The Very First Way of the Cross

Even before the Passion was completed, Mary Most Holy passed through the places where Jesus had undergone intense suffering, gathering up, like precious stones, His inexhaustible merits.

Newsroom (13/03/2022 9:15 AM, Gaudium Press) Through these Lenten days, it is an opportune time to read this article presented here, viewing Mary within the Passion of Jesus, according to the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich:

Throughout the period when the Chief Priests and the Elders of the people, together with the turmoil stirred up by them, were roaring before Pilate’s Praetorium and demanding the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus, where was His Most Holy Mother?

To this question the Evangelists give no answer, and souls devoted to Mary, meditating on the Passion of the Divine Redeemer, feel the need to fill this vacuum. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich – a German Augustinian nun who died in 1824 and was beatified by St John Paul II in October 2004 – satisfies this legitimate longing with her famous visions of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

From them we have extracted the following account, with the necessary adaptations. [1]

Even before the Passion is completed

The Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich recounts that, while the successive episodes of the trial were taking place, the Mother of Jesus, with Mary Magdalene and the Apostle John, remained in a corner of the square, watching and listening, immersed in profound sorrow. And when Jesus was taken to Pilate’s Praetorium, the Blessed Virgin, together with John and Magdalene, went out to visit all the places where He had been since His arrest.

They went back to Caiaphas’ house, to Annas’ house, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and to the Garden of Olives. In all the places where Our Lord had fallen or had undergone some special suffering, they stood in silence, wept, and grieved for Him. More than once, the Virgin of Virgins prostrated herself and osculated the ground at the place where her Son had fallen. Magdalene wrung her hands, John wept and tried to console them. Then she led them away to another place.

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In this way began the devotion of the Way of the Cross and the honours paid to the mysteries of the Passion of Jesus, even before it was completed. It was in the holiest flower of humanity, in the virginal Mother of the Son of Man, that the Church’s meditation on the sufferings of the Divine Redeemer began.

Oh, what compassion! With what violence the sharp, piercing sword pierced Her Heart! She, whose blessed body had borne Him, whose blessed breasts had suckled Him, who had conceived Him and kept Him for nine months under her grace-filled Heart, who had borne Him and felt Him live in Her before men received from Him blessing, doctrine and salvation. She who shared all the sufferings of Jesus, including His ardent desire to redeem men by His sufferings and His Death on the Cross.

Thus it was that the pure and spotless Virgin inaugurated for the Church the devotion of the Way of the Cross, to gather up in all the places along that blessed path, as if they were precious stones, the inexhaustible merits of Jesus Christ and offer them to God the Father for the benefit of all the faithful.

All that was and will be holy in humanity was on view then: all those who sighed after the Redemption, all those who celebrated with respectful compassion and love the sufferings of our Saviour, all those who walked with Mary along the Way of the Cross, those who were afflicted, those who prayed, those who offered themselves up in holocaust in the Heart of the Mother of Jesus. Truly, She is also a tender Mother to all His brothers united by the same Faith in the bosom of the Holy Church.

Repentance of the Magdalene and the sufferings of John

Magdalene was as it were beside herself with the violence of sorrow. She had an immense and holy love for Jesus. But when she desired to pour out her soul at His divine feet, as she had poured the aromatic oil of nard on her head, she saw a horrible abyss opening between her and her Beloved. She felt a boundless repentance and gratitude, and when she wanted to raise her heart to Him, like the perfume of incense, she saw Jesus mistreated, led to his death because of the sins she had committed.

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She was deeply horrified by these sins for which Jesus had so much to suffer. She was plunged into the abyss of repentance, without being able to exhaust or fill it. She felt drawn back by her love for her Lord and Master, and saw Him delivered up to the most horrible torments. Thus, her soul was cruelly torn between love, repentance, gratitude, contemplation of the ingratitude of her people, and all these feelings were expressed in her way of walking, her words, her gestures.

The Apostle John loved and suffered. For the first time he was leading the Mother of his Master and of his God, who also loved him and suffered for him, on those marks of the Way of the Cross along which the Church was to follow her.

“If it be possible, let this cup be removed”.

Even though she well knew that the Death of Jesus was the only means to redeem mankind,” explains the Blessed Anne Catherine, “Mary was full of anguish and desire to free Him from suffering.

Just as Jesus – made Man and destined to be crucified of His own free will – suffered like any other man all the pains and tortures of an innocent man led to death and so ill-treated, Mary also suffered all the pains that can overwhelm a mother at the sight of a holy and virtuous son treated unjustly by an ungrateful and cruel people. She prayed that this immense crime would not take place. Like Jesus in the Garden of Olives, She said to the Heavenly Father: “If it be possible, let this cup pass.”

If it is possible… In the loving plan of the Blessed Trinity it was decided: the Incarnate Word of God had to drink, to the last drop, this cup of pain. It was not possible for the cup to pass. The Innocent One par excellence was condemned to the infamous torture of crucifixion. He lovingly carved the Cross and carried it to Calvary.

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The piercing encounter of the Mother with her Son

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich further describes the harrowing scene of the Mother’s meeting with her Son; she tells how, seeing Him covered with wounds, with the Cross upon His shoulders, She fell unconscious to the ground; and how three of the Holy Women, assisted by the Virgin Apostle John, carried Her back to the house from which they had left shortly before.

On seeing Herself separated once more from Her beloved Son, who proceeded with His heavy burden upon His shoulders and cruelly ill-treated, an immediate love and ardent desire to be near Him gave Her supernatural strength. She went with Her companions to the house of Lazarus, near the Angular Gate, where the other Holy Women were, groaning and weeping with Martha and Magdalene. From there they left, seventeen in number, to follow the Way of the Passion.

“I saw them”, says the Blessed Anne Catherine “full of gravity and resolution, indifferent to the insults of the crowd and respectful of their pain, crossing the Forum, covered with their veils, kissing the ground where Jesus had taken the Cross, then following the path He had taken. Mary and others who were receiving more light from Heaven were looking for the footprints of Jesus. Feeling and seeing everything with the help of an interior light, the Blessed Virgin guided them on this Via Dolorosa, Way of Sorrows, and all these places were vividly imprinted on their souls. She counted every step and indicated to Her companions the places consecrated by some painful circumstance.

* * * * *

The devotion of the Way of the Cross was borne, therefore, from the depths of human nature and from God’s intentions for His people, and not by any premeditated plan. As it were, it was inaugurated at the feet of Jesus, the first to walk it, through the love of the most tender of mothers.

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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