Mary's Little Office

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


In the only book on the faith I will ever put together I don't want to deprive the reader of what I view, notwithstanding its crudity―perhaps because of ?―as an artful portrayal of the great historical event that preceded, and led to, the Resurrection, a depiction if not inspired by God, inspiring nonetheless.
William F. Buckley Jr.
Nearer My God
Doubleday, 1997


Part One

Four men, seemingly more worthy of death on the cross than the condemned men, jump from a path onto the place of the execution. They are wearing short sleeveless tunics and in their hands they are holding nails, hammers, and ropes, which they show to the condemned men, scoffing at them. The crowd is excited with cruel frenzy.

The centurion offers Jesus the amphora, so that He may drink the anesthetic mixture of myrrhed wine. But Jesus refuses it. The two robbers however drink a lot of it. Then the amphora, with a wide flared mouth, is placed near a large stone, almost on the edge of the summit.

The condemned men are ordered to undress. The two robbers do so without shame. On the contrary they amuse themselves making obscene gestures towards the crowd and in particular towards a group of priests, who are all white in their linen garments and who have gone back to the lower open space little by little, taking advantage of their cast to creep up there.

The executioners offer the condemned men three rags, so that they may tie them round their groins. The robbers take them, uttering horrible curses. Jesus, who strips Himself slowly because of the pangs of the wounds from His flogging, refuses them. Perhaps He thinks that He can keep on the short drawers, which He had on during the flagellation. But when He is told to take them off as well, He stretches out His hand to receive the rag of the executioners, to conceal His nakedness.

But Mary has noticed everything and has removed the long thin white veil covering her head under her dark mantle, on which she has already shed so many tears. She removes it without letting her mantle drop and gives it to John so that he may hand it to Longinus for her son. The centurion takes the veil without any objection. He sees that Jesus is about to strip Himself completely, turning to the side where there are no people, His back, furrowed with bruises and blisters, to the crowd. The back is covered with sores and dark crusts that are bleeding again. The centurion gives Him His mother's linen veil. Jesus recognizes it and wraps it round His pelvis several times, fastening it carefully so that it will not fall off. And on the linen veil, so far soaked only with tears, the first drops of blood begin to fall, because many of the wounds, covered with blood-clots, reopened again as He stooped to take off His sandals and lay down His garments, and blood is streaming down again.

Part Two

Jesus now turns towards the crowd and one can see that His chest, legs, and arms have also been struck by the scourges. At the height of His liver there is a huge bruise, and under His left costal arch there are seven clear stripes in relief, ending with seven small cuts bleeding inside a violet circle, a cruel blow of a scourge in such a sensitive region of the diaphragm. His knees, bruised by repeated falls that began immediately after He was captured, are dark with hematoma and the knee-caps are torn, particularly the right one, by a large bleeding wound. 

The crowds scoff at Him in chorus, O Handsome! The most handsome of the sons of men! The daughters of Jerusalem adore you!" And in the tone of a psalm they chant:

"My beloved is fresh and ruddy, to be known among ten thousand. His head is purest gold, His locks are palm fronds, as silky as the feathers of ravens. His eyes are like two doves bathing in streams not of water, but of milk, in the milk of His orbit. His conversation is drenched with sweetness and He is altogether delightful."

And they laugh and shout also: "The leper! The leper! So have you fornicated with an idol, if God has struck you so? Have you mumbled against the saints of Israel? Are you the Son of God? . . . Certainly not. Your are the abortion of Satan! At least he, Mammon, is powerful and strong. 
You . . . are in rags, you are powerless and revolting."

The robbers are tied to the crosses and are carried to their places, one to the right, one to the left, leaving the place destined for Jesus. They howl, swear―particularly when the crosses are carried to the holes, making the ropes cut into their wrists―curse out their oaths against God, the Law, the Romans, the Judaeans.

It is Jesus' turn. He lies on the cross meekly. The two robbers were so rebellious that, as the four executioners were not sufficient to hold them, some soldiers had to intervene to prevent them from kicking away the torturers who were tying their wrists to the cross. But no help is required for Jesus. He lies down and places His head where they tell Him. He stretches out His arms and His legs as He is told. He takes care only to arrange His veil properly. Now His long, slender white body stands out against the dark wood and the yellow ground.

Two executioners sit on His chest to hold Him fast. A third one takes His right arm, holding Him with one hand on the first part of His forearm and the other on the tips of His fingers. The fourth one, who already has in his hand the long sharp-pointed quadrangular nail, ending with a round flat head as big as a large coin of bygone days, watches whether the hole already made in the wood corresponds to the joint of the wrist. It does. The executioner places the point of the nail on the wrist, he raises the hammer and gives the first stroke.

Part Three

Jesus, who had closed His eyes, utters a cry and has a contraction because of the sharp pain. He opens His eyes, flooded with tears. The nail penetrates, tearing muscles, veins, nerves, shattering bones.

Mary replies to the cry of her tortured son with a groan that sounds almost like the moaning of a slaughtered lamb; and she bends, as if she were crushed, holding her head in her hands. In order not to torture her, Jesus utters no more cries. But the strokes continue, methodical and hard, iron striking iron . . . it is a living limb that receives them.

The right hand is now nailed. The executioners pass on to the left one. The hole in the wood does not correspond to the carpus. So they take a rope, they tie it to the left wrist and pull it until the joint is dislocated, tearing tendons and muscles, lacerating skin already cut into by the ropes used to capture Him. The other hand must suffer as well, because it is stretched as a consequence of the movement, and the hole in it widens round the nail. Now the beginning of the metacarpus, near the wrist, hardly arrives at the hole. They resign themselves and nail the hand where they can, between the thumb and the other fingers, just in the middle of the metacarpus. The nail penetrates more easily here, but with greater pain because it cuts vital nerves, so that the fingers remain motionless whilst those of the right hand have contractions and tremors that denote their vitality. But Jesus no longer utters cries, He only moans in a deep hoarse voice with His lips firmly closed while tears of pain drip onto the ground after falling on the wood.

It is now the turn of His feet. At two meters and more from the foot of the cross there is a small wedge, hardly sufficient for one foot. Both feet are placed on it to see whether it is the right spot. It is a little low and the feet hardly reach it, so they pull the Martyr by His ankle bone. The coarse wood of the cross rubs on the wounds, moving the crown that tears His hair once again and is on the point of falling off. One of the executioners presses it down on His head again with a slap. 

Those who were sitting on Jesus' chest get up to move to His knees because Jesus, with an involuntary movement, drew up His legs on seeing the very long nail, twice as long and thick as those used on his hands, shine in the sunshine. They place their weight on His flayed knees and press on His bruised shins while the other two are performing the much more difficult operation of nailing one foot on top of the other, trying to combine the two joints of the tarsi. 

Although they try to keep the feet still, holding them by the ankles and toes on the wedge, the foot underneath shifts away by the vibrations of the nail and they almost have to draw the nail out. The nail, which has pierced the tender parts of the right foot and is already blunt, is to be moved a little closer to the centre. And they hammer, and hammer, and hammer . . . Only the noise of the hammer striking the head of the nail is heard, because all Calvary is nothing but eyes and ears to perceive acts and hear noises, and to rejoice.

The harsh noise of iron is accompanied by the low plaintive lament of a dove: the hoarse groaning of Mary, who bends more and more at the sound of each stroke, as if the hammer were wounding her. She about about to be crushed by such torture.

To Be Continued

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