Triste Est Anima Mea Usque Ad Mortem

When I was a teenager, I got the idea in my head to write a play about the Passover, but with a twist. Set in the early 1940’s in the Pasadena area, during World War II, the play envisioned a romantic triangle between a beautiful and elegant young woman and two young men. One of the young men is a socially awkward but decent fellow, who shares the same religious beliefs as the young woman, and the other young man is a bully and a troublemaker who later goes off to the war. The key scene of the play was to occur on Passover, as the parents of these young people went off to celebrate the Passover, leaving them at home to reflect upon the evening and its meaning and its enchantment, and so the play was to be titled “Enchanted Evening.” I had mapped out at least part of the plot of the play, but for a variety of reasons, I have never written the play, not least of which is because the matter of love triangles and even more complicated polygons is far too grim and oppressive a matter for me to reflect upon with any degree of lightheartedness and carefree feelings, and by the time I entered far into adulthood, the aftermath of my baptism had made it feel particularly inappropriate to write a play about the complications of romantic love clashing the seriousness and solemnity of the Passover, with its weight of the reflection on the death of Jesus Christ for our sins.

One of the many Passover-related texts in the Gospels is the passage in Matthew 26:36-46, where Jesus pours out his sorrowful soul to His Father while His disciples nap in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.””

From this text, along with some free versification, a Latin text was used for today’s Catholic religious services. The Latin goes as follows, after which I will attempt to translate [1]:

Responsorium:

Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem:
sustinete hic et vigilate mecum.
Iam videbitis turbam quæ circumdabit me.
Vos fugam capietis, et ego vadam immolari pro vobis.

Versus:

Ecce appropinquat hora, et Filius Hominis
Tradetur in manus peccatorum.

And, translated, as best as my modest skills allow:

[Response, in the first person]

Sad is my soul, even unto death:
Stay here and watch with me.
Soon you will see the crowd that will surround me.
You all will run away, and I will go to be sacrificed for you all.

Verse:

This is the appropriate hour, and the Son of Man
Is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

While at work today, I got to listen to one of my coworkers open up about himself to a stranger on the phone. He talked about the damage that had occurred when he went through a windshield as a child, a threat I faced in a car accident as a six month old, and the fact that he lives in constant suffering, and is looking forward to the end result of dozens of surgeries and the increasing loss of cartilage to his spine, namely about a decade left of walking before he becomes paralyzed. Not being the sort of person who wishes to talk about my own personal life with very many people I work with, nor being the sort of person who wishes to be too nosy about the affairs of others, I had not been aware of this particular difficulty, although he had been honest about his father’s alcoholism and his own dysfunctional family background, matters I understand all too well. After all, as Isaiah 53:4-6 reads:

“Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

This is a familiar text, but one that is still worthy of being reflected on. There are many of us who trudge about in our daily lives struggling with heavy burdens, longing for the peace that God can bring, even if He does not always speedily give us a way out of our difficulties. Many of us are sorrowful unto death. It is easy for us to gripe about the fact that we often suffer because of the sins and faults of others. At times, we may gripe about the suffering we have fully earned through our own folly and error. Yet it is hard, if not impossible, to truly fathom the fact that the only way we have to enter into salvation is through the sacrifice of the only perfect Man who ever lived for our sins. A just God requires death as the wages of the sins we have all committed, and only the death of His Son could pay the price for us so that we could live. The heaviness of our own sins, of our own suffering, is enough to drive many of us to the edge of despair, if not beyond. And yet Jesus Christ bore all of our suffering, a depth of grief and anguish that is impossible to fathom, a burden that is impossible to even comprehend. I hope my coworker may find healing for his broken body, but at least he was able at least to present an appearance of peace to others, at least to a stranger on a phone. We are not all so fortunate as to be able to present the appearance of such a peace, even on such a day as this.

[1] Melamed, Daniel R. (1995). J.S. Bach and the German Motet. Cambridge University Press. pp. 148–149. ISBN 0-52-141864-X.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, History, Love & Marriage, Music History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Triste Est Anima Mea Usque Ad Mortem

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