Being co-music director for the seminary this year, one of my responsibilities is to put together the cantoring schedule for mass. I will be quite honest, I made sure I manipulated the schedule so that I would have today, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, because I have a personal devotion to her. To my disappointment, I realized later that September 15th fell on a Sunday this year, and therefore the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time overruled. That doesn’t stop me from praying to her today!
The devotion to the Dolores, or sorrows, of Mary is a relatively new practice for the Catholic Church as a whole. As the patroness of the Servite Order, her devotion did not begin until the 12th century, and even then it was more of a regional devotion. It was not until 1814 when Pope Pius VII made September 15th the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows for the Roman Catholic Church, the day after the Exultation of the Holy Cross.
The main part of the devotion focuses on either the suffering of the Blessed Virgin Mary specifically during the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ or on the specific sorrows experienced throughout her life. Traditionally, these seven sorrows are as follows:
1. The Prophecy of Simeon: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against. And a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts of our many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)
2. The Flight into Egypt: “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt. (Matthew 2: 13-14)
3. The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple: “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him.” (Luke 2:43-45)
4. Mary meets Jesus on His way to Calvary: no scriptural reference, but it is the fourth Station of the Cross
5. Jesus Dies on the Cross: “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)
6. The Piercing of the Side of Jesus and Mary Receiving the Body of Her Son: I could not find any scriptural reference to Mary specifically receiving the Body of Christ, but upon researching, I did come across this article that describes visions given to Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich that speak of how moving this scene is. (It also has an article on each of the seven sorrows that I will be reading soon!)
7. The Burial of Jesus: “They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:40-42)
***All verses come from the Revised Standard Version- Catholic Edition Bible***
My devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows began last year when I chose to give a presentation on this devotion for my theology class. After learning more about it, I became intrigued for multiple reasons. First, being close to both my parents and hearing many times from Mom how much she feels sorrow whenever we are struggling or hurt, I was able to relate in a very slight way to the motherly feelings Mary had for Jesus, and I can only guess as to how much more she must have experienced.
Secondly, what strength Mary showed in her sorrow! No matter how strong of a woman I know my mom is, she would never be able to take a fraction of the suffering that Our Mother took seeing her Son tortured and mocked and killed. Because of this, we can look at Mary as a model for when we struggle in our smallest day-to-day struggles. If Mary, who was a mere human like me, was able to show such strength and hope in experiencing this much suffering, I surely can deal with this small struggle that I am going through.
Finally, as Mary is the Mother of all humanity, she feels sorrow for all of our struggles as well. When I crash my bike, when I get in an emotional argument with someone, when a loved one dies, Mary feels sorrow for us much like she did for the Fruit of Her Womb, Christ. She sits beside us as we pray, holding us close to her and praying fervently to her Son, who cannot deny the tears of His Mother. How wonderful an image it is that when we invoke the intercession of Mary, it is as if she is sitting by us praying with us like a close friend or relative would.
The traditional Catholic Hymn “Stabat Mater,” which is sung inbetween Stations of the Cross, is the hymn that I leave you with today. Our Lady of Sorrows, Pray for us!
At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had pass’d.
Oh, how sad and sore distress’d
Was that Mother highly blest
Of the sole-begotten One!
Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
Whelm’d in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?
Bruis’d, derided, curs’d, defil’d,
She beheld her tender child
All with bloody scourges rent.
For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.
O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with thine accord.
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord.
Holy Mother! pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified.
Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn’d for me,
All the days that I may live.
By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.
Virgin of all virgins best,
Listen to my fond request
Let me share thy grief divine.
Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.
Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon’d
In His very blood away.
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In His awful Judgment day.
Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy Mother my defence,
Be Thy cross my victory.
While my body here decays,
May my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.