Feast Day – Our Lady of Sorrows
For a while there were two feasts in honour 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 principal biblical references to Mary’s sorrows are in Luke 2:35 and John 19:26-27. The Lucan passage is Simeon’s prediction about a sword piercing Mary’s soul; the Johannine passage relates Jesus’ words from the cross to Mary and to the beloved disciple.
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.
Saint Ambrose in particular sees Mary as a sorrowful yet powerful figure at the cross. Mary stood fearlessly at the cross while others fled. Mary looked on her Son’s wounds with pity, but saw in them the salvation of the world. As Jesus hung on the cross, Mary did not fear to be killed, but offered herself to her persecutors.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother…. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:25-27
John’s account of Jesus’ death is highly symbolic. When Jesus gives the beloved disciple to Mary, we are invited to appreciate Mary’s role in the Church: She symbolizes the Church; the beloved disciple represents all believers. As Mary mothered Jesus, she is now mother to all his followers. Furthermore, as Jesus died, he handed over his Spirit. Mary and the Spirit cooperate in begetting new children of God—almost an echo of Luke’s account of Jesus’ conception. Christians can trust that they will continue to experience the caring presence of Mary and Jesus’ Spirit throughout their lives and throughout history.
When Joseph and Mary presented their newborn Jesus in the Temple, Simeon predicted that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart (Luke 2:35).
There could be no more agonizing piercing for Mary than to watch her son be crucified. As she stood below, silently pouring out her love to him, he looked down and saw her. In that wrenching moment, he entrusted her to John’s care. In anguish she watched him die and be taken to the tomb. On Easter morning, perhaps Mary was the first-person Jesus appeared to when he rose from the dead, holding with wordless tenderness the one who held him in her womb, transforming her piercing sorrow into joy. Beloved Mary, help us feel your son’s love with us in our sorrows.