Reflecting on Our Lady of Sorrows
By Roberto de Mattei | 13 September 2023
On 15 September, the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.
We could say that pain belongs to Mary not in an episodic form, but in a constitutive form, because if Jesus is called Vir dolorum, according to the words of prophet Isaiah (53:3), Our Lady could be defined as Mulier dolorum, the Lady of sorrows, Mater dolorosa.
Jesus Christ, the Man-God, is called the King of sorrows and martyrs because He suffered more in His life than all other martyrs together — His pain was greater than that of no single martyr, but of all the martyrs throughout history. Mary, a mere creature, suffered more than any other creature has ever suffered. This immense pain of hers was prophesied to her by Simeon, who said to Our Lady: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce” (Lk 2:35). The sword of pain pierced Mary throughout her life, but reached its climax on Calvary. According to St Thomas, the presence of Mary at the hour of the Passion was “the greatest of all sorrows”. (Summa Theologica, III, q. 46, a. 6)
Jesus’s pains were physical and moral. Mary’s pain was not physical but moral, and it was not limited to the time of the Passion. When the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive the Saviour, he also made her understand what kind and how many pains her divine Son would face. And this was the deepest cause of her sorrow. In fact, if it is true that parents feel their children’s pain more acutely than their own, this applies first and foremost to Mary, as it is certain that she loved her Son immensely, more than herself. Her moral martyrdom, therefore, lasted her entire life — from Nazareth to Golgotha. St Alphonsus says that Mary spent her whole life in perpetual sorrow (pain), always having sadness and suffering in her heart. The passage from the Lamentations of Jeremiah applies to Our Lady: “Your pain is as great as the sea” (2:13).
Jesus suffered in soul and body, Mary only in the soul. But the soul is nobler than the body, to which it gives life, and there is no comparison between the pain of the soul and that of the body.
Devout Catholics meditate on the Passion of the Lord, picturing before their eyes the sufferings of Jesus on Calvary. But few meditate on the sorrows of Mary, which according to tradition, were seven: the prophecy of Simeon; the flight into Egypt; the loss of Jesus in the temple; Mary’s encounter with Jesus, who was going to die; the death of Jesus; the piercing of the spear and the deposition of Jesus from the Cross; and finally the burial of Jesus. However, we could add the pain of Holy Saturday, the day of supreme pain and supreme hope.
One of the reasons why the sorrows of Our Lady are little meditated on is that there is a great sensitivity to the pains of the body, but one struggles to understand how great the sufferings of the soul can be. The insensitivity to moral suffering is also due to modern man’s diminished capacity for love. Indeed the measure of pain is love. The reason is clear: as Saint Alphonsus says, quoting Saint Bernard, “The soul is more where it loves than where it lives.” So we could say, that he who does not suffer, does not love.
Thus, the excruciating pain that Our Lady suffered in her soul was born from her boundless love for the Divine Son, but also from her immense love for the Church and for each of us. Mary suffered because she loved us. For this reason, at a time when the Church is in the process of suffering a striking self-destruction, we must ask for the grace to love the Church and suffer with her. Those who love the Church suffer with her, and those who do not suffer with her demonstrate that they do not love her.
Suffering with Mary for the Church also means fighting to defend the name of Mary and that of the Church in the hour of humiliation and betrayal. Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows prepares us to receive this grace.