Seven Sorrows of Mary: Accompanying Jesus On His Way to the Cross
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.’
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’” – Luke 2: 25-35
The earliest devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary is attributed to the Servite Order and dates back to 1232. Initially a way to meditate on the sorrowful heart of Mary while standing under the Cross, they eventually created official prayers related to Mary under this specific title: the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, the black scapular of the Seven Dolours of Mary, and the Novena to Our Lady of Sorrows.
As a result, the devotion spread, including to the Eastern Orthodox Church, which describes her as “the Softening of Evil Hearts” and is celebrated on February 2, while the Roman Catholic Church has her feast day set to September 15. The latter date was chosen at a provincial synod of Cologne two hundred years after the earliest displays of honor were attributed to Our Lady of Sorrows. And September 15 remains, to this day, the feast during which we remember the suffering our spiritual Mother endured. What solidified the importance of praying to Mary under this title was when St. Bridget of Sweden received a mystical revelation that this devotion would bring about great graces.1
Once popularized, many artists were inspired to depict the Blessed Mother under this title with tears, her heart exposed with seven daggers in it to symbolize each separate sorrow. The beauty of praying to Our Lady of Sorrows is that it permits devotees to connect the Passion of Jesus with the pain His Mother also endured. As with most powerful prayers, this gave birth to the popular display of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Sacred Heart of Jesus together. Thus, more recently, some have even prayed to the United Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary should not be confused with the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. They include:
- The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35)
- The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-21)
- The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-50)
- The Carrying of the Cross (John 19:17)
- The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:18-30)
- Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross (John 19:39-40)
- Jesus is Laid in the Tomb (John 19:39-42)
The prayer format includes opening with the title of the Sorrow (and sometimes a meditation), followed by an Our Father, seven Hail Marys, and one Glory Be. This is why the devotion is often in chaplet format.
As with most ways of honoring Mary, she often appears to particular saints and reveals specific reasons why she urges devotees to develop a love for her under that title. Each title of Mary includes imparting grace to the person who loves her; for Our Lady of Sorrows, it is to reveal what is hidden in our lives. This might include sins or unhealthy patterns of behavior we can’t otherwise notice on our own, or maybe other difficulties that are impeding our ability to spiritually advance.
The strongest evidence to support this devotion comes from the revelation St. Bridget experienced in the fourteenth century. This is what the Blessed Mother told her about anyone who prayed to her dolors:
- “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.”2
Women, especially mothers, are attracted to Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows, because they find her maternal heart a consolation to theirs when they are grieving. Mothers experience the intensity of loss pertaining to their children in very connected ways. Some find Our Lady of Sorrows a great comfort after a miscarriage or losing a child to death. It seems that meditating on finding Jesus in the Temple might help strengthen a mom’s resolve to entrust an estranged or wayward child into the Heart of Mary.
We can grieve with the Heart of Mary. We know she reflected deeply upon everything her Son endured throughout His life, likely knowing that it would end in death. Because of that, what Jesus suffered, Mary also suffered. And this is true of those who love both Jesus and Mary. We can be assured that, as we turn to them in our darkest and most despondent moments, they genuinely accompany us, unseen but present, through every loss and every pain.
Sources: 1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Sorrows 2. https://www.apostoliviae.org/resources/17593/devotion-to-our-lady-of-sorrows