Sacred Music Easter Sunday – Stabat Mater and Mahler


There is a lovely sacred text from the 13th century that has been set by composers for hundreds of years — the Stabat Mater, or Standing Mother, a Latin poem of twenty stanzas with three lines each (a tristich) which describes the pain of Mary in standing by the cross of Jesus and watching his agony. The original latin text uses the rhyme scheme AAB CCB and this particular translation maintains that pattern in the English setting.

My favorite reason for sharing this piece is for the sincerity of the poet who, after observing Mary’s anguish, asks for a visceral sharing of her grief and pain. It urges me to remember the blood and body of Christ that were sacrificed for my pain, sins, and immortality. (text and translation below)

If I only listen to this piece alone, I might be swallowed up in sadness and grief, so I like to follow it up with the finale of Mahler Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” as a way to remind myself of the sweetness, hope and joy that is found in the resurrection of our Savior, and all mankind.

I hope these works serve as a lovely soundtrack for your Easter weekend as we remember the prayers of Gethsemane, the death at Calvary and the triumphant empty tomb.



STABAT Mater dolorosa
iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.
AT, the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.
Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.
Quae maerebat et dolebat,
pia Mater, dum videbat
nati poenas inclyti.
Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.
Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?
Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Quis non posset contristari
Christi Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?
Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?
Pro peccatis suae gentis
vidit Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
she beheld her tender Child
All with bloody scourges rent:
Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.
For the sins of His own nation,
saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.
Eia, Mater, fons amoris
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.
O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:
Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.
Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.
Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:
Tui Nati vulnerati,
tam dignati pro me pati,
poenas mecum divide.
Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.
Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.
Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:
Iuxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.
By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.
Virgo virginum praeclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.
Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine;
Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere.
Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.
Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.
Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away;
Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii.
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
lest in flames I burn and die,
in His awful Judgment Day.
Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriae.
Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
by Thy Mother my defense,
by Thy Cross my victory;
Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animae donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen.
While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
safe in paradise with Thee. Amen.


  1. My sister sang this in a junior high school choir (no idea why the director chose this). She taught me the basic melodies of several segments and we used to sing them (for fun) together. Just one of my alltime very favorite pieces of music. And thanks for the English translation!

  2. The Stabat Mater is so beautiful, and I really like how the text asks God to enable us to feel the grief Mary felt at the cross. Music is to me, often the best approximation of the essence of things, and sacred music is so often the best means of bringing me into sacred space. People coming together to make music is one of the most beautiful things on earth to me. A symphony is a really great metaphor for lots of kinds of human collaboration to create things where the total is more than the sum of the parts, like we as individuals are more than the sum of our parts, and the body of Christ is more than the sum of its parts. There is a certain grace that comes from working together.

    And oh my goodness, the Mahler has it all! Orchestra, organ, choir, and soloists. It’s a joy to listen and watch.

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