Christmas and the Cross

You have an interesting choice for this eight-nine pairing today: possibly the most programmed English-language congregational hymn on December 25th (but it can do double duty in Latin) and a sequence which finds most of its voice outside the Eucharistic liturgy.

Stabat refers to “standing,” and while this might mean a nativity hymn (Stabat Mater Speciosa), for clarity’s sake (and popularity), we’ll assume it’s the most commonly used piece, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” which we sing in English as “At the cross her station keeping …”

Edward Caswall was part of the Oxford Movement. In 1849, he adapted the Latin original in a somewhat loose way for the hymn we know in the vernacular:

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

This text may be sung on September 15th, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which you might be surprised to know is a relatively late addition to the Tridentine liturgical calendar. It is still observed today in the reformed liturgy.

The other choice, though centuries younger, has a somewhat misty and complex history. Like the “Stabat Mater,” it began as a Latin hymn. John Francis Wade is the likely composer, and the most common English translation is from another Oxford movement person, Father Frederick Oakeley.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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