Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows. Ora pro nobis.
Stabat mater dolorosa
iuxta crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat filius.
(At the cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.) Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306
We pray today to Our Blessed Mother, that through our joining with her sorrows, we may find the joy of eternal salvation with Jesus Christ, Our Lord. We look to Mary as a model of forbearance and endurance, obedience and meekness, love, patience, and joyful suffering.
Our Lady of Sorrows
Fr. Francis Cuthbert Doyle, 1896
I. One of the Wise Man’s most pathetic exhortations is, that a son should never forget the travailing and the sorrows of his mother. In order, therefore, that we may bear in mind the bitter anguish which lacerated our Lady’s heart, we must reflect today upon that scene of woe in which her seven-fold sorrow culminated, in which the waters rose up around her, and closed over her head in a sea of anguish, such as never before flooded the heart of mortal man.
Jesus hung on the Cross, the outcast of His nation–a mark at which the vile rabble, and their still viler leaders, hurled their bitter taunts, and aimed their clumsy scorn. A galling wreath of thorns circled His head; His eyes were filled with blood; His hands and feet nailed tightly down to the cruel wood. The wickedness of a sinful world pressed heavily upon Him, and its ponderous weight well-nigh crushed Him Who upholds the universe. During His death agony, men scoffed and jeered at Him, taunting Him with impotence, and blaspheming Him most vilely; and all the while there stood by that death-bed of shame, Mary His Mother! He was Her Child; her blood flowed in His veins; her heart beat in unison with His. Those sacred features, now so sadly bruised and disfigured, were the exact counterpart of her own. That head, now crowned with thorns, had often nestled in her bosom. That tongue which now and then spoke through the darkness, had been taught by her to lisp its first accents. Between Him and her there had passed all that interchange of fond affection and tender love which takes place between a mother and the child of her bosom. Add to this the intense love with which she loved Him as her God, and we may truly say, there never could be love between mortal man and God greater than the love which existed between Jesus and Mary.
If, then, the natural effect of love is union, and if the greater the love the closer the union, we may form some idea of the agony which the sufferings of Jesus caused her heart. The thorns which made His temples throb with acute pain were as a circle of fire upon her brow. The nails which pierced His hands and feet fastened her also to His Cross. The foul language, the revilings, the scoffings, the blasphemies uttered against Him, were as a hail of fire upon her heart. Verily she was filled with His reproaches, and the revilings of them that reproached Him fell upon her. To what shall we compare her, or to what shall we liken the sorrow of this Virgin daughter of Sion? It is great as the sea. Who shall heal it? ‘O! all you that pass by the way, attend and see if there be sorrow like unto her sorrow.’
II. As we look at that ocean of sorrow, the bitter waters of which inundate her soul, we are forced to acknowledge that human words are but faint and inadequate symbols by which to indicate its depth and its breadth. Yet, though we may not be able to do this, we may at least turn our eyes with compassionate tenderness upon her, as she stands beneath the Cross, to see how she bears herself under its crushing weight, that so we also may learn how to suffer.
There are some to whom misfortune deals a blow so terrific that they are stunned and dazed by it. The insensibility which its violence produces, shields them from feeling the poignancy of the pain. It was not so with Mary. Though the magnitude of her grief surpassed all other human sorrows, yet she did not allow it so to master her as to make her swoon away, and thus be unable to feel the keenness of the sword which wounded and tortured her. Her grief, being calm and self-possessed, was on that very account all the more terrible, all the more bitter, because her mind fully adverted to all the circumstances which aggravated and brought it home more closely to her heart. Not one circumstance of those three cruel hours, during which the Saviour of the world slowly died before her eyes upon His Cross of shame, escaped her notice. Her chalice was indeed a deep and bitter one, but she drained it to the very dregs. She stood beneath that Cross!
Yet she was neither hard nor insensible. She sighed and wept, and would not be comforted; but her grief did not overwhelm her. Strong men had fled away from that spectacle. Some had turned away their eyes, that they might not witness the terrible anguish which that mutilated Victim endured. But Mary stood by Him to the end, and her tearful eyes looked up into His pallid face as it sank in death upon His breast.
O broken-hearted Mother! by the grief which then wrung thy maternal heart, by the fidelity which made thee stand by the Cross of Jesus, and bravely associate thyself with Him in His hour of ignominy and of pain, pray for us to God, that our hearts may be torn with true contrition for our sins. Mayest thou stand by us in the last hour of our life, and give us courage to pass through the portals of death to the feet of Our Judge.
III. From the sorrows of the most holy Mother of God, learn that all sorrow is the effect of sin. The first tears that ever dropped from the eyes of man were wrung from him by the bitter loss which he sustained on account of sin; and every tear that has since fallen, and gone to swell the tide of human woe, has had its origin in sin. Mary had never been guilty of sin. But sin seized upon and murdered her only Child; and therefore sin made her weep, we might almost say, tears of blood, upon the place dyed with the blood which she had given to Jesus Christ.
Look back at your life, and call to mind the numberless times in which you have sinned against your Lord. Each of these sins had its share in causing Mary’s bitter tears. They helped to strike down that thorny wreath upon the brow of Jesus; to wield the cruel scourge; to dig through the delicate hands and feet; to murder Him upon the Cross. They gave nerve to the executioner’s arm, and malice to the hypocritical Scribe, and words of scorn to the rabble that screamed and yelled around the Cross.
When, therefore, you contemplate the sorrows of our dearest Mother, fall upon your knees before her, look up into the face of your Saviour, smite your breast, ask pardon for having been the cause of His and of her sufferings; and promise that by resisting evil for the future, and by living a holy life, you will endeavour to blot out the evil of the past. If the merciful but just hand of God should chastise you for your sins by sending you sorrow to wring your heart with anguish, and to draw bitter tears from your eyes–Oh! lift up those eyes to the Cross on which Jesus hangs, beneath which Mary stands, and learn patiently to bear the trial. Weep with her over the work which your hands have done. Those tears are a sweet balsam to the wounds of Jesus; they are a consolation to the heart of His Mother; they are a health-giving fountain which will wash away the filth of sin, ‘and heal the stroke of its wound.’ (1)
The Seven Dolours
Different sorrows of Mary have been honored in the Church’s history, but since the 14th century these seven have commonly been regarded as the seven dolours (sorrows) of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
- The prophecy of Simeon
- The flight into Egypt
- The loss of the child Jesus for three days
- Meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary
- The crucifixion and death of Jesus
- Jesus being taken down from the cross
- Jesus being laid in the tomb.
Manual of Devotions
Translated by Fr. Ambrose St. John , 1861
Devotion to the Sorrows of our Blessed Lady dates from Calvary. The Apostolic Church clung round her whom Jesus had given to be its Mother, and ever remembered that it was amid the pains, the Blood, and the agonies of the Passion, that it had become the child of Mary–literally “the child of her Sorrows.” The chief characteristic, then, of the Church’s first love to our Lady was a deep, tender, loving, and child-like devotion to her Sorrows, and the Apostolic age bequeathed this exquisite feeling to succeeding times. But it was reserved for the thirteenth century, in many respects the grandest period in the history of religion, to develop this intuitive aflection, by giving it, as it were, a form, and uniting those most attached to this devotion in a confraternity, strongly recommended by the Church, and richly endowed with indulgences, and other favours by the Supreme Pontiffs.
It was in the year 1234. that seven holy men of Florence, retiring from that city into the cloister founded a religious Order, under the name of the Servites, or Servants of Mary, whose especial object was to honour the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin; nor was it long before Heaven miraculously proved that our Blessed Lord, the Man of Sorrows, was well pleased with this afifectionate devotion to her who had the most nearly and bitterly shared in His Passion.
This tender sympathy, and the consequent graces richly bestowed by Jesus and Mary, were however not to be confined to the cloister. A lay affiliation of the Servites of Mary was soon established; the habit, or scapular of our Lady of Sorrows, enriched with numerous indulgences, was eagerly sought after by thousands of all ranks. The Crown or Rosary of the “Sorrows” began to emulate the Dominican Rosary; in short, the Confraternity of the “Sorrows,” like the great Society of Mount Carmel, spread through Christendom, was in like manner encouraged by holy Popes, and in like manner drew down the favours of God, and the blessings of Mary, on untold thousands of rich and poor.
The great object of this Society is to nourish a loving sympathy with our Blessed Mother in her sufferings, and with her, and through her, to unite ourselves with Jesus bleeding and dying for us.
Those who wish to practise this devotion may be divided into two classes:
1st–Those who wear the black Scapular and receive her Crown or Rosary, and join from time to time in the Offices and devotions of her Sorrows.
2nd–Those who, in addition to the above, become enrolled members of the confraternity, with a good intention of regularly observing its rules.
It is with sincere pleasure, and heartfelt gratitude, that we have seen this beautiful devotion established in this country. It has lately been regularly organized as a canonical Confraternity at St. Patrick’s, Soho, London, where the first Feast of the Seven Sorrows has been solemnly kept. Of this we are certain, that in proportion as we, the Servants of Mary, compassionate her sufferings and meditate on her great Sorrows, while thus our love for her grows daily “more and more,” so also will our love for Jesus crucified still more continually increase. Private devotions will multiply, public Offices will be more regularly and more devoutly attended, and, as we confidently believe, Mary will show us a grateful love, and, with her own most marvellous blessing, will bless those who, by compassionating her Sorrows, show themselves the most truly to be her children, and give the sweetest consolation to her afilicted heart. (8)
Image:Seven Swords Piercing the Sorrowful Heart of Mary in the Church of the Holy Cross, Salamanca, Spain. (6)
Research by REGINA Staff