Today is the memorial of our Lady of Sorrows. For a while there were two feasts in honor of the Sorrowful Mother: one going back to the 15th century, the other to the 17th century. For a while both were celebrated by the universal Church: one on the Friday before Palm Sunday, the other in September.
The reason for the two memorials was the two references in the bible to Mary’s sorrows. The first is in Luke 2:35 when he spoke of the sword that will pierce Mary’s “very soul” and the second in John 19:26-27 where we see Mary at the foot of the cross.
The first reference, in order to be put into context has to begin at verse 34, “ Then Simeon blessed them and said to His Mother Mary: “Behold this Child is anointed to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your soul as well”.
Not the typical greeting at the Jewish celebration of the Presentation at the temple.
And the second one we heard this morning in the first reading, “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Many early Church writers interpret the sword as Mary’s sorrows, especially as she saw Jesus die on the cross. Thus, the two passages are brought together as prediction and fulfillment.
The interesting duality of these two images. Mary sees with sorry the pain and suffering of the humanity in her son. And, yet, at the same time sees the glory of the freed divinity of her son.
Mary is often seen as symbolizing the Church. As both are given the responsibility of nurturing and caring for the children of God. And in today’s first reading the “disciple whom he loved” represents all believers. This analogy also better explains the overwhelming sorrow of our blessed mother.
As she looked upon her beaten and broken son she saw the enormity of the sins that he had taken on. Yesterday we celebrated the Exaltation of His Holy Cross and today we contemplate the enormity of the Sorrow of our Lady and we cannot forget the connection.
One feast looks at the weight that bore down on Christ as he hung on that cross. And today we reflect on the sorry that this brought to our blessed mother.
The Gospel antiphon said, “Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary; without dying you won the martyr’s crown
beneath the Cross of the Lord.”
Saint Ambrose in particular saw Mary as a sorrowful yet powerful figure at the foot of the cross. Mary stood fearlessly while others fled. Mary looked on her Son’s wounds with pity, but saw in them the salvation of the world. The sword that pierces her soul was held by the hand of our sins. The enormity of that crucifixion was expanded by our failings.
Her sorrow was not entirely in response to the suffering of her sone, because that suffering was multiplied by or failure to love even half as much as he loves us. Mary’s sorrow should be our sorrow, her pain should be our pain.
As part of the traditional celebration of today’s memorial there is a sequence that is sung. It typically comes after the first and before the gospel reading. In the middle of that sequence are the following verses:
Holy Mother, pierce me through,
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Savior crucified.
Let me share with you his pain,
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with you,
Mourning him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live.
By the cross with you to stay,
There with you to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of you to give.
JN 19:25 – 27
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
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