STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 13 Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross by Caryll Houselander

13 Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross by Caryll Houselander

From The Way of the Cross 

While the soldiers divided Christ’s garments among them and cast lots for his seamless cloak, Mary, his mother, she who had woven that beautiful cloak “from the top throughout,” came with other holy women and stood at the foot of the cross.  “So it was, then, that the soldiers occupied themselves; and meanwhile his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen, had taken their stand beside the cross of Jesus,” (John 19:24-25).

She had followed him through the narrow streets of Jerusalem as one of the crowd.  He did not speak to her in the crowd as he did to the women who wept over him; neither did he then give her a visible sign of his love as he did to Saint Veronica when he imprinted her veil with the impression of his beautiful suffering face.  Even now she is mentioned only as one of a group of women who followed him, and there is nothing that she can do to alleviate his suffering.  She is content to suffer with him; his passion is hers.

How often before she had been one of the crowd.  On the night of his birth she was one of the crowd thronging the little city of Bethlehem.  When he was twelve years old she sought for him, lost, in the crowded city of Jerusalem, and when she found him in the temple she heard that strange, puzzling answer of his to her question: “‘My son, why hast thou treated us so?  Think, what anguish of mind thy father and I have endured, searching for thee.’  But he asked them, ‘What reason had you to search for me?  Could you not tell that I must needs be in the place which belongs to my Father?’  These words which he spoke to them were beyond their understanding,” (Luke 2:48-50).

Again Mary, his mother, was in the crowd when her son was preaching, and again what he said would have baffled any mother whose love was less perfect than hers, one who had less understanding of her son than she had of Jesus and who was less identified with him in his every desire, in every beat of his heart: “While he was still speaking to the multitude, it chanced that his mother and brethren were standing without, desiring speech with him.  And someone told him, ‘Here are thy mother and thy brethren standing without, looking for thee.’  But he made answer to the man that brought him the news, ‘Who is a mother, who are brethren to me?’  Then he stretched out his hand towards his disciples, and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brethren!  If anyone does the will of my Father who is in Heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother,’” (Matthew 12:46-49).

She was surely in the crowd when Christ rode into Jerusalem on the proud little donkey and the children cast their garments and the branches from the trees under its feet; and so soon after in the midst of the mob that cried out, “Crucify him”; and again on the way to Calvary, following him, longing to take some of the load of the great cross but by his own will denied the comfort of helping or comforting him, because she was absolutely one with him and she only in the whole world could enter into his passion and suffer everything that he suffered with him.

Now at the end she is still in the crowd that mills around the foot of the cross – the soldiers, the mockers, the curious, and a handful of those who, in spite of everything, are faithful to him; and surely a multitude of those who heard his sermon on the mount and hoped, but who have lost hope now and feel themselves cheated, those who could not dream of the glory that is coming to them and to all who will open their hearts to him – his resurrection in their hearts, his rebirth in their souls!

Only Jesus and Mary know how like this night is to the one in the little city of Bethlehem thirty-three years ago – that night when she heard the first cry of her little son.  That was a little wail, no stronger than the bleating of one of the lambs on the hillside, bleating in the darkness of the night.  This cry from the cross was a loud cry, uttered again in darkness: “Then Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit,” (Matthew 27:50).

Mary remained silent, as so often before she had remained silent, in the crowd; but now Jesus shared her silence.  Jesus and Mary alone were silent in the midst of chaos, when the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom and the graves were opened.  They alone remained calm when those who a few moments ago had mocked at Christ, and those who had hammered the nails through his hands and feet, shouting and laughing to one another, were seized with dread and confusion of mind.

One of the soldiers came to pierce the heart of Christ with a spear, and as he drove it into his side blood and water flowed from it.  Mary knew that that stream of blood was her own blood, emptied at last from his sacred veins, and she knew that that water that sprang like the spray of a fountain from his side was the mysterious breaking of the waters of birth.  It was the birth of Christ in man, her son Christ who would indwell men until the end of time.

They took his body down from the cross and laid it in his mother’s arms, and she held it upon her heart; and in it, all those Christs to come to whom she was mother now.

That first birth of Christ in Bethlehem was painless, because Mary, his mother, was sinless and he was the son of God.  But this mysterious birth of Christ on Calvary began in the travail and agony of the whole world borne by one man and one woman, God-made-man and Mary, his mother: because this was the birth of Christ in us, Christ the redeemer born in the souls of sinners; and every sinner who would receive him in all time became Mary’s child, even her only child; every sinner who would be indwelt by Christ was laid in Mary’s arms, and she received them all.

Mankind was born again.

Already even in the agony of that night of sorrow, Mary, who had shared Christ’s passion shared his peace.  In the consummation of his pain, and her pain and suffering, she knew the beginning of the joy that would never end; she knew the birth of life in the souls of men that would be immortal life, never ending.  She knew the utter joy of experiencing the consummation of his love for men, and of loving them with all his love.

She herself was indwelt by him now as really as her body had been indwelt by his advent.  Now she who had given him life would live his life forever; her life would be his, her words his words, her acts his acts; her heart beating, the beating of his heart.

She who had said long ago in Nazareth, “Let it be unto me according to thy word,” was the first of all human creatures since Christ was conceived to be one with him.  She gave him her life, and he gave her back her life in his forever.  He gave his life, too, to all those who would receive him through the ages: “And I have given them the privilege which thou gavest to me, that they should all be one, as we are one; that while thou art in me, I may be in them, and so they may be perfectly made one,” (John 17:22-23).

As the dead Christ lay in his mother’s arms she laid to her heart all those sinners to whom he would give not only life but his own life: in baptism, that first stream of the waters of birth, cleansing and irrigating the souls; in the sacrament of penance, restoring the soul of the sinner to its primal innocence.  She saw them as God sees them.  No matter how battered and bruised they had been by sin, the innocence of Christ was restored to them, they were restored to his beauty; no matter how darkened their minds and hearts had been by evil and by the oppressive sadness that follows upon evil, they shone now with the purity, the glory, of Christ of Tabor, clothed in his loveliness that burns with the splendor of a fire of snow.  No matter how cynical and faded and old their sins had made them, they were restored to their childhood now, to Christ’s childhood.  Now they could possess the Kingdom of Heaven in a wild flower, a stream of water, or a star, and now in the body of Christ Mary took them, each of them as her only child, to her sinless heart.

And there from the summit of Calvary, at the foot of the cross with her dead child in her arms, Mary saw how in all the centuries to come Christ would be born again day after day, hour after hour, in the sacred Host.  She heard the multitudinous whisper of the words of consecration coming to her on Calvary from every part of the world, from every place on Earth: from the great cathedrals of the world; from the little village huts that are makeshift for churches; from the churches themselves, whether they were beautiful or cheap and tawdry; from the chapels and wards of hospitals; from prisons and from concentration camps; from the frozen forests of Siberia – from dawn till dusk, and from dusk till dawn, the words of consecration on the breath of men, and Jesus lifted up, as he had been lifted up on the cross, in the Sacred Host.

And she saw, through the darkness that covered Calvary, how at all those Masses those who were to be her children and the children of God would flock to the altars to receive her son in the Host – little children clothed in the white muslin and gossamer of their First Communion clothes, old people leaning upon their sticks, young men and women who would carry Christ in their hearts to face and conquer the workaday world.

She saw, too, how he would be carried into prisons and hospitals and concentration camps, to be given to the lonely and the sick and the dying.  And how in all these people, in every one of them, sinners as well as saints, Christ, her son, would live again and overcome the world.

So it was that when Jesus was taken down from the cross, Mary received her dead son into her arms and took the whole world to her heart.


Mary, mother of God,
receiving the dead body
of Jesus Christ, your son,
taken down from the cross
and laid in your arms,
receive us,
to whom he had given his life,
and lay us with him
and in him
upon your sinless heart.

We are sinners,
but save us from despondency
and despair.

Save us from morbidity
which kills the soul.

Save us from dwelling on the past.

Take our heads into your hands
and turn them gently
to look upon the light of God.

Let us feel the warmth and radiance
of that healing sun,
although we are still too weak
to bear the blaze of its glory.

By the dead body of Christ
laid in your arms,
save us from the death of sin.

Ask our Heavenly Father,
whose will is your will,
to restore us to life,
to Christ’s life in our souls,
so that in each one of us
you may see your only child,
the Child Jesus,
and give us the Heaven
of your tender love.

By the passion
and death
of your only son,
give us his life.

Make us new,
give us the trust of children,
give us the childhood of Christ.

Grant to us,
virgin mother,
a new Heaven and a new Earth,
because we see with his eyes,
hear with his ears,
work with his hands,
walk on his feet,
trust with his trust
in his Heavenly Father,
and love with his heart.

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