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Our Lady of sorrows

Date: September 15, 2020

By: Rikka B.

Many have said, “to be happy and be a good person” is the purpose of life. Sounds simple enough, but where does one seek happiness and how does one attribute to being good?

Is the secret to life found in seeking happiness and being good? Or could our purpose in life be found in the very thing we seek to avoid?

Other than our human desire for happiness, what is one other thing that we all humanly share in?...suffering. Not every person will find this everlasting happiness, but every person will endure suffering. This is what makes today’s feast day so special. The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. This Mary, Mother of God, known as Our Lady of Sorrows, may just be the most relatable for us all.

Our Lady of Sorrows officially became a Feast day by Pope Pius X in 1913, set for September 15, the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

September is a special month for Mother Mary:

  • September 8 - The Nativity of Mary

  • September 12 - The Feast of The Most Holy Name of Mary

  • September 15 - Our Lady of Sorrows

  • September 24 - Our Lady of Mercy

So many opportunities to honour Mary through historical relevance (how each feast day was installed) and through the many ways she tries to reach us. We may each have a Marian feast day that resonates with us, but the one Mary we may not be so inclined to cling to is Our Lady of Sorrows. Why is that? I think it is just human nature to be repelled by grief and suffering.

Our very first breath of life becomes one of want, we cry for something. At birth, the first thing a baby wants is to be held, be warm, be fed. The first signs of our suffering. And though we experience a range of minor to major forms of suffering, this continues throughout our lives...and we don’t want it. We are repelled by it. We want immediate consolation. This never changes, unless we practice how to suffer well. And in order to practice, it is best to have a guide or an example. If Jesus in all his perfection seems unattainable, we also have his mother, whom he gave us, to look to “behold your mother” (John 19:27)

Our Lady of Sorrows (Mater Dolorosa/Sorrowful Mother) is commonly depicted with either a sword or seven of them piercing her exposed heart. In the 13th century a religious order called the Servites started the devotional prayer Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, recounting Mary’s role in Salvation History, based on scripture. In the 14th century a mystic saint named St. Bridget of Sweden perceived that the devotion to the Seven Sorrows/Dolors would grant Seven Graces/Promises for those who mediated and prayed the Seven Dolors.

  1. The prophecy of Simeon. (St. Luke 2:34, 35)

  2. The flight into Egypt. (St. Matthew 2:13, 14)

  3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. (St. Luke 2: 43-45)

  4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross. (John 19:17)

  5. The Crucifixion. (John 19:18-30)

  6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross. (John 19:39-40)

  7. The burial of Jesus. (John 19:39-42)

The Sorrow that strikes me the most is ‘the meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross”. Many movies have portrayed Jesus’ Passion by capturing a grief stricken mother, looking helplessly into the eyes of her suffering son as he walks the Way of the Cross.

I can only compare this imagery to the eyes of the countless mothers I have encountered at my place of work (Rotary Flames House) where we specialize in pediatric palliative care (children’s end of life). Not knowing exactly when the hardest part will be, they wait alongside their dying child. You would think that the hardest part would be losing them, but some have said that watching them die, suffering through the pain that some medication can ameliorate, has been more agonizing. I do not perceive Mary or these mothers as helpless at all; it is their unwavering presence through that difficult time that has the ability to alleviate that suffering. I have seen a child's anxiety relieved by "mommy's here" as she continually kisses his forehead. I can only imagine that Jesus would have felt the same way when His eyes met those of Mary on the Way of the Cross, her eyes saying "mommy's here, I'm here with you." This is authentic compassion (latin of com - with, passio - suffering), despite not being able to "do" anything, but "be" with and suffer with another. This sorrow/dolor can be one that we cling and meditate on, whenever we feel helpless amidst those we love, who are suffering.

The last Grace or Promise revealed to St. Bridget of Sweden mentions eternal happiness and eternal consolation and joy. Which brings us back to the often sought after life goal: happiness. Our Lady of Sorrows provides us with hope that eternal happiness, consolation and joy can be attained through Jesus.

Did Mary know the extent of her Sorrow when she gave her 'yes' at the Annunciation? Or did it all come to light when Simeon prophesied that her "heart too shall be pierced?" Could it be that when Mary lost Jesus for 3 days she came to know the feeling of not having Christ in her life? A foreshadowing of the days in wait, leading up to his Resurrection? The feeling of seeing an empty Tabernacle. This seventh Grace alone could be meditated and delved into. But one could perceive that it is in living and suffering with Jesus that ultimately provides this eternal consolation and joy. May we ask Our Lady of Sorrows to teach us, how to live Christ-centered lives, as a guide to this happiness we often seek.

(Images taken from @novenacards via Instagram)

Our Lady never wavered from her Fiat (her ‘yes’). As a 14 year old girl who said yes to becoming the Mother of God, despite alienation, ridicule and scandal. As a wife who said yes to her husband’s dream to leave the comforts of their home and flee to Egypt, despite knowing the cost of all the children’s lives lost for the sake of her own son’s life. As a mother who said yes to walking alongside the Son of God, despite knowing His innocence and watching Him be tortured and ultimately die for the sake of the whole world. Our Lady has shown us what it would look like to join in the sufferings of Christ; an the example of what a continual, daily faithful ‘yes’ looks like.

With all of our seemingly imperfect ‘yeses’, our desires for only happiness and goodness, our nature to object suffering...may we look to Our Lady of Sorrows to teach us how to suffer with and how to suffer well.

Our Lady of Sorrows. Pray for us.


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