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The Seven Last Words of Christ: Meditating on the Third Word

“When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple whom He loved standing there, He saith to His Mother: ‘Woman, behold thy son.’ After that, He saith to the disciple: ‘Behold thy Mother.’ And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.” —John 19:26–27

The third leaf on the vine of the cross and the third string upon our mystical lyre is the words: “Woman, behold thy son,” and, “Behold, thy Mother.” How sweet and delightful are these words; how miraculous and replete with compassion they are! In the Gospels, we do not frequently read of the good and kind Jesus dining or conversing with His Mother. But the depth of His filial affection towards her is fully revealed in these few syllables which He spoke as He approached His earthly death. Even if I should refrain from speaking about the sufferings of Christ Himself in His passion, how heartbreaking and poignant were the pains experienced by His blessed Mother, whose most gentle and angelic heart was pierced by the cruelest sword of bitter pain! The woes of the Son were immeasurably increased by the sight of His beloved Mother’s anguish and grief, as her eyes flowed with torrents of tears, her voice trembled, and her whole being was concentrated upon the agonies of her crucified child.

I imagine Mary to have stood with her head covered, on account both of the immensity of her sorrow and her virginal modesty. How often she must have cried out as she wept, “Jesus, my Son! Who will grant me that I may die in place of You, my Son, or that I may now meet my own death with You?” How many times must she have raised her tear-filled eyes to His bleeding wounds, and again turned them away, overcome by sheer horror and grief? I marvel that she herself did not also succumb to death, so great were the waves of anguish which engulfed her!

While still living, she died with her Son in her heart; and, by continuing to live, she bore a sting which was more bitter than that of death!

Yet, lest she might not utterly despair, the Blessed Virgin was consoled lovingly by her Son. For, as she stood bravely by the cross, He said to her: “Woman, behold thy son.” It was as if Christ had said, “Although you will be separated from Me physically, yet I give to you the disciple whom I have loved beyond all others. In My absence, his faithful presence shall console you, and he shall protect and serve you.” And likewise, He spoke words of encouragement to Saint John, who also stood before the cross: “O John, though You shall soon lose Me, who has been like a father to you, now I bequeath to you My own most beloved Mother to be a mother to you.”

O, how compassionate and generous You are, O good Jesus! For You have given all that You possessed to others! For those who crucified You, You offered prayers; to the repentant thief, You gave paradise; now to Your Mother, You have assigned an adopted son; and to Your beloved disciple, You have bestowed a loving and pious Mother. And, very soon, You shall give Your immortal soul into the hands of Your eternal Father, and Your mortal body to the earth (for a short time) in burial. And Your very life’s blood, You poured out without reservation for the salvation of the world!

This article is taken from a chapter in The Seven Last Words of Christ by St. Bonaventure and Arnold of Bonneval, which is available from TAN Books.

Photo caption: Pietà at the Foot of the Cross by Ambrosius Benson (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

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