Notebook

Compassion

The requests put on our lips by the liturgy today, on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, are enormous. In the collect, ‘grant that your Church, participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, may merit a share in his Resurrection’; in the prayer after communion, ‘we humbly ask, O Lord, that […] we may complete in ourselves for the Church’s sake what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ’. These aren’t just words. They are pointers to the core of the Christian condition, where to be ‘passive’ is not to be inactive; on the contrary, incorporation into the Passion is the highest form of action, the presupposition for meaningful, effective Christian agency. We contemplate this truth in the ineffable compassion of Mary. Concepts fail to render its intensity. Music can hint at it, nowhere perhaps less inadequately than in Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. This version with Mirella Freni and Teresa Berganza is to my mind unsurpassed. Both singers are at the peak of their powers. But there is more than just virtuosity at work. Their mature voices enable the maternal mystery to be voiced with singular power.