Heart’s interests in souls. Dearest Mother, let us share your sorrows; let your compassion grow in our hearts and make us like you. For happy indeed, O Mother of Jesus crucified, is the soul, who desires to share in your compassion, and happier still he, who really strives after it to be gentle and compassionate like you, O Blessed Mother of God.
Dear friends, you have been listening to a meditation on Mary the Mother of Sorrows. Mary experienced the pain and agony after the death of her dear son on the cross. We have been with her in her sufferings at the cross and now have accompanied her on Holy Saturday, on the day of repose. She is the tower of strength during the sufferings of her son and now she is our consoler in our sufferings. We now await with her the glorious Easter.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome