Some years back, some friends and I were sitting around talking about the joys and sorrows of parenting. Somehow the conversation turned to what it would have been like to be the Mother of Jesus. “How hard would that be?” someone laughed. “Jesus never sinned. He was perfect! Being His Mother would have been a piece of cake!” We laughed, but then suddenly fell silent as we reflected on the reality of Mary’s life.
What if you had to risk being stoned to death in order to bring your child into the world? What if – when you brought your child to the priest, he had said, “Your child will play a significant part in the lives of the people, and you will share in his sufferings. A sword will also pierce your own heart.” What if – when your child was just weeks old – your husband had shaken you awake in the middle of the night, saying, “Get up quickly! We have to leave this place right now! Our child’s life is in danger!”1 Or consider the sorrow that Mary and Joseph must have felt when they lost Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. I imagine their conversation would have sounded something like this: “I thought He was with you!” “Why would He be with the women? I was sure that He was with you!” For three days they searched for Jesus, probably imagining that the worst had happened. But the final sorrow was yet to come. How would you feel if it was your son who they arrested unjustly, who they beat unmercifully and crucified like a common criminal amidst jeers and taunts for all to see? Can there be any sorrow greater than that of burying your only son?
No, Mary’s life was no piece of cake. Certainly she shared in many of our maternal joys: seeing her Child born, watching over Him as He ran and jumped and played with the neighbourhood children, patiently teaching and guiding Him day by day as He grew to maturity. But it was in her sorrows that she was most closely united to Him, that she participated with Jesus in bringing about our Salvation.
Each of Mary’s sorrows pierced her heart to the core, and because she herself was without sin, her capacity to feel and experience sorrow far exceeded our own. The suffering that she experienced in her life is known as her “Seven Dolors,” which include:
- The prophecy of Simeon. (Luke 2:22-35)
- The flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-15)
- The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:41-51)
- The meeting of Mary and Jesus on the way to Calvary. (John 19:17)
- The Crucifixion of Jesus. (John 19:25-30)
- Jesus’s body pierced by a lance and taken down from the Cross. (John 19:31-37)
- The burial of Jesus. (John 19:40-42)
St. Bridget revealed seven promises attached to the practice of saying seven Hail Mary’s each day while meditating on Our Lady’s sorrows and tears. They are:
- I will grant peace to their families.
- They will be enlightened about the Divine Mysteries.
- I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.
- I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my Divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.
- I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
- I will visibly help them at the moment of their death. They will see the face of their mother.
- I have obtained this grace from my Divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness, since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son will be their eternal consolation and joy.
As we pause to reflect on the sorrows of Our Blessed Mother, let us not forget that we can turn to her in every moment, that she is always there, that she always understands and is ready to console us, to envelop us in her loving, protective mantle. Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
– Sharon van der Sloot
“[The Blessed Virgin Mary], for the love she bore us, was willing to see Him sacrificed to Divine Justice by the barbarity of men. This great torment, then, which Mary endured for us – a torment which was more than a thousand deaths – deserves both our compassion and our gratitude. If we can make no other return for so much love, at least let us give a few moments this day to consider the greatness of the sufferings by which Mary became the queen of martyrs; for the sufferings of her great martyrdom exceeded those of all the martyrs; being, in the first place, the longest in point of duration; and, in the second place, the greatest in point of intensity.”2 St. Alphonsus Liguouri
Prayers Honoring the Seven Dolors of Mary3
(Approved by Pope Pius VII in 1815)
V. O God, come to my assistance;
R. O Lord, make haste to help me.
V. Glory be to the Father, etc.
R. As it was in the beginning, etc.
1. I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in affliction of your tender heart at the prophecy of the holy and aged Simeon. O dearest Mother, by your heart so afflicted, implore for me the virtue of humility and the Gift of the holy Fear of God. Hail Mary…
2. I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the anguish of your most affectionate heart during the flight into Egypt and your sojourn there. O dearest Mother, by your anxious heart so troubled, obtain for me the virtue of generosity, especially toward the poor, and the Gift of Piety. Hail Mary…
3. I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in those anxieties which tried your troubled heart at the loss of your beloved Child Jesus. O dearest Mother, by your exceedingly troubled heart implore for me the virtue of chastity and the Gift of Knowledge. Hail Mary…
4. I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, on account of the horror with which your mother-heart was stricken when meeting Jesus bearing the Cross. O dearest Mother, by your exceedingly oppressed heart implore for me the virtue of patience and the Gift of Fortitude. Hail Mary…
5. I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, on account of that martyrdom which tortured your generous heart at the death-agony of Jesus. O dearest Mother, through this thy martyred heart, implore for me the virtue of temperance and the Gift of Counsel. Hail Mary…
6. I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the wounding of your tender heart, by the thrust of the lance that opened the side of Jesus and pierced His most adorable Heart. O dearest Mother, by this vicarious transfixion of thy own heart, implore for me the virtue of brotherly love and the Gift of Understanding. Hail Mary…
7. I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, on account of that agony which racked your most loving heart at the burial of Jesus. O dearest Mother, through this extreme torment that filled thy burdened heart, obtain for me the virtue of zeal and the Gift of Wisdom. Hail Mary…
V. Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let Us Pray:
‘Let intercession be made for us, we beseech You, O Lord Jesus Christ, now and at the hour of our death, before the throne of Your mercy, by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Your Mother, whose most holy soul was pierced by a sword of sorrow in the hour of Your bitter Passion. Through You, O Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.’
1 The Holy Family would have had to travel at least 300 to 350 kilometers to get to Egypt. They fled there to avoid the Massacre of the Innocents – the execution of all young male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem – ordered by Herod to protect his throne from the newborn “King of the Jews.” We can only imagine the difficulties of the journey, travelling with a newborn baby in the hot sun during the day and sleeping in the open at night.
2 St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary, 2nd ed., trans. Bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths, rev. Bishop Robert A. Coffin (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1868; reprint Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers Inc., 1982), 403-404 (page citations are to the reprint edition).
3 “The Seven Dolors of Mary”; available at http://www.7dolors.com/sevendolors.htm; Internet; accessed 5 September 2013. For more information about Devotion of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, go to http://www.fatima.org/essentials/requests/devotion_of_seven_sorrows.pdf.