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Jesus Christ Pantokrator
Agony in the Garden by El Greco

The seven sayings of Jesus on the cross

Ten years ago, I published a post on the Canonical hours and noted that literary critic Northrop Frye suggested that these words: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” expressed the very essence of the tragic mode. They expressed:

a sense of his exclusion, as a divine being from the society of the Trinity.

Northrop Frye [1]

Jesus was no longer God.

The seven sayings are:

The seven sayings, being “last words”, may provide a way to understand what was ultimately important to this man who was dying on the cross.

(See Sayings of Jesus on the cross, Wikipedia.)

They do. The sayings of Jesus on the cross epitomize the burden of incarnation. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and had to leave the Garden of Eden, but they would be redeemed. Not only was Jesus made flesh, but he died a cruel death: crucifixion.

The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, commemorates the Last Supper. It invites an anamnesis. The host, l’hostie, represents the body of Christ. « Le Christianisme (…) utilise le pain pour représenter le corps de Jésus-Christ ».

“[D]o this in remembrance of me.”
« Ensuite il prit du pain; et, après avoir rendu grâces, il le rompit, et le leur donna, en disant: Ceci est mon corps, qui est donné pour vous; faites ceci en mémoire de moi (Luc 22 : 19).

During the Last Supper, Jesus of Nazareth knew that he had been betrayed and that he would be arrested. He was alone when his agony began.

The Canonical Hours

As for the nine (originally seven) Canonical Hours, they constitute vigilance. At the Garden of Gethsemane, during his agony, Jesus’ disciples would not keep watch with Him. Jesus was abandoned (See Matthew 26: 36 – 46).

Now Cenobite Monks, Monks who live under an abbey, observe nine Hours. Vigil was added, which precedes Matins. Monks keep watch night and day. Jesus, the Redeemer was a man and vulnerable. Vigils are kept the day or evening before Feasts. They may include or be replaced by fasting.

The Canonical hours are:

It is my understanding that the evening song or, evensong, comprises the Nunc Dimittis, Simeon’s song of praise. It is a canticle. The Hours are mostly Psalms, but include Antiphons, Responsories and Canticles.

“Why hast Thou forsaken me?”

This saying is Matthew 27: 46 & Psalm 22:1, but in my French psautier, the relevant Psaume is numbered 21. In my Bible, however, the same Psalm is numbered 22 (21):

« Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, pourquoi m’abandonner ? »
Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?
[Why hast Thou forsaken me?]

Jesus was a Jew and he spoke Aramaic. Eli would be Elijah. These words were uttered when Jesus was dying on the cross. In the ninth hour he said: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? They are the fourth of seven sayings of Christ on the Cross (Les Sept Paroles du Christ).


On the cross, Jesus, God the Son, fully assumed his humanity, the incarnation. His disciples would not keep watch with him during his agony (Matthew 26: 36 – 46), and he was crucified (Psalm 22: [21]). All His sayings on the cross express the human condition, but none so powerfully as: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” In « L’Isolement », Alphonse de Lamartine wrote: « Un seul être vous manque, et tout est dépeuplé » (Only one being is missing, and all is a wasteland). Lamartine borrowed this line from Nicolas-Germain Léonard (1844 – 1893). On the death of his daughter, Lamartine also wrote Gethsémani ou La Mort de Julia: « C’était le seul anneau de ma chaîne brisée » (She was the only link in my broken chain). Why hast Thou… Père, père

I learned liturgy and liturgical music as a student of musicology and the theory of music. Jesus’ sayings on the cross have been set to music by several composers (see Sayings of Jesus on the cross, Wikipedia). To this body of music, Théodore Dubois (1837 – 1924) contributed: Les Sept Paroles du Christ, an Oratorio.


[1] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1957]), p. 36.


Love to everyone 💕

Les Sept Paroles du Christ de Théodore Dubois interprété par l’Ensemble vocal Abbaye de la Cambre
Bronzino‘s depiction of the crucifixion with three nails, no ropes, and an hypopodium standing support, c. 1545. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
30 March 2021