The Seven Last Words of Christ
A Devotion for Holy Week
In the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries in Peru developed a service of meditations for Good Friday based on the seven recorded utterances of Jesus from the Cross. Based on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, this Good Friday devotion developed into a three-hour service of preaching. Haydn was asked to compose music for use on Good Friday in the Cathedral in Cadiz and he described the service thus:
At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse.
Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, as we enter upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I. Pater dimite illis nessiunt
enim quid faciunt.
O my people,
what have I done unto thee?
Because I led
thee through the desert forty years,
At that time, Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. And the soldiers led him away.... [Mark 15:15-16a]
When they came to the place
which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the
criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
II. Hodie mecum eris in Paradiso.
I love the Lord, because he has heard the
voice of my supplication,*
The cords of death entangled me; the grip
of the grave took hold of me;*
Then I called upon the Name of the Lord:*
Gracious is the Lord and righteous;*
I will walk in the presence of the Lord *
O Master, Lord Jesus Christ our God, You made a way into Paradise for the penitent thief, and by death destroyed death: Cleanse us, your unworthy servants, for we fall into sin continuously and are not worthy to lift up our eyes and look upon the heights of heaven. Forgive us for departing from the path of righteousness and following the desires of our own hearts. [From the Prayers of the Ninth Hour of the Orthodox Office]
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation: And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” [Luke 23:39-43]
III. Mulier, ecce filius tuus. Ecce Mater
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him…. Inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple…when the parents brought in the child Jesus….and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also….) [Luke 2: 25,27a,34-35a]
At the cross her station keeping,
For her soul of joy bereaved,
While Jesus was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the one who told him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” [Matthew 12:46-50]
Who on Christ’s dear Mother gazing,
Who on Christ’s dear Mother thinking,
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his
mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and
Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom
he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold,
your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” [John 19:25b-27a]
IV. Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani.
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger. [Lamentations 1:12]
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago…. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Gone is my glory, and my expectation from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall! [Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-21]
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness
over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour
Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:45-46]
As the deer longs for the waterbrooks,*
My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the
While my bones are being broken,*
All day long they mock me*
Reproach has broken my heart, and it cannot
They gave me gall to eat,*
O my people, what have I done unto thee?
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now
accomplished, to fulfill the scripture said, “I thirst.” [John 19:28]
VI. Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum
“I called to the Lord, out of my distress,
There was darkness over the whole
land…while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple
was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” [Luke 23:44b-46a]
VII. Consummatum est.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” …And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished…. [Genesis 1:26-28, 31—2:1a].
Sunset to sunrise changes now,
Here in o’erwhelming final strife
When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. [John19:30]