Stabat Mater Dolorosa—Weep Over Sin

Just recently, I read Ali Baba and the Forty thieves for my children. In this story, the wife of Ali Baba’s (unfortunate) brother and her servant girls lament and cry by his corpse, retrieved by Ali Baba from the thieves’ cave. Their lament announces to everyone the death of Ali Baba’s brother. This is just one of many examples of weeping done not only because of a spontaneous desire but with a specific and sometimes direct ritual meaning. [1] And whenever there is a ritual, behind it lies the desire to express a deeper human reality. The ritual, the task, vocation or place, is there to encompass the entire human being when she (the soul) comes in contact with a reality beyond ordinary expression. Or in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gandalf, “not all tears are an evil…”

The task of lamenting is one forgotten in the Western world, along with most meaningful rituals. If one ever shows sorrow, one is advised it does not exceed what is prescribed by the ethic standard of “enlightened self-interest”. It is said to be unbalanced if one doesn’t “go on” with one’s own life and liberate oneself from the pain and sorrow. The liberated human of our times searches for an independence, which severs the soul and the body, the mind and the heart. Whenever emotions are the call from a deeper awareness of our own existence they are tranquilized with diverse medications…

I don’t think there is a more critical situation, when the agenda of the “liberated human” is clearer, than the situation of sin. The sin itself is protected by law, and the call of the body to the soul not to accept the wounds that sin inflicts upon us is suppressed. This separates the soul from the body in the depth of our identity. We cease, at least in our own understanding and identity, to be human.

This independence—or separation—can only exist in a maze of contradiction. It is a maze too deep to allow anything lasting for the human being. If one looks for coherence, unity, meaning, one better not hope to find it in independence, because truth is not allowed to exist. Instead one is supposed to enjoy the flowing of some sort of pan-existence of Choice where my uniqueness is eventually swallowed up… It is just me and my freedom in a dream existence. This liberated human is really just one part serving to give power to the Necromancer.


In sharp contrast to this “liberated human” stands the Mother, weeping beneath the Cross:

Stabat mater dolorosa

Juxta Crucem lacrimosa,

Dum pendebat Filius.


(At the Cross her station keeping,

stood the mournful Mother weeping,

close to her Son to the last.)

She weeps, and takes within her heart all the pain of her suffering Son, redeeming with her sorrow, while the Son redeems with his suffering. In the words of St. Catherine of Siena: “O Mary […], bearer of the light […], Mary, Redemptrix of the human race because, by providing your flesh in the Word, you redeemed the world. Christ redeemed with his Passion and you with your sorrow of body and mind.” [2]

To mourn and weep challenges the world yet more when the sorrow is sorrow for sin. There is an interdict against the feeling of compassion and sorrow for sin, because we are not supposed to interpose any restraint on the choice of anyone else. My tears for the sin of someone else might make that person feel restricted in his choice. (Choice forbids!) So, it takes courage to weep, to mourn, to pour out the lament of the soul that comes not just from the eyes, but from the “recesses of the heart”. Yes, I do feel sorrow that someone else sins, and I will lament over it, cry over it… I want to save the soul that sins, save it from the death of sin, free the soul from the hell of contradiction, free the soul from the slavery of sin.

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,

She saw Jesus wracked with torment,

All with scourges rent:


She beheld her tender Child,

Saw Him hang in desolation,

Till His spirit forth He sent.

It is love that urges the tears to flow, love that is not proclaiming its greatness in independence, in self-interest, but love that admits and lives in unity with all of God’s beloved sons and daughters. To mourn and to weep for sins is a necessary task, a testimony for this parched land, the desert of the world. The tears call out: No, sin does not give peace; No, sin does not give happiness.

O thou Mother! Fount of love!

Touch my spirit from above,

Make my heart with thine accord:


Make me feel as thou hast 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 me share with thee 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:

Stabat Mater means the Mother standing. Again the contrast is clear to the maze of senseless, meaningless contradiction, to the lie, unrest, and fear. The Mother stands, or in the translation above, “Her station keeping”. She does not run about; She knows her place, her station, beneath the Cross.

By the Cross with thee to stay,

There with thee to weep and pray,

Is all I ask of thee to give.


Virgin of all virgins blest!

Listen to my fond request:

Let me share thy grief divine;


Let me, to my latest breath,

In my body bear the death

Of that dying Son of thine.

The tears that the Mother shed were an expression of the depth of Her sorrow, but they served also to open up her heart—already to God totally accessible—to the mercy that would flow from that Cross, from her Son. She is the purest vessel of Grace. She caught in her heart all grace, all mercy, that Jesus, Her Son, poured from the Cross with His Blood.

Wounded with His every wound,

Steep my soul till it hath swooned,

In His very Blood away;

I can be a pure vessel of grace, if I shed tears over sin, because those tears open up my heart, make me receptive to God’s grace, to His mercy.

Where did she come to know this honor of being fused into the blood of the Lamb as she was baptized in the power of that blood? In his open side, where she came to know the fire of divine charity. This is what my Truth showed you, if you recall, when you asked him, “Why, gentle spotless Lamb, since you were dead when your side was opened, did you want your heart to be pierced and parted?” He answered, “There were plenty of reasons, but I shall tell you one of the chief. My longing for humankind was infinite, but the actual deed of bearing pain and torment was finite and could never show all the love I had. This is why I wanted you to see my inmost heart, so that you would see that I loved you more than finite suffering could show.” [3]

Grace, and mercy, is given to me, not for me but for all humankind. Mercy is the fruit of the sorrow of sin. Mercy is the fruit of the tears I shed over sin. Mercy can only be the fruit of love—and then not empty—if it springs from the desire to free souls from the slavery of sin.

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,

Lest in flames I burn and die,

In His awful Judgment Day


Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,

Be Thy Mother my defense,

Be Thy Cross my victory;


While my body here decays,

May my soul Thy goodness praise,

Safe in paradise with Thee.



[1] Entry on lament,

[2] St. Catherine of Siena, as quoted by Msgr. Arthur Burton Calkins, “Mary Co-Redemptrix: The Beloved Associate of Christ” in Mariology, a Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, Queenship Publishing, Goleta, CA, 2007, p. 370.

[3] St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, translated by Suzanne Noffke, O.P., Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, 1980, p. 138.