Our Lady of Sorrows – Our Compassionate Comforter

Dolorosa by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1665)Dolorosa by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1665)

Last Tuesday (September 8th) we celebrated the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady – a day of joyful celebration of the birth of Our Blessed Mother, the mother of our saviour through whose willing acceptance of the role of Mother of God our redemption has been made possible.  Just as Christmas is such a happy, thankful celebration of Christ’s birth, the Birthday of Our Lady is also a happy day of deep gratitude for the part Mary played in the life of Jesus and its effect on us.

In great contrast, this Tuesday (September 15th) we commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows which draws our attention to the terrible suffering of Mary’s life heralded by the priest Simeon when she and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple for the presentation. Recognising Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, Simeon proclaimed: “You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected- and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare.” (Luke 2: 34-35)

Fr. William Saunders at https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-feast-of-our-lady-of-sorrows.html explains that although the title “Our Lady of Sorrows” focuses mainly on her intense suffering and grief during the passion and death of Our Lord, it is not limited to this but comprises the Seven Dolours (sorrows) of Mary: the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt; the loss and finding of the child Jesus in the Temple; Mary’s meeting of Jesus on His way to Calvary; Mary’s standing at the foot of the cross when Our Lord was crucified; her holding of Jesus when He was taken down from the cross; Our Lord’s burial.

Though there are many different images of Our Lady of Sorrows, it is these seven dolours which are represented in depictions of Mary with seven swords piercing her heart.  Fr. Saunders comments: “…each new suffering was received with the courage, love, and trust that echoed her fiat, let it be done unto me according to Thy word, first uttered at the Annunciation.”   He goes on to trace the history of this feast day and its beginnings in the Roman Missal under the title of Our Lady of Compassion.

What a wonderful title to think of when we ask for Mary’s prayers at any difficult time in our lives but perhaps especially during these very hard times which the whole world is currently experiencing.  Fr. Saunders explains that the word “compassion” derives from the Latin roots cum and patior which mean to suffer with. As His mother, Mary naturally suffered with Jesus. To see our totally innocent saviour suffering as He did must have been excruciating for His mother. The depths of her pain and its demands on her endurance are unimaginable to us.

This is what inspires our love for her and our desire to join her in suffering all for the sake of the Lord – to become true fellow disciples who do as Jesus asks and take up our cross to follow Him. So many times, our cross seems too heavy to carry. We stumble and fall and wish that the Lord would take the pain away. Because we know that Mary suffered so greatly and understands our pain it is then that we turn to Our Blessed Mother to comfort, console and strengthen us. We are enabled to take the next step because her love for her son and for us is so great.

We can understand the depth of that love from three things quoted by Fr Saunders.  Firstly, from the Second Vatican Council describing Mary standing at the foot of the cross: “…she stood in keeping with the divine plan, suffering grievously with her only-begotten Son. There she united herself, with a maternal heart, to His sacrifice, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth.”  Secondly in St. Bernard’s words: “Truly, O Blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart…. He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since His.”  Thirdly from Pope St. John Paul: “She knows our sorrows and our pains, because she too suffered, from Bethlehem to Calvary… Mary is our Spiritual Mother, and the mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Then, she has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us! Mary consoles us above all by pointing out the Crucified One and Paradise to us!”

Her task being to decline the limelight in order to point us to God, it is so fitting that the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is placed on the day after the commemoration of the Triumph of the Cross (September 14th). This is another interesting feast which can help us build our relationship with the Lord since it complements Good Friday’s focus on the passion and death of Our Lord by honouring veneration of the cross itself as the instrument of our salvation. For those with a particular interest in the history of the early Church it may be something to explore on the many reliable Catholic websites.

There are many prayers and devotions to Our Lady of Sorrows. The following is from the website of the Association of the Miraculous Medal which you can find at https://www.amm.org/prayers/olsorrows.aspx

Prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows


Our mother of sorrows, with strength from above you stood by the cross, sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, and with tender care you bore him in your arms, mourning and weeping.

We praise you for your faith, which accepted the life God planned for you.  We praise you for your hope, which trusted that God would do great things in you.  We praise you for your love in bearing with Jesus the sorrows of his passion.

Holy Mary, may we follow your example, and stand by all your children who need comfort and love.

Mother of God, stand by us in our trials and care for us in our many needs.  Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.