Since the early middle ages, the Church in the West has celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows in mid-September, a devotion to the suffering and spiritual martyrdom of the Blessed Mother of Our Lord. The name Our Lady of Sorrows was first used by the Servites, or the Friar Servants of Mary, an order that was founded in 1233. The original intention of the order was a devotion to the Virgin Mary, in particular Our Lady of Sorrows. As an order, the Servites promote the Scapular of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady (a special rosary made of seven sets of seven beads rather than five decades), and the Way of the Cross for the Sorrowful Mother, or Via Matris. The name Our Lady of Sorrows was given in reference to the devotion to the Seven Sorrows, or Dolors, of Mary. Devotion to the sorrows of Mary is a reminder of the bond between Mary and Jesus, and that as the Mother of God, she suffered greatly and felt very real pain on behalf of the suffering of her son.
The first known altar to Mater Dolorosa, Mother of Sorrows, was set up in the monastery of Schönau, in 1221. Throughout the next couple centuries, devotion to the suffering of Mary grew, however the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows was not yet included on the official TridentineCalender as of 1570. It was in 1667 that approval for the celebration of the feast was granted to the Servite order, and then in 1814 it was extended to the whole of the Latin church, and added to the Roman Calender by Pope Pius VII. Prior to 1913, it was celebrated on the 3rd Sunday of September; in that year Pope Pius X moved the feast to the 15th of September, an octave of the birthday of Our Lady, which is celebrated on September 8th.
The feast and the devotion to the seven sorrows call on us to reflect on the intense reality of Mary’s personal suffering; her compassion and suffering show us the way of true repentance. As ever, she is a guide and role model for all members of the Church. As Mary did, so should we share in Christ’s suffering and death, in order to share in His rising to new life.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary
1. The Prophecy of Simeon:“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.2:34-35).”
2. The Flight into Egypt: “When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” (Mathew 2:13)
3. The Loss of the Holy Child at Jerusalem for three days: “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.”(Luke 2:41-50)
4. Meeting Jesus on His way to Calvary: “A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23: 27-31)
5. Standing at the Foot of the Cross: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit” (John 19:25-30)
6. Jesus being taken from the Cross: “Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, for the Sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may (come to) believe. For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: “Not a bone of it will be broken.” And again another passage says: “They will look upon him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)
7. The Burial of Christ:“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.”(John 19:38-42)