The title, Our Lady of Sorrows, given to Mary the Mother of God, focuses on her intense suffering and grief during the passion and death of her son. 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).
These seven sorrows of our Blessed Mother included:
- the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt;
- the loss and finding of the child Jesus in the Temple;
- Mary’s meeting of Jesus on His way to Calvary;
- Mary’s standing at the foot of the cross when our Lord was crucified;
- her holding of Jesus when He was taken down from the cross;
- and then our Lord’s burial.
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. More importantly, each new suffering was received with the courage, love, and trust that echoed her fiat, ‘let it be done unto me according to Thy word’, first uttered at the Annunciation.
The Feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows
This Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows grew in popularity in the 12th century, although under various titles. Some writings 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 1482, the feast was officially placed in the Roman Missal under the title of Our Lady of Compassion, highlighting the great love that Mary displayed in suffering with her Son. (The word compassion derives from the Latin roots cum and patior which means to suffer with). The sorrow of Mary exceeded anyone else’s since she was the mother of Jesus, who was not only her Son, but also her Lord and Savior.
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 Gospel of St. John recorded this event: 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).
You Mary, understand our sorrows
Mary 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. Mary has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us!
As we honour our Lady of Sorrows, we honour 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.
Our mother of sorrows,
with strength from above you stood by the cross,
sharing in the sufferings of Jesus,
and with tender care you bore Him in your arms,
mourning and weeping.
We praise you for your faith,
which accepted the life God planned for you.
We praise you for your hope,
which trusted that God would do great things in you.
We praise you for your love
in bearing with Jesus the sorrows of His passion.
Mary, may we follow your example,
and stand by all your children who need comfort and love.
Mother of God, stand by us in our trials
and care for us in our many needs.
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Note: There are seven sorrows of Mary:
1. The prophecy of Simeon
2. The Flight into Egypt
3. The Loss of Jesus for Three Days in the Temple
4. Meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary
5. Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
6. Jesus Taken Down from the Cross
7. Jesus Laid in the Tomb