September 15 – MEMORIAL OF OUR LADY OF SORROWS
The Church sets aside two days in the liturgical calendar to honor the Sorrows of Our Blessed Mother Mary: one on the Friday before Good Friday, and the other on September 15th, the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. As we meditate on the Sorrows of Mary, we come to realize how difficult it is for us to comprehend the depth of suffering that she was called to bear during her life. Fr. Lawrence Lovasik S.V.D. writes, “It was not because she was the Mother of God that Mary could bear her sorrows, but because she saw things from His point of view and not from her own – or rather, she had made His point of view hers.”1
The Divine perspective is one that is at once both supernatural and eternal. In Jesus’ eyes, the Cross was not a cause for scandal but a reason for joy. His suffering and Death, which He freely accepted, was the necessary price of our Salvation and the means of His Resurrection. Jesus’ point of view is one that discovers the ultimate meaning and purpose of suffering in the triumph of love, a perspective that causes us to exclaim, “O happy fault, o necessary sin of Adam, that gained for us so great a Redeemer!”2
In today’s society, suffering is regarded as something that is negative, something that should be avoided at all costs. However, there is a necessary connection between suffering and love; we cannot have one without the other. Pope Benedict writes,
“Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.
“When we know that the way of love – this exodus, this going out of oneself – is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish …
“If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand why it is so important to learn how to suffer – and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.”3
Although we will always be subject to pain and suffering as long as we live, we find in Mary not only a model of how to love and how to bear our sufferings, but also a Mother who is always ready to accompany us, who is always ready to shelter us in the protective folds of her mantle. We need only reflect on Mary’s life to be certain that there is no suffering that we could ever experience that she does not understand or any sorrow that does not move her heart to compassion. In embracing her own suffering with such love and humility, we find in Mary a model worthy of our reflection and our devotion, a Mother worthy of imitation.
Mary’s love for us is so great that it is deserving of our gratitude, and we can show that gratitude by meditating on and pitying her in her sorrows. In a mystical vision of Our Lady, it was revealed to St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) that seven graces are granted to souls who honor Mary daily by saying seven Hail Mary’s and meditating on her tears and sorrows. In the vision, Mary said:
“I look around at all who are on earth, to see if by chance there are any who pity Me, and meditate upon My sorrows; and I find that there are very few. Therefore, My daughter, though I am forgotten by many, at least do you not forget Me; consider My anguish, and imitate, as far as you can, My grief.”4
Mother of Sorrow, You who held Jesus in your arms, please intercede with your Divine Son on our behalf. Ask Him to help us to know one another better; to forgive one another more readily; to love one another more deeply. Mother of all mankind, inspire us to travel without falter along that road at the end of which, under the Fatherhood of God, there is true peace. Amen.
1Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., Treasury of Novenas (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co.,1986), 173.
2Exsultet from the Easter Vigil, Roman Missal.
3Pope Benedict XVI, God and the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), 322-323.
4St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1852; reprint, Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982), 416.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Although Mary endured many sorrows during her life that are not recorded for us in Scripture, there are seven sorrows that the Church proposes for our meditation.
- The first Sorrow is the prophecy of Simeon. “And Simeon blessed them [Mary and Joseph] and said to Mary his mother, ‘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 out of many hearts may be revealed’” (Lk 2:34-355).
- The second Sorrow is the flight into Egypt. “Now when they [the Wise Men] had departed, 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’” (Mt 2:13).
- The third Sorrow is the loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. “Now his parents [Mary and Joseph] went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; 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” (Lk 2:41-45).
- The fourth Sorrow is the meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way to Calvary. “Consider the meeting of the Son and the Mother, which took place on this journey. Jesus and Mary looked at each other, and their looks became as so many arrows to wound those hearts which loved each other so tenderly.” (St. Alphonsus di Liguori, The Way of the Cross6)
- The Fifth Sorrow is the Crucifixion. “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (Jn 19:25).
- The Sixth Sorrow is Mary receiving the Body of Jesus in her arms. “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud” (Mt 27:57-59).
- And finally, the Seventh Sorrow is the burial of Jesus. In the normal course of life, we do not expect that children will die before their parents, yet Mary was not preserved from this sorrow: “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” (Jn 19:40-42).
5Scriptural quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition (RSV-CE).
6St. Alphonsus di Liguori, The Way of the Cross, accessed 12 September, 2012; available fromhttp://www.feastofsaints.com/wayofcrossalph.htm; Internet.
Stabat Mater (The Mother was Standing)
The Stabat Mater, which dates back to the 13th century, is considered one of the greatest Latin hymns of all time. Although we are uncertain as to who wrote the words, they are a beautiful reflection on the sufferings of Our Blessed Mother. The Stabat Mater has been sung at the liturgy on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows since 1727.
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 passed.
Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
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,
‘Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in the pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
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 sweet Mother! font of love,
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with yours accord.
Make me feel as you have felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ, my Lord.
Holy Mother, pierce me through,
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Savior crucified.
Let me share with you His pain,
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with you,
Mourning Him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live.
By the Cross with you to stay,
There with you to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of you to give.
Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share your grief divine.
Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of yours.
Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it has swooned
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 You shall call me hence,
Be Your Mother my defense,
Be Your Cross my victory.
While my body here decays,
May my soul Your goodness praise,
Safe in heaven eternally.
– Sharon van der Sloot