Pietà | Friday, December 21
Scripture: Luke 2:7; John 19:25
“And Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarotti (1498–1499)
Just after his 24th birthday, a little-known sculptor named Michelangelo Buonarotti set chisel to a twelve-ton block of Carrara marble that would become the beautiful Pietà. When it was unveiled the following year, Pietà assured Michelangelo’s notoriety in his day as well as the reputation as the greatest sculptor of all time. Many have written about this masterwork, but here we will notice just a few things.
As she holds the body of her crucified son, the main part of Mary’s body is actually far larger than Jesus’ body. By making Jesus’ body smaller than his mother’s, Michelangelo quietly reminds us of a mother holding a child on her lap. So this moment at the end of Jesus’ earthly life harkens back to Jesus’ birth, giving us the feeling of young Mary holding her newborn son in her lap. This merging of Christ’s birth and death is strengthened by Mary’s youthful face – though she has a 33-year-old son, she looks like a new mother, quiet and adoring of her precious child.
The setting of mother and son is idealized and beautiful, despite its sadness. While most depictions of Christ’s death focus on his suffering and wounds, here Michelangelo draws our attention away from any blood or ugliness of death. Instead, with no blood shown and the smallest of wounds in Christ’s hands and feet, we are invited to keep our attention on the intimate relationship between mother and child. Mary is portrayed not in uncontrolled weeping but is instead serene in her grief. The sculptor wants us to experience the beauty and contentment of godly sacrifice.
Silence for Reflection
- Think of the suffering that has happened (or is happening) in your life – how much peace do you feel about it today?
- In what way(s) do people claim what God has done as their own creation? In what ways do you do this? What might God want you to do to change this?
Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, help me to embrace the mystery of your dying for me. You, God, are the parent most have only dreamed of, who gives without tally, serves without regret, and loves without condition. Help me to see the beauty of your sacrifice, and give me the blessing of your peace in any circumstance. Amen.