Famous Nun Said Visions Showed Blessed Virgin Mary Initiated Way of the Cross
By Michael H. Brown
German stigmatic Anne Catherine Emmerich, declared "venerable by the Church in 2001 and author of revelations concerning the Crucifixion of Christ (revelations that also figure into a major upcoming movie), asserted that it was the Blessed Mother who established devotion to the Way of the Cross and that the Virgin shared a supernatural communication as well as great suffering with Jesus during His Passion.
In reputed visions during the 1800s, Venerable Emmerich, a nun in Dulmen who experienced a wide array of mystical phenomena (including the stigmata, or wounds of Christ, on Fridays), said she saw the Holy Mother retrace her Son's steps during His judgment before Herod, joining John and Magdalen in praying on the route Jesus had taken -- spots that had been sanctified by His footsteps.
"They again looked at the house of Caiphas, that of Annas, Ophel, Gethsemane, and the Garden of Olives," claimed the mystic, whose revelations have come to special light since reports that they play a part in a movie directed by Mel Gibson. "They stopped and contemplated each spot where He had fallen, or where He had suffered particularly; and they wept silently at the thought of all He had undergone. The Blessed Virgin knelt down frequently and kissed the ground where her Son had fallen, while Magdalen wrung her hands in bitter grief and John, although he could not restrain his own tears, endeavored to console his companions."
Thus was the holy practice of the Way of the Cross first instituted, claimed the mystic, and the mysteries of the Passion, since incorporated into the Rosary, first accomplished. "At each station, marked by the suffering of her Son, did she lay up in her heart the inexhaustible merits of His Passion, and gather them up as precious stones or sweet-scented flowers to be presented as choice offering to the Eternal Father," said Emmerich, whose revelations were often obtained in deep ecstasies during which she appeared comatose. Recorded by poet Clemente Brentano, they are contained in a book called The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ -- one of the most powerful revelations on the Crucifixion.
According to the nun, who died in 1824, Mary was herself endowed with supernatural gifts, especially locutions. "The Blessed Virgin was ever united to her Divine Son by interior spiritual communications," wrote Emmerich. "She was therefore fully aware of all that happened to Him -- she suffered with Him, and joined in His continual prayer for His murderers. But her maternal feelings prompted her to supplicate Almighty God most ardently not to suffer the crime to be completed, and to save her Son from such dreadful torments."
Emmerich described the Blessed Mother as wan and pale, eyes red, but with great, simple dignity -- her appearance placid and meticulous, her way of observing the landscape majestic. "Her beauty was great, but indescribable," said the mystic, "for it was superhuman -- a mixture of majesty, sanctity, simplicity, and purity." According to Emmerich, who experienced apparitions as well as visions that allegedly took her back to the days of Jesus, the Blessed Mother suffered so much interiorly that "more than once she became totally unconscious." Before the scourging, Mary stood with John, Magdalen, and the "holy women" in a corner of the forum, said Emmerich -- filled with motherly anguish but knowing how crucial His suffering was for redemption.
"At the termination of the scourging, Mary came to herself for a time, and saw her Divine Son all torn and mangled, being led away by the archers after the scourging," wrote the mystic. "He wiped His eyes, which were filled with blood, that He might look at His mother, and she stretched out he hands towards Him and continued to look at the bloody traces of His footsteps."
Like all revelations, these must be discerned and considered more inspiration than new gospel -- although at many junctures the manner of conversation all but perfectly complements what we know of the Crucifixion from Scripture. At one point in narrating what she was seeing, Sister Emmerich became extremely ill, oppressed with fever and so tormented by thirst that her tongue was parched and contracted. It was only with intervals of rest that she was able to relate the Crowning with Thorns, according to her biographers. She described a scene in which Pilate harangued the populace many times, but was interrupted by their loud cries for execution. So troubled was Pilate that he returned to the inner part of his palace to consult his gods and offer them incense.
There was the mob. There was the mockery, the laughing. The soldiers were spurred on by their applause and in the middle of the court, said Emmerich, Jesus was placed on a very low stool that was maliciously covered with bits of broken potsherds.
"Then they tore off the garments of Jesus, thereby reopening all His wounds, threw over His shoulders an old scarlet mantle which barely reached His knees, dragged Him to the seat prepared, and pushed Him roughly down upon it, having first placed the crown of thorns upon His head.
"The crown of thorns was made of three branches plaited together, the greatest part of the thorns being purposely turned inwards so as to pierce Our Lord's head. Having first placed these twisted branches on His forehead, they tied them tightly together at the back of His head, and no sooner was this accomplished to their satisfaction than they put a large reed into His hand, doing all with derisive gravity as if they were really crowning a king.
"They then seized the reed and struck His head so violently that His eyes were filled with blood; they knelt before Him, derided Him, spat in His face, and buffeted Him, saying at the same time, 'Hail, king of the Jews!' Then they threw down His stool, pulled Him up again from the ground on which He had fallen, and reseated Him with the greatest possible brutality."
This all took about half an hour, claimed Emmerich. The thirst was especially severe, brought on Jesus by a fever from His wounds. He trembled all over, she said; His tongue was contracted -- as was the mystic's when she described it; the only refreshment was the Blood that tricked from His head to His parched lips.
The sight of Him caused Pilate to shudder "with horror and compassion," claimed the mystic, but he was also cowed by the crowd and indecisive. The enemies of Jesus -- the High Priests, the Pharisees -- would have their way. Pilate left the matter up to his superstitious "gods" -- half frightened, half angry.
So was Christ prepared for the Cross.
Did Emmerich really see this? Was the mystic really transported backward in time?
"The Blessed Virgin, who had retired to some distance after the scourging of Jesus, again approached to hear the sentence of death pronounced upon her Son and her God," said Emmerich. "Jesus stood in the midst of the archers, at the foot of the staircase leading up to the tribunal. The trumpet was sounded to demand silence, and then the cowardly, the base judge, in a tremulous undecided voice, pronounced the sentence of death on the Just Man."