It is so fitting that Passiontide concludes the weekdays with the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the perfect intro to Palm Sunday, Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum. As we reflect upon the Passion and Death of her Divine Son Jesus Christ, we cannot help but realize the immensity of pain and sorrow our Blessed Mother endured, for love of all mankind. What are the significance of the Seven Sorrows? Let us examine each.
1. The Prophecy of Simeon
Mary took the infant Jesus to the temple, according to the law of Moses, presenting Him for the circumcision of all male Jews, as well as for her own purification according to the law, even though she was and remained always inviolate. While in the temple, Simeon approached the Holy Family. He beheld the infant and knew, through the Holy Ghost, that this was truly the fulfillment of God's covenant with His people. And he uttered the words of the Canticle of Simeon, which Holy Mother Church prays every night in Compline, "Now, Lord, you may dismiss Thy servant in peace, according to Thy word, for my eyes hath seen the salvation which Thou hath wrought for Thy people."
Then, after praising God for the Messiah, Simeon turns to Mary, so modest, so humble, and prophesies to her in these words, which must have started her deep contemplation of the Son of God: "This Child is destined to be the downfall and rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed - thou thyself shalt be pierced with a sword" (Luke 2: 34).
Her sorrows were soon to begin. And in the beginning she had the comfort and support of her beloved chaste spouse Saint Joseph, to help her bear the burdens. Simeon's prophecy was the first of her sorrows, for keeping these things silently in her heart, she pondered upon them, receiving enlightenment from her Heavenly Spouse the Holy Ghost, while leaning on the humanly comfort of Joseph, laying his hand gently and reassuringly upon her shoulder and telling her in the most loving, chaste way: "We will face this together." It was Joseph who had to gather Mary and the Child Jesus in the dead of the night, to tell them that an angel had awakened him and told him they must flee to Egypt, because Herod sought the life of the Child. Remember, Joseph would recognize the angel as from God for the same angel appeared to him to assure him Mary "had not known man."
2. The Flight into Egypt
Flee into a totally pagan country? To the very land out of which Almighty God had brought the nation of Israel after a long captivity? But Mary did not complain. She did not grump. She did not ask Joseph if he was sure it was an angel that had told him to flee. Mary trusted totally in God, and knew God worked in her husband in this manner. She respected the hierarchical structure of the family as God so deigned. Together they fled to Egypt confident God would protect them, not knowing how long they would be there in this foreign land which must have seemed endless months, until the angel once again came to Joseph and told him it was now safe to return to Nazareth, for Herod was dead. Joyous news to be sure, but news that meant another long journey with little or no provisions, trusting only on the providence of God to see them safely back in the land of Israel, to their home town of Nazareth. There they more than likely were met with disbelief, even ridicule and scorn by those who were not friends or kin, because they had been gone so long. But they were willing to face whatever hardships if it were God's will and so did as He asked, trekking the dangerous way back where they picked up where they left off a few years earlier. They did so in a loving, gentle, humble manner, fulfilling all their duties and obligations in accordance with Jewish law.
3. The Three-Day Loss of Jesus
When Jesus was twelve, they journeyed to Jerusalem to have Jesus presented in the Temple again. But this was also another sorrow for our Blessed Mother. We cannot conceive of the most tender love, pure love, which Mary possessed in her heart for Jesus, the Son of God. Her pure heart sought only the Will of God, so Her consternation must have been great when she realized, with Joseph, that young Jesus was not in the caravan which was returning to Nazareth. With what haste must they have turned around, frantically returning to Jerusalem. It would be comparable for someone from a tiny rural town today to have their child lost in the midst of a city like Lost Angeles, Chicago, or New York, to name a few metropolises. Where do you look? To whom do you go? What do you say? They searched everywhere for Jesus, the Son of God, and couldn't find Him. Imagine what many of the people might have remarked. "How could you be so negligent as to lose your son? Serves you right for being neglectful. You'll probably never find him now. It's the way of life here in Jerusalem. He could have been sold by now. Better go back home and count Him as gone, because you're not going to find Him." Or, "sorry, but we don't know and we can't help you. We've got our own problems, if you don't mind."
Sound familiar? We may say the same things today, to many who seek our help. "Don't bother me, I've got enough to worry about without your troubles on my mind." Aren't we glad Our Lady doesn't treat us that way when we ask her intercession? She could have then and few would have been upset with a mother fearing the worst. But Mary and Joseph didn't give up. They trusted...and their faith was rewarded after three grueling days of searching. Note here the three days as a precursor of the time Jesus would lie in the tomb after His Death on the Cross before His glorious Resurrection.
We can visualize Joseph and Mary entering the temple area. They were people of deep faith, of deep prayer. The temple was the House of God, and they sought to beseech God to help them in their search. Through trusting in the Holy Ghost, they found Him. Imagine their wonder at finding Jesus in the temple, surrounded by the scribes and elders of the Jewish people. These people were asking this Boy of twelve questions concerning Sacred Scripture, and the Boy was answering with a wisdom that astounded these learned men. Jesus didn't look a bit concerned that He was busy teaching the leaders of the temple. Perhaps He didn't notice His Mother and St. Joseph at once. Did Mary and Joseph have to wedge their way through the throng of people surrounding Jesus, as Mary would have to do many years later when Her Divine Son was being taken to Calvary to die for the sins of all mankind? A mixture of joy, relief, thanksgiving to Almighty God, and yes even a bit of angxt and righteous anger must have flooded their souls to have found the Son of God safe and sound, teaching in the temple. But when Mary, ever so gentle, asked Her Divine Son, "Why have you done so to us? Did Thee not knoweth we were searching for Thee?" Jesus responded, "Didst thou not know that I must be about My Father's business?"
In that one statement Christ was announcing, though subtly to all the nation, that soon He would begin the real work for which His Father had sent Him, to bring the new law of Love, to radically alter the old law of Moses, bringing it to fulfillment in ending the Old and beginning the New. Mary understood what her Son meant, though Sacred Scripture does not say this outright, only that she kept all these things in her heart and pondered upon them. This only points out all the more the virtue Mary possessed of silence. Her Son was the Messiah, the Only-Begotten Son of God and she knew from the moment of the Archangel Gabriel announcement to her that she was chosen as the Tabernacle to carry the Living God, to be the instrument by which "the Word was made flesh." She knew interiorly that He was destined to lead a life of great sorrow in great poverty, before He was to rise from the dead as a sign to all the world that He had triumphed over sin and death.
Having made this statement to His Mother, Jesus calmly took the hands of Joseph and Mary, and returned with them to Nazareth, where He remained obedient to them in every way. Then Holy Writ falls silent upon the life of Jesus after this, and does not pick up again until He is thirty years of age and embarks upon His public ministry. By this time we know from the Gospels that His beloved foster-father, His protector and earthly teacher, St. Joseph is dead. Mary is a widow, and now she must face the fulfillment of Simeon's prophecy without the physical presence of her earthly guardian. And the sorrows yet to come for her were unprecedented in the history of mankind until that time, and will remain so until the Heavenly Father commands: "Time is no more."
4. The Meeting with Her Divine Son on the Via Dolorosa
To fulfill Her role as Mother of God, Mediatrix of all Graces and Co-Redemptrix of the world, Mary, with a pure and tender heart that loved as Her Son loved, bravely but sorrowfully met her Divine Son on His way to Calvary. Never was this more brilliantly illustrated than in Mel Gibson's masterful The Passion of The Christ where the sorrows were buoyed by little joys of remembrance of His childhood to keep her going. The Man she beheld through her own tears was not the beautiful baby born in Bethlehem, nor the Boy-grown-to-manhood Whom she had raised. This Man, her Son, was beaten, battered, scourged, and denounced by all the rabble gathered in Jerusalem stirred into a frenzy by the Scribes, Pharisees and Romans. She faced their scorn, and the might, power and wrath of the pagan, ruthless Roman soldiers just to let Jesus know that she was there, and would be with Him throughout His Passion.
5. Standing at the Foot of the Cross
Mary, with Saint John and the other holy women, specifically Saint Mary Magdalen, stood at the foot of Her Son's rugged Cross, and waited with Him through three long hours of bitterest agony, while He slowly died of a broken heart over the many souls who would reject Him, and reject salvation. His physical agony was very real. His death was very real, but the pain both He and His Mother bore was was a very spiritual pain as well, for both knew that they must never waver in their absolute obedience to God's Will.
Jesus gave us His Mother while He hung in bitterest agony on the Cross. He knew that we, weak and fallible, nee a Mother's tender care to help us through the terrible sufferings of our exile here on earth. Mary is ever ready to help us to bear our crosses for love of Her Divine Son. She is our intercessor before Christ Who cannot refuse His Own Mother. That is why She is affectionately known as the "Catholic Shortcut." While She is the Intercessor, Christ is the Mediator between man and the Almighty Father.
Jesus Christ did give us His Last Will and Testament from the Cross. He gave us His Mother. He entrusted us to Her care and His Church to Her care. If He, Who is God, did this, then there is much more for us to ponder as we pray for a deeper devotion to Mary to help us in these critical times for it was also the Will and Testament of Our Lord that we love Mary as He loved Her. If we are to imitate Christ, do we then not owe Her the honor and respect which Christ gave to Her, and which He passed on to us as He was shedding the very last drops of His Precious Blood on the Cross. He passed on this love and care to us through the person of St. John His beloved Disciple - the only Apostle who persevered to the end and the only Apostle not to die from martyrdom.
It is interesting here that though Christ had already established His Church, His Vicar on earth was missing in action, but John was there and so was Our Lady - both to represent Holy Mother Church. Thus, in these times, the Angels, Blessed Mary, John, all the Apostles, Saints and holy Pontiffs in Heaven are still with His Church - fragmented and beaten though She is today, beyond recognition just as He was as He hung upon the gibbet, uttering His Last Seven Words to complement the Seven Sorrows.
6. Taking Christ down from the Cross and being laid in Mary's Arms
The Mother of God stood weeping at the foot of Her Son's Cross, and watched as He breathed forth His last agonizing breath, and gave up His soul to His Almighty Father. She watched as the soldier thrust a lance through His side, piercing His Most Sacred and Merciful Heart. She winced in physical pain for Her Son could no longer feel pain. He was dead. Thus the full physical pain mystically transferred to her who bore the brunt for the sake of souls around her and those to come in all future generations. She watched as the nails were pulled and yanked from His gnarled hands and brittle wrists, now smaller than her own, and His bloody, blackened and mud-caked feet. It must have seemed like an eternity as the lifeless body was lowered to the ground where Mary sat, waiting to cradle the dead body of her Divine Son. Can we possibly imagine the pain? Can we possibly imagine how she felt at that moment? Michelangelo Buonorotti captured it best in his stunning, world-renowned inspired sculpture of The Pieta residing today behind glass to the right of the entrance into St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Even more, can we understand that throughout everything Mary bore all her sufferings bravely, many times in silence or alone, never wavering in her total obedience and fiat she had promised God at the Annunciation.
7. The Burial of Her Son
Then came the moment that meant for the Mother of God a physical separation from Her Divine Son as His body was hastily, but reverently placed in the tomb, and with the help of the holy women and St. John, she returned to the House of the Last Supper, to wait and watch in prayerful supplication to the Father, for the moment of her Divine Son's Resurrection from the Dead. The apostles were dispersed, devastated by the events of that past week when their emotions ebbed and flowed and fear took over. Mary, alone, had to remain steadfast in her faith. She could not and would not waver in her faith even for a moment in total belief that God had a plan and that Jesus would rise as Scripture foretold, giving to the world a triumph over death and sin, which was the fulfillment of the Father's covenant with mankind.
All around her was a sorrow that was totally human. Her sorrow was totally human, too; but with a different slant. Mary was so committed to the Will of God, that she was able to charitably abide the talk of the apostles and some of the women who believed that Jesus was truly gone forever...and all was lost to them. They mourned then...perhaps not so much for Jesus and Mary, as for themselves. But Mary understood, because she was human. Yet she was able to pray through her deepest sorrow in trust with the Father. Not because she was the Mother of God was Mary able to bear these sorrows so valiantly; rather by pondering in her heart the many things that were prophesied to her in her lifetime. Mary saw things not from a mere human viewpoint, but from the infused viewpoint of God. By the grace of the Holy Ghost, Mary was able to make God's viewpoint - His Will - Her own. Thus she suffered as no mother has ever suffered, or will ever suffer in this world. In fact, if all the sorrows of every mother that has ever been or will ever be were joined together, they could not equal the sorrow which the Blessed Mother endured on our behalf. For She is truly the Mother of God, and our Mother, too. Were it not for Our Lady, many of the apostles could very well have followed the same course as Judas Iscariot. Gibson captured this so beautifully with Peter who literally ran into Blessed Mary as he was fleeing. She is the Queen of the Apostles for a reason.
Only by Willingly Sharing Her Sorrows Can We Be Joyful
If we are going to remain steadfast in upholding and preserving the True Faith in these times of chastisement, if we are going to bear persecution of every type for the love of Jesus, a deep devotion to the Sorrows of Mary is vital to us, because this devotion leads us deeper into the very Heart of Christ. It is a Heart tender, merciful, and filled with compassion for all mankind. If we are going to learn to have absolute trust in God, then we must look at and to Mary as a first-rate exemplar example of the kind of trust we must have. She was fully human. Freedom from sin did not mean that She was free from temptation. It meant that by uniting Her will to God's Will, She was able to overcome all the onslaughts of the devil, and to rise above them, and remain steadfast in her role as Mother of God, Mother and Queen of Heaven and earth.
Mary never gets in the way of Her Divine Son. She never oversteps Her role in God's Perfect Plan of Salvation. Rather, it is Mary who acts as a sure guide, leading us directly into His Most Sacred and Merciful Heart. This is ever our true Refuge for it beats in unison with what His infallible, perennial Living Magisterium teaches and has taught for nearly 2000 years. His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the Refuge we must seek and belong if we are going to remain faithful children of God, Sons of Mary, and loyal to His One True Church.
This life on earth is truly a life of sorrows - a "valley of tears" - for any who are truly striving to be one with the Divine Will. God did not promise us a life of ease, of joys and ecstasies. Rather, by the birth, life and death of Christ, He showed us that the path to Heaven is the Way of the Cross. We are not yet to the Glory of Heaven, reflected in the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. We are in the midst of the Sorrowful Mysteries. Most of us are just reaching Calvary. Some have reached the summit of Golgotha, and are undergoing their crucifixion as they strive daily to fulfill the Divine Will. So many friends who were with them in their Novus Ordo days have abandoned them, but not Jesus and Mary or John. Others are on the road to Calvary, still struggling with unshackling the demons of the New Order and embracing fully the rewarding cross of uncompromising Traditional Catholicism. But whether we're at the summit or on the path, the Mother of Sorrows is ever there to take us by the hand, and to comfort and console us as only a loving Mother is able to do, as she wished to do for Her own Divine Son, and could not do because it was not God's Will that she be close to Him until He was crucified. Then, by her physical presence and her constant prayer, she supported Jesus in His Passion, and held Him after His mortal death, and waited in patience and love as well in sorrow so human, until that glorious moment on Easter morn.
No matter the setbacks we have in this life, no matter how many things are done to thwart the Will of God, we have to have that total trust that His Will shall be accomplished in all things, in His time, not ours, and that we are only to trust and go forward despite all difficulties, for He will aid us by His grace, by His Infinite Merits poured out for us at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass worthily assisted at, and every worthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament as well as every meeting with Christ at the Font of Divine Mercy - the Confessional where we, who have fallen, are given the grace of absolution and resolve, to get back up and continue our Heaven-bound trek, though narrow and rough the way. He is truly there with us at every step and so is His Blessed Mother, the Mother of Sorrows, to gently, lovingly guide us to Him, Who is the very life of our souls.
This is manifested in her Apparitions and Messages over the centuries from Pilar to Fatima Our Lady has manifested what we need to work on, to watch out for, etc. Is She not just being a good Mother? What Mother would not warn her children, reprimand them out of love? She conveys to Her children everywhere that we are still lukewarm, and more often than not far from God because we are drawn into the lure of the world, the flesh and the devil, listening to satan and his lies rather than to the Holy Ghost in our souls. And when we listen to the evil one, consciously or subconsciously, we are alone, for Mary cannot help us if we turn our back on Her and Her Divine Son. Free will does that. That is why She has constantly encouraged us in every Church-approved vision that we need to be abandoned to the Will of God.
Thus, on this pivotal feast day in 2005, when another innocent is about to be 'crucified' in Pinellas, Florida we need to pray all the more for Theresa Marie Kathleen Schindler-Schiavo that if it be His will that she offer her life in reparation for sins, that we accept His will, pray for her enemies and someday dance with Terri in Heaven. God does not have to prove to us He can save her, He already has through the sacraments. We have to prove to God that we're sincere enough to back up our resolutions to stick it out to the very end. Perseverance involves perspiration. It's hard work. We need to continue to invoke Our Lady to intercede for us and for others in bringing all souls to Her Divine Son. Remember the good thief. It's possible. Remember the good thief? But do not forget the bad thief for it could easily happen to any of us, no matter our walk in life, no matter where we are in holiness. Remember that satan is targeting the holiest for his victory is the greater when the mighty have fallen. Beware and pray, just as Our Lady has counseled at Fatima. Pray the Rosary.
"O Jesus, it is for Thy Love, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary."
"My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee. Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I adore Thee profoundly, and I offer Thee the most precious body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifferences with which He is offended, and by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary I ask Thee for the conversion of poor sinners."
vol 16, no. 77