Stabat Mater is a medieval poem, originally designed for private devotion, and eventually incorporated into the liturgy of Holy Week.
This amazing site provides a line-by-line examination of the Latin text, with various possible English renditions.
The version most familiar to Anglophones, “At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping,” provides easy access to mind and tongue, though it departs at times from the literal meaning.
To my mind, the prayer is rooted in two closely intertwined realities: Christ our Savior, and Mary our Mother. Here they are together in his agony: the Son hanging, the Mother standing. His flesh pierced by nails, her heart pierced by a sword.
Why this torture? He dies for our sins, and she stands with him in silent affliction, both for love of us. How can we not love a Mother and a Son that love us this much? If we love them, how can we not desire to be with them in their suffering, to share it with them?
As the poem notes, Mary is blessed in her mourning, and sharing her tears is a path of blessing for us. If our heart too learns to burn for love of her Son, willingly to participate in his crucifixion, then we can hope that this loving Mother will speak in our defense on the day of Judgment, so that after sharing their pain, we may share in the glory of Paradise.
Over the years I have collected many magnificent versions of this hymn, and was beginning to realize that it must be one of the most frequently composed pieces in Christendom. But until I found this site, I had no idea!
Where shall I suggest that the reader begin? How about this version by Antonio Vivaldi, performed here by Carlos Mena and Ricercar Consort:
Mena has an incredible voice, and is notably adept at performing with his entire being.
An excellent recording is by Concerto Italiano (though the producers might have devised a more fitting album cover) (download).
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