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All About Mary

Stabat Mater, Origins

Q: Could you give me information on the "Stabat Mater" written by Jacopone da Todi?

A: Are you talking about 'Stabat Mater' history, music, poetry, theology -- or all of these. Remember, Jacopone da Todi (+1306) may not be the author. There is a competition in the person of Bonaventure. Two Franciscans fighting over ownership of the same!

The complete version is twenty stanzas, the editio brevis counts ten. The latter begins with the verses: "Sancta Mater, istud agas, crucifici fige plagas / cordi meo valide." The brief version seems to indicate that the "Stabat" originally was not meant to be a liturgical chant but an expression of individual affective spirituality. It proceeds from the meditation of Mary's vividly painted station under the cross (1-10) to a personal assimilation of Mary's suffering (11-17) on to the devotee's consideration of his own death.

The "Stabat Mater" can be found in missals and graduals (14 - 16 c) before it qualifies as liturgical text under Benedict XIII in 1727, when the feast of Mary's Seven Dolors entered the Roman Missal and thus acquired binding character for the whole Latin Church for September 15. It should not be forgotten that the "Stabat Mater" was put to music by famous composers such as Josquin de Prez, Palestrina, Pergolesi, Haydn, Schubert, Verdi, Liszt and Dvorak.

Theologically, the "Stabat" is clustered, in the beginning, around John 19:25 and Luke 2:35, like type and anti-type (1-2). The following strophes (3-5) are a repetitive meditation alternating Passio Christi and Compassio Mariae. The meditation is followed by a series of petitions presented by the devotee seeking empathy and identification with Mary's compassion. They culminate in the prayer for christoformity, meaning the grace of salvation at life's end.

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