What Language Shall I Borrow to Thank Thee, Dearest Friend?

“Greater love has no man than this: that He lay down his life for His friends.” John 15:13.


One of the most beautiful of the Good Friday hymns is “O Sacred Head now Wounded.” It is often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, but was more likely written by another Cistercian named Arnulf of Leuven (c. 1200–1250). The English translation below was done in 1830 by James Waddel Alexander (1804-1859).

The words of the hymn remind us not only of the depth of Christ’s love, but also that He suffers because of our sins.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43).

I find that I have a picture in my head of what a “good” Triduum should look like. After prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent, I should approach the Triduum services with a sort of perfect spiritual readiness and focus. In fact, however, the Apostles fell asleep when Jesus prayed, and fled when He was arrested. The “good thief” is the one who recognized his own unworthiness and the injustice of Jesus’ suffering. And I think that the more we approach the Good Friday services knowing how far we fall short, the closer we come to really experiencing what those closest to Christ felt, rather than withdrawing into a sentimental fantasy.

I have found this hymn a source of consolation over the years, a meditation that brings me into closer contact with the reality of my own sin and of what Christ suffered to save us. I hope others will also find it helpful on this day, when we remember in a particular way the moment when Christ laid down His life for us, His friends.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory,
what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee,
Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee
and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish
that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished
their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished
the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor,
hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor,
Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion,
Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression
which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee,
wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee;
Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow
to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me;
my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me,
O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me
with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me
to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee,
from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me!
When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish
in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish,
Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken,
above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken
I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring
Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring,
I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me
when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me,
forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish,
oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish
by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation,
my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion
when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,
upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee.
Who dieth thus dies well.

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