Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ & Simeon’s Prophecy

I had the wonderful opportunity of seeing my wife’s favourite piece of art on Friday. After I was done work at the Vatican Library, we popped over to St Peter’s, and I beheld Michelangelo’s Pietà. This is one of the Florentine sculptor’s greatest masterpieces, alongside big, naked David, horny Moses, and the Sistine Chapel. I present it to you (in my wife’s own photo!) as large as this WordPress theme will allow:

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When I beheld this milky, silky, polished chef-d’oeuvre, I could not help but be overcome by emotion. It is a striking, powerful image. Mary is cradling her Son in her arms.

Yet he droops lifelessly.

Mary gestures to the viewer in her grief, her eyes cast down towards her lifeless, spent Son.

Here, at the Pietà all the sorrows of the world meet.

This is the depth of the reality of all human sorrow, compounded because this Son of hers was the Son of promise.

And what does that promise contain?

Because of its inclusion in Roman Rite Compline and Cranmer’s Evensong, the Song of Simeon, or Nunc Dimittis, is the most famous part of the old Israelite’s encounter with Christ in the Presentation in the Temple (Lk 2:29-32). However, Simeon also speaks a prophecy:

Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Lk 2:34-35, NKJV)

When I looked upon the Pietà, upon the grief of the Mother of Our Lord, upon the immediate, earthly aftermath of the terrible necessity that was wrought for our salvation, that verse struck me with force and vigour.

a sword will pierce through your own soul also

Here sits Mary, full of grace. Full of sorrow. For her Son is dead.

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