Mary's lesser-known Stabat: Speciosa

May 27, 2014
Source: District of the USA

Have you ever heard of the Stabat Mater speciosa, the joyful Marian hymn that contrasts the sorrowful Stabat Mater dolorosa?

Catholics are of course familiar with the Stabat Mater dolorosa (At the Cross her station keeping stood the mournful Mother weeping), the sequence for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady and the hymn sung during the Stations of the Cross. This Marian hymn focuses on the sorrowful sentiments of Our Lady while witnessing her Divine Son’s Passion.

However, many are perhaps unaware of the contrasting Marian song, Stabat Mater speciosa (The beautiful Mother stood joyously at the crib), considered by some to be one of the seven greatest Latin hymns of all time.

Taking its inspiration from the Gospel accounts, the Speciosa gives an account of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s joyful reaction to the Nativity of the Divine Babe. Thus, this Marian hymn is an admirable parallel of the sorrowful Dolorosa—just like the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are "the other side of the coin" for the Joyful Mysteries.

This Latin poem in tribute of the Blessed Mother dates from the 13th century and has been generally attributed to the Italian Franciscan poet, Fr. Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306). While his authorship of this Marian hymn has not been proven beyond a doubt, in consideration of the Franciscan’s general devotion to Our Lord’s Incarnation (stemming from their saintly founder’s love of His great humility and poverty), this would seem certainly probable.

In connection with this point, it might interest our readers to learn that this same devotion of the Franciscans was the cause of two particular practices being introduced (and later codified in 1570) into the Roman Mass:

  • the genuflection of celebrant during the Credo at the phrase “Et incarnatus est…”.
  • the inclusion of the Last Gospel, or Prologue of St. John (a historical account of Our Lord’s birth), also containing a genuflection for a similar verse about Christ’s incarnation.

In addition to an excerpt about both the Stabats, we offer below the Latin verses of the lesser-known Speciosa, as well as three modern compositions that have put these words to music.

Latin English

Stabat Mater speciosa
Iuxta foenum gaudiosa
Dum iacebat parvulus

Cuius animam gaudentem
Laetabundam et ferventem
Pertransivit iubilus

O quam laeta et beata
Fuit illa immaculata
Mater unigeniti!

Quae gaudebat et ridebat,
Exultabat cum videbat
Nati partum incliti

Quis est, qui non gauderet,
Christi Matrem si videret
In tanto solacio?

Quis non posset collaetari,
Piam Matrem contemplari
Ludentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Iesum cum iumentis,
Et algori subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem natum
Vagientum adoratum
Vili diversorio

Nati Christus in praesepe
Coeli cives canunt laete
Cum immenso gaudio

Stabat senex cum puella
Non cum verbo nec loquela
Stupescentes cordibus

Eia Mater, fons amoris
Me sentire vim ardoris
Fac, ut tecum sentiam

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
In amando Christum Deum
Ut sibi complaceam

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
Pone  nostro ducas plagas
Cordi fixas valide.

Tui nati coelo lapsi,
Iam dignati foeno nasci,
Poenas mecum divide.

Fac me tecum congaudere
Iesulino cohaerere
Donec ego vixero

In me sistat ardor tui
Puerino fac me frui
Dum sum in exilio

Hunc ardorem fac communem,
Ne me facias immunem,
Ab hoc desiderio.

Virgo virginum praeclara,
Mihi iam non sis amara
Fac me parvum rapere

Fac, ut portem pulchrum fortem
Qui nascendo vicit mortem,
Volens vitam tradere.

Fac me tecum satiari,
Nato tuo inebriari,
Stans inter tripudia

Inflammatus et accensus
Obstupescit omnis sensus
Tali decommercio.

Fac me nato custodiri
Verbo Christi praemuniri
Conservari gratia

Quando corpus morietur,
Fac, ut animae donetur
Tui nati visio. Amen.

The beautiful Mother
stood joyously at the crib
in which her child lay

Through her exultant soul
Dancing with joy
Went a song of rejoicing

O how jubilant and blessed
was the immaculate
Mother of the Only-begotten

O how happy and laughing
And exultant did she watch
The birth of her divine son

Who would not rejoice
If he saw the Mother of Christ
In such comfort?

Who would not jubilant too
Watching Christ's Mother
Playing with her son?

For the sins of His people
Amidst beasts of burden she saw
Jesus subjected to the cold.

She saw her sweet offspring
That she adored, crying
Swathed in cheap bandages

For just-born Christ in his crib
The angels sing joyously
And in great rejoicing

The old man stood at his young wife
Without speaking, and his heart
Filled with unspeakable wonder

Oh Mother, fountain of love
Make me feel your ardour
Let me share it with you.

Make my heart burn
With the love of Christ-God
And find grace in his eyes

Blessed Mother, be not harsh
Cause your sufferings
To be fixed deeply in my heart.

With your child from heaven
Let me share my part
Of the penance He deigns to bear

Make me rejoice with you,
and share the adoration of Jesus,
as long as I shall live

May your ardour fill me
May the child be my refuge
In my exile

Familiarize me with this ardour
Make that I do not turn
From this desire.

Virgin, most exalted among virgins,
Be not bitter towards me,
Let me take the child in my arms

Let me have the strength of him,
Who by his birth conquers death,
And is willing to give his life.

Let me be with you fulfilled,
Intoxicated with your first-born
Under such good omens.

Thus aflame with fire of love,
All feelings are silenced
By such selflessness

May the first-born protect me,
And Christ's word strengthen me,
And his blessing save me.

When my body dies,
Then let my soul behold,
The sight of your first-born. Amen.

The Speciosa

Entry from The Catholic Encyclopedia

An edition of the Italian poems of Jacopone published at Brescia in 1495 contained both Stabats; but the Speciosa fell into almost complete oblivion until A.F. Ozanam transcribed it from a 15th-century manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale for his Poetes Franciscains en Italie au Treizieme siecle, Paris, 1852.

He thought Jacopone had composed both Stabats at the same time; and remarking of the Dolorosa that "this incomparable work would have sufficed for the glory of Jacopone", he confesses that he gave up the attempt to translate the Speciosa in verse, and concluded to present both hymns in simple prose, because "the untranslatable charm of the language, of the melody, and of the old quaintness, I feel are escaping me".

The Anglican hymnologist, Dr. J. M. Neale, introduced the Speciosa to the English-speaking world in 1866, and ascribed it to Jacopone. Dr. Schaff dissents. "This is improbable. A poet would hardly write a parody on a poem of his own."

Noting the unfinished style and the imperfect rhyme of the Speciosa, Neale thought it indicated the work of an apprentice shaping his hand to the work of Latin verse—in which case it must have preceded the Dolorosa, which is a perfect piece of work. Schaff, however, points out that the opening words of the Dolorosa were borrowed from the Vulgate Latin (John 19:25) "with reference to Mary at the Cross, but not at the Cradle", and also that the sixth line, "Pertransivit gladius", might have suggested the similar line of the Speciosa, "Pertransivit jubilus", but not vice versa. Coles doubts "a simultaneous birth, or even a common parentage".

In his "Essay on Minor Rites and Ceremonies" Cardinal Wiseman seized on the parallelism of contrast in the two poems—similarity of form and phrase, and complete antithesis of theme and thought. Finally, it should be said that the great ruggedness of the Speciosa may be due to the carelessness of copyists.

Some musical selections available on YOUTUBE: