September 15: Our Lady of Sorrows—Memorial
Liturgical Color: White
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculate Mother of God, who didst endure a martyrdom of love and grief, beholding the sufferings and sorrows of Jesus! Thou didst co-operate in the benefit of my redemption by thy innumerable afflictions and by offering to the Eternal Father His only-begotten Son as a holocaust and victim of propitiation for my sins. I thank thee for the unspeakable love which led thee to deprive thyself of the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus, true God and true Man, to save me, a sinner. Oh! make use of the unfailing intercession of thy sorrows with the Father and the Son, that I may steadfastly amend my life and never again crucify my loving Redeemer by new sins; arid that, persevering till death in His grace, I may obtain eternal life through the merits of His Cross and Passion. ~Prayer by Saint Bridget of Sweden
The roots of today’s memorial can be traced back to the New Testament, but the memorial wasn’t celebrated as a universal feast of the Church until 1814. Prior to that, devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows first emerged during local celebrations around the Mediterranean in the eleventh century.
In 1233, seven devout men in Florence each had a vision from the Blessed Virgin Mary, inspiring them to form a religious community that would later be known as the Servites. Around the year 1240, these same men received another vision of the Mother of God, accompanied by angels. She informed them about their mission, provided them with their habits, presented their rule of life, and personally founded their order. In that apparition, they were instructed to spread devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, which became one of their central missions. Through the efforts of the Servite order in the subsequent centuries, the liturgical celebration honoring Our Lady of Sorrows gradually expanded.
In the late thirteenth century, the traditional prayer, Stabat Mater (Standing Mother), was composed and quickly became well known. This prayer emphasizes the deep sorrow in Mary’s Heart as she stood before the Cross with tremendous strength and motherly compassion for her Son.
In 1809, against the Pope’s wishes, Napoleon decided to annex the Papal States to the French empire. After Pope Pius VII excommunicated Napoleon, the emperor arrested the pope and imprisoned him from 1809–1814. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, Pope Pius VII was released. In gratitude for the protection granted to him and to the entire Church through the Blessed Mother’s intercession, the pope extended the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows to the entire Latin Church.
Traditionally, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows commemorates the seven sorrows in the Heart of Mary as recorded in Scripture:
- The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:33–35)
- The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13–15)
- Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41–50)
- Mary meets Jesus on His way to Calvary (Luke 23:27–31; John 19:17)
- Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25–30)
- The body of Jesus being taken from the Cross (Luke 23:50–54; John 19:31–37)
- The burial of Jesus (Isaiah 53:8–9; Luke 23:50–56; John 19:38–42; Mark 15:40–47)
The Blessed Virgin Mary first learned about the sword that would pierce her heart while presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple with Saint Joseph on the eighth day for His naming and circumcision. “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 2:34–35). Simeon’s prophecy was the first piercing of her heart because it is the first scriptural record of Mary knowing that her Son would suffer. The next six traditional sorrows paint the developing picture of the fulfillment of that prophecy.
As we honor the Blessed Mother’s Sorrowful Heart, it’s important to understand that a “sorrowful” heart is not the same as a “sad” heart. Theologically speaking, sadness results from a form of self-pity, or an unhealthy attachment to something that was lost. Sorrow, on the other hand, is one of the Beatitudes, and therefore one of the holiest qualities we can possess. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). To “mourn” is to have a sorrowful heart. In this context of the Beatitudes, a heart that mourns is a heart that loves. Mourning, or holy sorrow, results from a heart that witnesses sin and grieves over it. In the Blessed Mother’s case, she witnessed the brutal treatment of her Son, His rejection, suffering, and death. She did not despair as she witnessed this. She did not become angry. She did not succumb to confusion and frustration. She did not withdraw into herself in self-pity. Instead, she reacted with the empathetic love that flows from the holiest of hearts. She felt holy sorrow—not so much because she felt bad for her Son, but because she grieved over the sins that inflicted that suffering, and longed to see those sins redeemed.
As we commemorate the Sorrowful Heart of Mary today, it is an important opportunity to reflect upon your own sorrow. Is your sorrow self-centered, dwelling over the wounds you feel? Or is it selfless—meaning, does your sorrow extend to others, grieving in a holy way over the sins you witness? When our sorrow is holy, we are filled with compassion and spiritual empathy. The word “compassion” means “to suffer with.” The Blessed Mother, united with her Son’s Sacred Heart, suffered with her sinful children as she watched their sins crucify her Son. She harbored no hate as she witnessed those sins, only an indescribable longing to see the grace of her Son pour forth upon those who had rejected Him and sinned against Him.
Ponder, today, the holy and Sorrowful Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As you do, try to understand her heart more fully. The only way to comprehend the depth of love in her heart is through prayer. In prayer, God will reveal her immaculate love to you and inspire you to imitate her more fully, turning from all selfishness to more fully embrace selflessness, so as to share in the perfect love shared between this immaculate mother and her divine Son.
Most Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart of Mary, I thank you for the unending depth of compassion you had for those who sinned against your Son and for loving me with that same love. As you grieve with a holy sorrow over my own sins, please pray for me, that I will more fully understand your compassion. As I do, I pray that I will be able to more fully imitate and participate in that love, flowing from your pure and perfect Sorrowful Heart. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
From Manual Of Devotions In Honour Of Our Lady Of Sorrows, Published 1868 by R. Washburne, F.A. Little in London, England:
Devotion to the Sorrows of our Blessed Lady dates from Calvary. The Apostolic Church clung round her whom Jesus had given to be its Mother, and ever remembered that it was amid the pains, the Blood, and the agonies of the Passion, that it had become the child of Mary – literally “the child of her Sorrows.” The chief characteristic, then, of the Church’s first love to our Lady was a deep, tender, loving, and child-like devotion to her Sorrows, and the Apostolic age bequeathed this exquisite feeling to succeeding times.
From the sorrows of the most holy Mother of God, learn that all sorrow is the effect of sin. The first tears that ever dropped from the eyes of man were wrung from him by the bitter loss which he sustained on account of sin; and every tear that has since fallen, and gone to swell the tide of human woe, has had its origin in sin. Mary had never been guilty of sin. But sin seized upon and murdered her only Child; and therefore sin made her weep, we might almost say, tears of blood, upon the place dyed with the blood which she had given to Jesus Christ.
Look back at your life, and call to mind the numberless times in which you have sinned against your Lord. Each of these sins had its share in causing Mary’s bitter tears. They helped to strike down that thorny wreath upon the brow of Jesus; to wield the cruel scourge; to dig through the delicate hands and feet; to murder Him upon the Cross. They gave nerve to the executioner’s arm, and malice to the hypocritical Scribe, and words of scorn to the rabble that screamed and yelled around the Cross.
When, therefore, you contemplate the sorrows of our dearest Mother, fall upon your knees before her, look up into the face of your Saviour, smite your breast, ask pardon for having been the cause of His and of her sufferings; and promise that by resisting evil for the future, and by living a holy life, you will endeavour to blot out the evil of the past. If the merciful but just hand of God should chastise you for your sins by sending you sorrow to wring your heart with anguish, and to draw bitter tears from your eyes – Oh! lift up those eyes to the Cross on which Jesus hangs, beneath which Mary stands, and learn patiently to bear the trial. Weep with her over the work which your hands have done. Those tears are a sweet balsam to the wounds of Jesus; they are a consolation to the heart of His Mother; they are a health-giving fountain which will wash away the filth of sin, ‘and heal the stroke of its wound.’
Ever glorious Blessed Virgin Mary, queen of martyrs, mother of mercy, hope, and comfort of dejected and desolate souls, through the sorrows that pierced thy tender heart I beseech thee take pity on my poverty and necessities, have compassion on my anxieties and miseries. I ask it through the mercy of thy divine Son; I ask it through His immaculate life, bitter passion, and ignominious death on the cross. As I am persuaded that He honors thee as His beloved Mother, to whom He refuses nothing, let me experience the efficacy of thy powerful intercession, according to the tenderness of thy maternal affection, now and at the hour of my death. Amen. Hail Mary, etc.
Sequence (Optional) – Stabat Mater
At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.
Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole begotten One!
Christ above in torment hangs,
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying, glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
‘Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that mother’s pain untold?
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender Child,
All with bloody scourges rent.
For the sins of his own nation
Saw him hang in desolation
Till his spirit forth he sent.
O sweet Mother! font of love,
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with yours accord.
Make me feel as you have felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ, my Lord.
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.
Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share your grief divine.
Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of yours.
Prayer by Saint Bridget
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculate Mother of God, who didst endure a martyrdom of love and grief, beholding the sufferings and sorrows of Jesus! Thou didst co-operate in the benefit of my redemption by thy innumerable afflictions and by offering to the Eternal Father His only-begotten Son as a holocaust and victim of propitiation for my sins. I thank thee for the unspeakable love which led thee to deprive thyself of the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus, true God and true Man, to save me, a sinner. Oh! make use of the unfailing intercession of thy sorrows with the Father and the Son, that I may steadfastly amend my life and never again crucify my loving Redeemer by new sins; arid that, persevering till death in His grace, I may obtain eternal life through the merits of His Cross and Passion.
Mother of love, of sorrow, and of mercy, pray for us.