The title, “Our Lady of Sorrows,” given to our Blessed Mother focuses on her intense suffering and grief during the passion and death of our Lord. Traditionally, this suffering was not limited to the passion and death event; rather, it comprised “the seven dolors” or “seven sorrows” of Mary, which were foretold by the Priest Simeon who proclaimed to Mary, “This child [Jesus] is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed– and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword– so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” (Luke 2:34-35).
Below are the seven sorrows of Mary:
1. The prophecy of Simeon: “And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: 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.” – Luke II, 34-35.
2. The flight into Egypt: “And after they (the wise men) were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise and take the child and His mother and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy Him. Who arose and took the child and His mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and He was there until the death of Herod.” – Matt. II, 13-14.
3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple: “And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the Child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and His parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking Him.” Luke II, 43-45.
4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross: “And there followed Him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him.” – Luke XXIII, 27.
5. The Crucifixion: “They crucified Him. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His Mother. When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, He saith to His Mother: Woman: behold thy son. After that he saith to the disciple: Behold thy Mother.” – John XIX, l8-25-27.
6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross: “Joseph of Arimathea, a noble counselor, came and went in boldly to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And Joseph buying fine linen, and taking Him down, wrapped Him up in the fine linen.” – Mark XV, 43-46.
7. The burial of Jesus: “Now there was in the place where He was crucified, a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein no man yet had been laid. There, therefore, because of the parasceve of the Jews, they laid Jesus, because the sepulcher was nigh at hand.” John XIX, 41-42.
In all, the prophesy of Simeon that a sword would pierce our Blessed Mother’s heart was fulfilled in these events. For this reason, Mary is sometimes depicted with her heart exposed and with seven swords piercing it. This Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows grew in popularity in the twelfth century, although under various titles. Granted, some writings would place its roots in the eleventh century, especially among the Benedictine monks. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the feast and devotion were widespread throughout the Church.
In 1668 the feast in honor of the Seven Dolors was set for the Sunday after September 14, the Feast of the Holy Cross. The feast was inserted into the Roman calendar in 1814, and Pope Pius X fixed the permanent date of September 15 for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now simply called the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows). The key image here is our Blessed Mother standing faithfully at the foot of the cross with her dying Son: the Gospel of St. John recorded, “Seeing His mother there with the disciple whom He loved, Jesus said to His mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn He said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother.’” (John 19:26-27). The Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church wrote, “…She stood in keeping with the divine plan, suffering grievously with her only-begotten Son. There she united herself, with a maternal heart, to His sacrifice, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth” (#58).
St. Bernard (d. 1153) wrote, “Truly, O Blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart…. He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since His” (De duodecim praerogatativs BVM).
Focusing on the compassion of our Blessed Mother, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, reminded the faithful, “Mary Most Holy goes on being the loving consoler of those touched by the many physical and moral sorrows which afflict and torment humanity. She knows our sorrows and our pains, because she too suffered, from Bethlehem to Calvary. ‘And thy soul too a sword shall pierce.’ Mary is our Spiritual Mother, and the mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Then, she has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us! Mary consoles us above all by pointing out the Crucified One and Paradise to us!” (1980).
Therefore, as we honor our Blessed Mother, our Lady of Sorrows, we honor her as the faithful disciple and exemplar of faith. Let us pray as we do in the opening prayer of the Mass for this feast day: “Father, as your Son was raised on the cross, His Mother Mary stood by Him, sharing His sufferings. May your Church be united with Christ in His suffering and death and so come to share in His rising to new life.” Looking to the example of Mary, may we too unite our sufferings to our Lord, facing them with courage, love, and trust.
~In Jesus’ Name,