There are two days we commemorate the dry martrydom of Our
Lady --- September 15 and today. The Mass in September is devoted more
specifically to her Seven Sorrows, they being:
The Prophecy of
The Flight into Egypt
The Loss of Jesus in the Temple
The Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross
The Taking Down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross
Jesus laid in the Tomb
sorrows are often represented in art by a sword -- or seven swords --
piercing Mary's heart. This relates to the
prophecy of the old man Simeon we heard about at Candlemas, when, after Our
Lady pesented the Child Jesus to him, he told her, "Behold this child
is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and
for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall
pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed."
The Seven Sorrows, in particular, are more the focus of
September Mass than today's; the Mass today focuses more on her
and what she suffered during the first Passiontide. In other words, the
feeling of the day is akin to what one feels when looking at
Michelangelo's Pieta. To that end, the
Sequence read after the Epistle, Gradual, and Tract consists of the
haunting Stabat Mater, the text
of which was written by St. Thomas Aquinas.
In some places,
a "Via Mater," like the "Via Crucis" ("Way
of the Cross") may be found, with seven stations at which one may see
artistic representations of and meditate on each of Mary's sorrows.
Such a devotion can be made in one's Mary
Garden or home if it isn't publicly available.
In many parts of Mexico, it is custom to set up an altar to Our Lady of
Sorrows, with her image, white candles, chamomile flowers, pink
flowers, and calla lilies (there are so many Catholics in Mexico, that
the people in neighborhoods make tours of each others' altars, and
fruit drinks are served to visitors. Public, communal altars are set
up, too.) This custom provides a break in the veiling of images during
Meditation on the Seven
Sorrows of Mary
By Donald Fantz, Angelus Magazine
First Sorrow: Simeon's Prophecy
Every life has elements of mixed joy and sorrow. Certainly Mary and
Joseph are filled with joy as they travel the day's journey from
Bethlehem to Jerusalem to offer Mary's First-Born to the service of His
Father. According to Jewish custom, they "ransomed" Him back by
offering two turtle doves as sacrifices to Almighty God. The joy of
Mary seems to overflow as the aged Simeon receives her in the Temple
and, taking the Child from her arms, looks heavenward with praise to
the Almighty for sparing him until he saw the salvation "prepared
before the faces of all peoples: a light of revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for Thy people Israel."
From the height of her joy, Mary's heart suddenly sinks, as Simeon
glances first to the Child, then straight into her eyes. "This Child is
set for the rise and the fall of many ... a sign of contradiction . . .
thine own soul a sword shall pierce . . ." Mary knows that her Son is
to suffer. She knows that He will be lifted up. Simeon makes it
painfully clear, as he reminds her of her Son's mission. "She pondered
these things in her heart."
O, Mary, help me to understand the purpose of
suffering in my life.
Second Sorrow: The Flight into Egypt
After returning to Bethlehem, the Holy Family is visited by the Magi.
Shortly after their departure, Joseph is warned by an angel to "take
the Child and His Mother and flee into Egypt." Already, jealous Herod's
soldiers seek the Child. Joseph and Mary hurry a few blocks from their
temporary home to a nearby cave, where Mary nurses her Babe in what has
since become known to the local people as the "Milk Grotto." As they
continue their journey out of town and head towards the Egyptian
border, the terrible sounds of the slaughter ring in Mary's ears. Even
Rachel mourns from her grave the Innocents of Bethlehem. Mary wonders:
"Is this to be His time, at this age?" The only alternative is to flee
quickly to the unfriendly Egyptians, the former captors of her people.
Is it possible that only the Sphinx looks down in silent approval as
they pass into Pharoah's land? Jeremia the Prophet speaks for Mary:
"Bitterly she weeps at night, tears upon her cheeks, with not one to
console her of all her dear ones; her friends have all betrayed her and
become her enemies. 'Look, O Lord, upon my distress: all within me is
in ferment, my heart recoils within me from my monstrous rebellion. In
the streets the sword bereaves, at home death stalks. Give heed to my
groaning; there is no one to console me.' " And yet, through this trial
Mary still has Emmanuel with her. She knows that all will be
accomplished in God's time. This gives her the security of peace in her
sorrow. The Scripture will be fulfilled: "I have called My Son out of
Egypt, that salvation may come to Israel."
O, Mary, help me to stay close to your Divine Son
when I feel most abandoned.
Third Sorrow: The Loss of Jesus
Again, the joy of traveling, this time for several days, from Nazareth
to the Temple in Jerusalem for the great feast. These were especially
happy times for Mary, reunited with her own people, living with Jesus
and Joseph. The feast ends; the return to Nazareth commences in the
early morning. The caravan of women moves ahead north of the Holy City.
The men follow in their caravan. They sing Psalms praising God,
exchange news and laughter, as the trip progresses. Both groups meet in
their encampment at the end of the day. As night falls, Mary and Joseph
find each other and realize with horror that Christ is not in their
company. They search through both camps to no avail. "Have you seen
Him? He is only twelve years old." Each time the reply is negative.
Mary remembers the words of Simeon and the Lamentations of Jeremia the
Prophet: "The Lord has done as He decreed: He has fulfilled the threat
He set forth from days of old; He has destroyed and had no pity,
letting the enemy gloat over you and exalting the horn of your foes.
Cry out to the Lord; moan, O daughter of Sion! Let your tears flow like
a torrent day and night; let there be no respite for you, no repose for
your eyes." Mary feels terror and panic. "This must be His hour," she
thinks. In His boyhood hurts, even in the flight to Egypt, Jesus was
with her. Now, for the first time, He is gone. Nonetheless, she knows
that the Eternal Father knows all things, and this gives her peace. Her
confidence is rewarded three days later when she and Joseph find Jesus
in the midst of the doctors in the Temple.
O Mary, help me to keep peace of soul, even when
searching for Jesus in my life.
Fourth Sorrow: Mary meets Jesus on the Road to Calvary
It is coming soon. She senses that now. The Pharisees have become
increasingly resentful towards Him. She is praying over these things
when the knock comes at the door. "They have taken Him! They have taken
Him!" She wraps her veil tightly around her face and runs into the
night with her friend. They reach Caiphas' house in time to see Jesus
pushed up the steps. She overhears Peter: "I know not the Man!" She
meets John, who leads her towards the praetorium of Pilate. She waits
through the night as reports are brought to her of Jesus' scourging.
Once again Simeon's words thrust at her as so many arrows. She prays
the psalm: "My heart has become like wax melting away within my bosom."
The long night passes into gray dawn and still she keeps her vigil.
Then she hears Pilate's words to the crowd from the arch: "Behold the
Man!" She can scarcely recognize Him as the crowd roars for His death.
He does not yet see her. She wants it that way— to spare Him the pain.
She sees the rough cross-timber dragged to a point below the arch. She
watches the soldiers laughingly lead her Son to the cross. He can
scarcely walk. He stumbles, He falls—He opens up more wounds, as if
that were possible! She sees the seamless robe she has woven for Him
years ago- now a mass of blood and flesh, clinging to His Body. His
face is misshapen and swollen. She cannot move. He is pushed forward by
the soldiers. He walks a few more feet, and then He sees her! Mary does
not restrain herself. She kisses Him softly through her tears and
reminds Him of her love for Him. "Their looks became as swords, to
wound those hearts which loved each other so tenderly."
O, Mother of God, teach me to behold Jesus in His
sorrows when I am most tempted to sin.
Fifth Sorrow: Mary Sees Jesus Die on the Cross
"Yes, truly, O Blessed Mother, the sword pierced your soul. Only by
passing through your soul could it penetrate to the body of your Son.
When Jesus your Son had given up His spirit, when the cruel spear which
pierced His side could no longer touch His soul, it transfixed yours.
His soul was no longer there. Yours was. It could not be torn away. We
call you more than martyr because your love, which made you suffer with
your Son, brought pain of soul far more exquisite than any pain of
body. "Woman, behold thy Son"—how keenly those words must have pierced
your loving soul! Mere remembrance of them can wring with sorrow our
hard, steely hearts. Do not wonder, my brethren, that Ma-ray is said to
be martyred in spirit. Want of affection was far from Mary's heart. O,
may it be equally far from those of her servants! Christ died in body.
Could she not die with Him in her heart? His death was brought about by
a love greater than any man has; hers by a love no other mortal ever
had, except she." (From the Sermon of St. Bernard on the Twelve Stars.)
Through you, O Virgin Mother, may we draw the
waters of salvation out of the wounds of Christ.
Sixth Sorrow: Mary Receives Jesus' Body into Her
"Joseph of Arimathaea requested the body of Jesus, which he took down
from the cross. And His Mother received it into her arms. The sorrowing
mother took her dead Son and laid Him on her knees" (From the Divine
Office of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows).
What a sea of tears and sorrow
Did the soul of Mary toss
To and fro upon its billows.
While she wept her bitter loss,
In her arms her Jesus holding.
Torn so newly from the Cross.
Oh, that mournful Virgin Mother!
See her tears how fast they flow
Down upon His mangled body,
Wounded side, and thorny brow;
While His hands and feet she kisses
Picture of immortal woe.
Oft and oft His arms and bosom
Fondly straining to her own;
Oft her pallid lips imprinting
On each wound of her dear Son;
Till in one last kiss of anguish
All her melting soul is gone.
Gentle Mother, we beseech thee
By thy tears and troubles sore;
By the death of thy dear Offspring,
By the bloody wounds He bore;
Touch our hearts with true sorrow
Which afflicted thee of yore.
(Hymn of the Divine Office of the Feast)
Mary, help me to stand beside the Cross with you, whose soul the sword
of sorrow has pierced.
Seventh Sorrow: Mary Places Jesus' Body in the Tomb
They place Jesus' body on a slab and quickly anoint it. From there they
carry it to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. There, once again, Mary
arranges the folds of the winding sheet with her own hands. The tomb is
closed and the mourners leave. "Depart from me, I will weep bitterly;
labor not to comfort me. There is in Him no stately bearing to make us
look at Him, nor appearance that would attract us to Him. From the sole
of the foot to the head, there is no sound spot in Him." "To what can I
liken or compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What example can I show
you for your comfort, O Virgin daughter of Sion? For great as the sea
is your downfall." Yet Mary's deep sorrow did not overshadow her faith
in Jesus or her hope in His promise. His death was her hope of
God of mercy, let us run
Where yon fount of sorrow flows;
Pondering sweetly, one by one,
Jesus 's wounds and Mary's woes.
Ah, those tears Our Lady shed,
Enough to drown a world of sin;
Tears that Jesus 's sorrows fed,
Peace and pardon well may win!
His five wounds, a very home,
For our prayers and praises prove;
And Our Lady's woes become
Endless joys in Heaven above.
Jesus, Who for us did die,
All on Thee our love we pour
And in the Holy Trinity
Worship Thee forever more. Amen.
(Hymn from Lauds of the Feast)
Virgin Mary, may your many sorrows make me rejoice in Heaven's Kingdom.