On the Friday before Palm Sunday, and on Sept. 15, the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary are commemorated in the Liturgy. The Sorrowful Mother has always merited within The Church a particular devotion from whence she is called: Queen of Martyrs and Comforter of the Afflicted.
The Church commemorates by two Feasts the martyrdom suffered by Our Lady, one of two feasts devoted to this same devotion in union with the Passion of Her Divine Son Jesus and His Holy Cross. The First Feast especially commemorates “the Compassion of Mary” the second, kept on September 15, the devotion to the Seven Sorrows.
In 1727 Pope Benedict XIII declared the feast of the Seven Dolors of Mary to be celebrated on the Friday prior to Palm Sunday, though the Servites had been celebrating it on the Sunday after the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross in September since 1668. Having two feasts further emphasizes Mary’s importance and vital role in co-redemption as well as reminding Catholics everywhere of Mary’s suffering during the Passion and Death of her Divine Son. Two icons bring home this fact, first the magnificent Pieta sculptured by the master Michelangelo and which resides behind glass at the back right side of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the moving hymn “Stabat Mater” employed during Lent and during the Stations of the Cross to reflect Our Lady’s grief and tribulations. She is often depicted with seven swords piercing her Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart as described by Simeon in Luke 2: 34, “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
The Marian Saint Bernard wrote “Truly…He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known; she died in spirit through a love unlike any other since His.”
The Prophecy of Simeon
“And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for thefall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign whichshall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that outof many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” ~Luke 2:34-35
Meditation: How great was the shock to Mary’s Heart at hearing the sorrowful words,in which holy Simeon told the bitter Passion and death of her sweetJesus, since in that same moment she realized in her mind all theinsults, blows, and torments which the impious men were to offer to theRedeemer of the world. But a still sharper sword pierced her soul. Itwas the thought of men’s ingratitude to her beloved Son. Now considerthat because of your sins you are unhappily among the ungrateful.
The Flight into Egypt
“And after they (the wise men) were departed, behold an angelof the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise and take thechild 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: 2:13-14.
Meditation: Consider the sharp sorrow which Mary felt when, St. Joseph being warned by an angel, she had to flee by night in order to preserve her beloved Child from the slaughter decreed by Herod. What anguish was hers, in leaving Judea, lest she should be overtaken by the soldiers of the cruel king! How great her privations in that long journey! What sufferings she bore in that land of exile, what sorrow amid that people given to idolatry! But consider how often you have renewed that bitter grief of Mary, when your sins have caused her Son to flee from your heart.
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 2:43-45.
Meditation: How dread was the grief of Mary, when she saw that she had lost her beloved Son! And as if to increase her sorrow, when she sought Him diligently among her kinsfolk and acquaintance, she could hear no tidings of Him. No hindrances stayed her, nor weariness, nor danger; but she forthwith returned to Jerusalem, and for three long days sought Him sorrowing. Great be your confusion, O my soul, who has so often lost your Jesus by your sins, and has given no heed to seek Him at once, a sign that you make very little or no account of the precious treasure of divine love.
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 23: 27.
Meditation: Come, O ye sinners, come and see if ye can endure so sad a sight. This Mother, so tender and loving, meets her beloved Son, meets Him amid an impious rabble, who drag Him to a cruel death, wounded, torn by stripes, crowned with thorns, streaming with blood, bearing His heavy cross. Ah, consider, my soul, the grief of the blessed Virgin thus beholding her Son! Who would not weep at seeing this Mother’s grief? But who has been the cause of such woe? I, it is I, who with my sins have so cruelly wounded the heart of my sorrowing Mother! And yet I am not moved; I am as a stone, when my heart should break because of my ingratitude.
“They crucified Him. Now therestood by the cross of Jesus, His Mother. When Jesus therefore had seenHis Mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, He said to HisMother: Woman: behold thy son. After that he said to the disciple: Behold thy Mother.” ~John 19: 25-27
Meditation: Look, devout soul, look to Calvary, whereon are raised two altars of sacrifice, one on the body of Jesus, the other on the heart of Mary. Sad is the sight of that dear Mother drowned in a sea of woe, seeing her beloved Son, part of her very self, cruelly nailed to the shameful tree of the cross. Ah me! how every blow of the hammer, how every stripe which fell on the Savior’s form, fell also on the disconsolate spirit of the Virgin. As she stood at the foot of the cross, pierced by the sword of sorrow, she turned her eyes on Him, until she knew that He lived no longer and had resigned His spirit to His Eternal Father. Then her own soul was like to have left the body and joined itself to that of Jesus.
The Taking Down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross
“Joseph of Arimathea, a noblecounselor, came and went in boldly to Pilate, and begged the body ofJesus. And Joseph buying fine linen, and taking Him down, wrapped Him up in the fine linen.” ~Mark 15: 43-46
Meditation: Consider the most bitter sorrow which rent the soul of Mary, when she saw the dead body of her dear Jesus on her knees, covered with blood, all torn with deep wounds. O mournful Mother, a bundle of myrrh, indeed, is thy Beloved to thee. Who would not pity thee? Whose heart would not be softened, seeing affliction which would move a stone? Behold John not to be comforted, Magdalene and the other Mary in deep affliction, and Nicodemus, who can scarcely bear his sorrow.
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 Pasch eve of the Jews, they laid Jesus, because the sepulcher was nigh at hand.” ~John 19: 4l-42
Meditation: Consider the sighs which burst from Mary’s sad heart when she saw her beloved Jesus laid within the tomb. What grief was hers when she saw the stone lifted to cover that sacred tomb! She gazed a last time on the lifeless body of her Son, and could scarce detach her eyes from those gaping wounds. And when the great stone was rolled to the door of the sepulcher, oh, then indeed her heart seemed torn from her body!