Weeping I have wept in the night, and my tears are on my cheeks, because the comforter, the relief of my soul, is taken from me. I have spread forth my hands, there is none to comfort me. I called for my friends and they deceived me, they have become my enemies; my priests and my ancients have rejoiced in my evil. My child is desolate and the enemy hath prevailed. O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.
-Lamentations 1 (from the Fourth Station)
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I can’t remember quite how it started. Either I’d begun praying them on my own, and then discovered Lena had already been praying them, and so we joined forces: or she told me about it (that’s . . . far more likely) and we began offering the devotion together. But however it happened, however we reached this point, my sister and I kneel beside one another and honor the Seven Sorrows of Our Blessed Mother every night before bed. And I think it’s safe to say that this is the one private devotion we’d defend above all others. If the rest of our day had to be stripped of all our private prayers . . . we’d be incapable of giving this one up.
But I don’t want to paint too glamorous a picture here. Our Blessed Mother almost always receives these prayers when we’re in our pajamas; my contacts are out, my retainers are in, and as when I’m really tired I tend to reflexively itch, you’ll often find me unconsciously scratching my head. (I wouldn’t be surprised if that drives Lena insane, but if so, she’s too kind and holy to mention it.) I’m yawning, even as I methodically set the Sorrowful Heart holy card up on my nightstand, using my Catholic Girls’ Guide for a prop and a horizontally placed pen to keep it from sliding down.
So yes . . . hopefully that paints a more authentic picture.
Somehow I know we’ll still be praying this devotion when we’re old ladies with dozens of grandchildren apiece and wonderful if sometimes cranky husbands. Even when our knees have given out beyond the point of kneeling, our knobby fingers will still pull out our holy cards of the Sorrowful Heart of Mary and we’ll offer seven Aves with their accompanying meditations before we drift off, snoring, to sleep.
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With what a flood of tears, with what sorrow is the grief-stricken Virgin Mother overwhelmed, while she beholds her Son lying in her arms after being taken down from the bloody Tree!
-from the Thirteenth Station
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- The Prophecy of Simeon
- The Flight into Egypt
- The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple.
- The Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross
- The Crucifixion
- The Taking Down of the Body of Jesus From the Cross
- The Burial of Jesus
Today is the feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This morning, Lena and I were able to pray along with some of the Missa Cantata coming out of Fribourg, and we were graced to hear a stunning rendition of the Stabat Mater sequence before the Gospel. The lone feminine voice soared and dove in pure lamentation for all the unspeakable sorrows Our Mother endured throughout her life, culminating at the foot of the Cross. It truly was the liturgical sound of the Immaculate Heart breaking and bleeding.
Ah, Mother, fount of love, make me feel the force of grief, make me weep with thee.
What is it about this devotion (apart from the honor of being able to grieve for the suffering of Our Blessed Mother) that is so compelling? For Lena and I, it was the profoundly surreal graces our Blessed Mother has attached to this devotion.
The following is excerpted from TAN’S Favorite Prayers to Our Lady:
According to St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373), the Blessed Virgin grants seven graces to those who honor her daily by saying seven Hail Marys while meditating on her tears and sorrows:
- “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.”
These seven promises are brimming with earnest, maternal love. One can almost hear the tears in her voice as she begs us to help console her heart.
Full of sorrow she bathes with her tears His sweet lips, His gentle breast, His most dear side, His pierced right hand, His wounded left, and His feet red with blood.
–from the Thirteenth Station
Today, in honor of the Sorrowful Mother, I felt inspired to take the time to consider these promises and meditations together and contemplate them in greater detail, more for my own sake than anyone else’s!
THE PROPHECY OF SIMEON
“I will grant peace to their families.”
I can’t begin to conceive the sorrow that wrung Our Blessed Mother’s heart when her tiny, beautiful infant Son was taken out of the warmth of her arms in His own temple, while Simeon whispered gravely, “Behold, thy Son is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign of contradiction. And thine own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.”
When I look forward to the future and imagine when my future husband and I (God-willing!) will bring each of our newborn children unto the altar of God for Baptism and consecration to the heart of Mary, I know it will be a day of deepest joy–a beginning, a seal, a mysterious outpouring of grace upon our child, our marriage, our family, and the Church.
Our Lady’s heart was fervently bound up in perfect obedience to the prescriptions of the law of God. I’m sure that, in a way, she desired this day for similar reasons, and anticipated a similar joy. Instead, her Immaculate Heart received the first sword; and, by extension, surely St. Joseph’s did as well. The Holy Family went to the temple of God to give all they had to God, and they received a sorrowful promise of the Passion of Christ.
Isn’t this the destiny of every Catholic family?
The first promise Our Lady made to those who honor her seven sorrows is, “I will grant peace to their families.” The maternal love behind this promise is even more poignant when we pair it with this first sorrow, which contemplates a day of sorrow for the Holy Family. Our Lady knows that every family in the Church Militant is meant to carry the cross of Christ, just as the Holy Family did upon earth. And yet for those who honor her sorrows, Our Blessed Mother will grant them peace in the midst of their struggles, trials and sufferings. What compassion!
I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the affliction of thy tender heart at the prophecy of the holy and aged Simeon. Dear Mother, by thy heart so afflicted, obtain for me the virtue of humility and the gift of the holy Fear of God. (from Favorite Prayers)
THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT
“They will be enlightened about the Divine Mysteries.”
Until I’m blessed with motherhood, I know I won’t be able to comprehend the anguish and consternation I would feel if I knew that someone was diabolically intent on murdering my own child. My child! Let me die in his place.
Our Blessed Mother lived in so intimate a union with God all her life, it’s also hard for my imperfect heart to fathom the utter pain she must have experienced in knowing that a king could be so corrupted by sin and greed as to make a heinous desolation of innocent lives in pursuit of Innocence itself, in defiance of God, of all that is good and holy.
And then to be driven into a pagan country as a refugee along with her chaste husband; to again experience the deprivation, shunning and loneliness, no doubt, of Bethlehem; to have her Child live His earliest years in exile from His own land and people; to watch her husband struggle to provide for them when all their surroundings were so very foreign. What a trial! And yet they were sustained thanks to their incomparable faithfulness, holiness, and charity.
When I contemplate her second promise, “They will be enlightened about the Divine Mysteries,” in the light of this sorrow . . . again, I see only her compassion. The beauty of this second promise contrasts with Herod’s dark blindness. Herod, who was intentionally blind to both the heavens and earth, was the cause of her sorrow: but to us who honor this sorrow, Our Lady promises to lift our own blindness of heart so that we may grow in the Divine light.
Even should we suffer persecution and deprivation in this life on account of following Christ, Our Mother promises that, through her intercession, we will be enlightened to see the goodness and providence of God, who works all things together for the good of those who love Him.
I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the anguish of thy most affectionate heart during the flight into Egypt and thy sojourn there. Dear Mother, by thy heart so troubled, obtain for me the virtue of generosity, especially toward the poor, and the gift of Piety.
THE LOSS OF THE CHILD JESUS IN THE TEMPLE
“I will console them in their pains, and I will accompany them in their work.”
There are occasionally those moments of worry when we suddenly lose sight of a child in a crowd. Intensity sets in as we try to delay panic, and we begin jogging around, asking those around us to help in the search. Eventually, we find the child contentedly munching away at the snack table, free of harm.
In a profound foreshadowing of Our Lord’s death and burial. Our Lady was separated from Our Lord’s Presence for three days in Jerusalem. She had lost Him; and how desolate her Immaculate Heart must have been. The words from Lamentations apply here: Weeping I have wept in the night, and my tears are on my cheeks, because the comforter, the relief of my soul, is taken from me.
In a prayer to the Blessed Virgin for after Communion, we say to her, Behold Him Whose every glance filled thee with joy and all delight! Can we begin to imagine how dearly, how intensely Our Lady loved her Child; how captivated her heart was by His mere sleeping? He was both her Child and her God! None of us can conceive of that kind of love that Our Lord and Lady exchanged on earth, and continue to exchange in Heaven.
Every human heart learns at some point in their life that the more completely you love, the more vulnerable you are to the most grievous kind of pain that comes from losing the object of your love.
Our Lady’s love for Christ was perfect. And so was her pain for those three days. When we honor this pain of her separation, what does she promise? “I will console them in their pains, and will accompany them in their work.” She, who experienced more interior sorrow than we ever will, so maternally pours compassion on our own pain! And as, after the finding of the Child Jesus in the temple, they returned to Nazareth for thirty years of hidden holiness and labor, she promises that she will also accompany us in our work; her sweet spirit will permeate our daily labors. What amazing love!
I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in those anxieties which tried thy troubled heart at the loss of thy dear Jesus. Dear Mother, by thy heart so full of anguish, obtain for me the virtue of chastity and the gift of Knowledge.
THE MEETING OF JESUS AND MARY ON THE WAY OF THE CROSS
“I will give them as much as they ask for, as long as it does not oppose the adorable Will of my Son or the sanctification of their souls.”
It’s surely unbearable pain to be a helpless parent watching as your child fades under cancer or other unstoppable illness. But what kind of pain is it to watch your child be brutally tortured and executed, while you can do nothing for him?
Being as completely united to the will of God as she was on the day she murmured Fiat, we know Our Lady did not question the will of God or the necessity of her Son’s Passion, foretold beyond denial in the Psalms and by the Prophets, and by the words of Christ Himself.
Nevertheless, all of her human maternal instincts must have screamed to do all she could to relieve the excruciating pains and humiliations of her Most Innocent Son. And yet she submitted these incomprehensible emotions to the will of God, and endured the martyrdom of humbly accompanying Our Lord on His Passion. Tradition tells us she met her Son on the way to Calvary. Did she touch His face? Did she meet His eyes? Did they weep, or gaze in silence?
There is no beauty in Him, nor comeliness, a worm, not a man, the object of men’s contempt. We have seen him and there is no sightliness, that we should be desirous of Him. Despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. His visage was inglorious among men and His form among the sons of men. Whereupon we esteemed Him not.
What agony must it be to behold your child as the Prophet Isais described Him.
Now in conjunction with this most painful sorrow, Our Blessed Mother offers one of her most wonderful and merciful promises: “I will give them as much as they ask for, as long as it does not oppose the adorable Will of my Son or the sanctification of their souls.” Again, we can only marvel in awe at her compassionate love! This promise radiates her maternal desire to do all she can for our happiness and well-being in this life; and yet her most perfect desire that we should conform to God’s Will and become saints in Heaven. It is a spotless mirror of her meeting with Christ on the Via Dolorosa.
I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the consternation of thy heart at meeting Jesus as He carried His cross. Dear Mother, by thy heart so troubled, obtain for me the virtue of patience and the gift of Fortitude.
“I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.”
On the summit of Calvary, Our Mother experienced true martyrdom.
I will never forget the words the agonized Blessed Virgin chokes in the film The Passion of Christ: “Flesh of my flesh; heart of my heart; my Son, let me die with Thee!”
She stood at the foot of the Cross, close to Her Son to the last of His Combat. In His dying eyes, she read the prophet’s words: My strength is dried up, My tongue hath cleaved to My jaws, and Thou hast brought Me down to the dust of death. For enemies, like a pack of dogs, have encircled Me, the council of the wicked hath besieged Me. They have pierced My hands and My feet. They have numbered all My bones.
Our Lady, in her soul, was surely suffering the same pain; she was totally united with Christ. She was and is our Co-Redemptrix.
A Mother who possessed this heroic strength, courage and burning unity to Christ at the foot of the Cross can defend us with more power and efficacy in our combat here below than all the angels and saints combined. Truly, she is glorious as an army in battle array.
And so for those who honor this, her supreme sorrow, she promises to defend us with all the power of the Queen of Heaven. Where the sword plunged deepest into Her Immaculate Heart now springs forth the richest wine of her compassionate and solicitousness towards us.
I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the martyrdom which thy generous heart endured in standing near Jesus in His agony. Dear Mother, by thy afflicted heart, obtain for me the virtue of temperance and the gift of Counsel.
THE TAKING DOWN OF THE BODY OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS
“I will visible help them at the moment of their death–they will see the face of their Mother.”
This painting conveys more than words ever could. Our Lady cradles the cold body of her dead Son. His cheek leans softly against hers. Her eyes are full of fathomless pain; her face is swollen from tears. How her head must ache from weeping. Her arms press against where the spear plunged into His side. She cradles the Victim of sin and death, and from the depths of her pain, she promises that those who honor this sorrow will visibly see her at the moment of their death, and receive her assistance.
What greater evidence can we have of her selfless, divine love for us?
I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the wounding of thy compassionate heart when the Side of Jesus was struck by the lance and His Heart was pierced before His Body was removed from the Cross. Dear Mother, by thy heart thus transfixed, obtain for me the virtue of fraternal charity and the gift of Understanding.
THE BURIAL OF JESUS
“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.”
At this point, I feel like the sorrow and her promise speak entirely for itself.
As I’ve traversed this road of sorrows with our most compassionate Mother on her feast day, I’ve seen with increasingly clarity the depths of her love for us. As much as she has suffered, so much does she also love us and desire our salvation. So incredibly much.
I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, for the pangs that wrenched thy most loving heart at the burial of Jesus. Dear Mother, by thy heart sunk in the bitterness of desolation, obtain for me the virtue of diligence and the gift of Wisdom.
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Let intercession be made for us, we beseech Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, now and at the hour of our death, before the throne of Thy mercy, by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Thy Mother, whose most holy soul was pierced by a sword of sorrow in the hour of Thy bitter Passion. Through Thee, O Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost live and reign world without end. Amen.
O Mother, we beseech thee by these tears, by the cruel death of thy Son, and by the purple of His wounds, plant deep in our hearts the grief of thine own heart!
–from the Thirteenth Station