Our Mother of Sorrows
by Thomas A. Droleskey
This past Wednesday, September 15, 2004, was the feast of the Seven Dolors of Our Lady. Only a handful of genuine mystics have been able to comprehend fully the depth of the pain and sorrow that pierced Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart during her life. Most of us erring sinners, while relying upon her maternal intercession as her consecrated slaves, do not meditate too often or too deeply on the sufferings Our Lady endured as her Divine Son bore the weight and the horror of our sins to redeem us on the wood of the Holy Cross. One of the ways to meditate more frequently on the sufferings of Our Lady is to pray the Seven Dolors of Our Lady, reflecting on the seven dolors or sorrows that Our Lady experienced as she fulfilled her role as the Co-Redemptrix of the human race.
Each one of our sins, no matter how small or venial, caused Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to suffer unspeakable horror in His Sacred Humanity during His Passion and Death. Those sins also caused Our Lady to suffer in a perfect communion with the sufferings of her Divine Son. Having been preserved from all stain of Original and Actual Sin, Our Lady's Immaculate Heart was perfectly joined to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His sufferings were her sufferings. Her sufferings were His sufferings. The matchless union of hearts that existed once in time and exists in Heaven for all eternity between Our Lady and Our Lord requires from us a response of total surrender and submission. We must detest each one of our sins and seek to do penance for our forgiven mortal sins and for all of our venial sins and our general attachment to sin. Although sins are wiped away in the Sacrament of Penance, the debt we owe for our forgiven sins remains. We are thus called, as one of the prayers in the Miraculous Medal Novena notes, to "recover by penance what we have lost by sin."
Sorrow entered the world as a result of the effects of Adam's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. It was Our Lady, though, the new Eve and the Ark of the New Covenant, that took sorrow unto herself as God's handmaid and made it an instrument of our salvation in cooperation with the Redemptive Act of her Divine Son. Our Lady, who is the Mother of Sorrows, reminds us that there is no suffering or pain or difficulty that we can endure in this passing vale of tears that is the equal of what she suffered in perfect communion with her Divine Son. Our own sorrows, as real and as intense as they may be, pale into insignificance when we meditate upon Our Lady's sufferings. Indeed, an honest assessment of our lives teaches us that we deserve as sinners to suffer and that it should be our joy to help to make reparation for our sins and those of the whole world by offering all of our sufferings and sorrows up to Our Lady's Immaculate Heart as her consecrated slaves. The more we love Our Lord and His Most Blessed Mother, the more we, like Saint Therese of the Child Jesus before us, will pray for sufferings and humiliations so as to be refined as we keep Our Lady company at the foot of her Son's Holy Cross.
Indeed, a priest I know told me years ago that there were times he wished he could just go off to a monastery and spend the rest of his life weeping for his sins and doing penance for them. Another individual, a lay man, told me that he said the following during a time of intense personal crisis and grief, "If only I wept for my sins the way that I am weeping for myself right now." Such sorrow and contrition for one's sins are representative of an understanding of the horror contained within every sin we commit. Catholics know that we are powerless of our own accord to deal with this sorrow, which is why so many people who not only commit but persist in mortal sins unrepentantly must seek to anesthetize their sorrow and/or seek the affirmation and approval of others.
That is, even people who do not understand or accept the objectively evil nature of their actions will suffer the sorrowful effects of sin in their lives without attributing their depression and malaise or anxiety to the sins they are committing, which is why they must seek to flee from the misery into which they have plunged themselves. As sinners who have received the grace to be Catholics, we know that Divine absolution is available to us in the Sacrament of Penance as the merits of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ are applied to us by an alter Christus acting in persona Christi. And it is Our Lady, the the Mother of Mercy--our life, our sweetness and our hope, who intercedes for us to be humble enough to cooperate with the actual graces that flow out of the Mass to get ourselves into the confessional and to make a firm purpose of amendment to sin no more, thereby making it possible for us to be less of a source of sorrow and grief to her Immaculate Heart. As the Mediatrix of all graces, Our Lady is indeed our hope as we attempt to walk on the rocky road that leads to the narrow gate of life won for the many by her Divine Son's Redemptive Act.
A brief review of the Seven Dolors of Our Lady and we can relate to them might be instructive at this juncture.
The Prophecy of Simeon
The aged Simeon waited patiently in the Temple, confident that God would fulfill the promise He had made to him in his youth, that he would not die before his eyes had seen and he had beheld in his own arms the Messiah. Simeon must have been thought to be something of a religious fanatic to his relatives because of all of the time he spent waiting for the Messiah to be revealed to him. God had revealed to Simeon much more than the fact that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. God had told Simeon what the Mother of the Messiah, Mary of Nazareth, would have to suffer, giving him the words that he would utter to the woman who made possible our salvation when she presented her infant Son in the Temple.
And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: "Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; and thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed." (Lk. 2: 34-35).
Our Lady heard these troubling words from Simeon, storing them in her heart. God was telling her through Simeon that her present joy would be replaced with the sorrow of seeing her Son, who was to be and remains the Sign of Contradiction, suffer. Our Lady trusted in God totally and without any reservation. Her acceptance of Simeon's prophecy teaches each of us that we, who are baptized to be living signs of contraction in imitation of the Sign of Contradiction Who our sins hung on the wood of the Holy Cross, must be ready to accept suffering as the price of our discipleship. We must accept it in our lives. We must understand that those we love will have to be refined in the crucible of suffering, uniting it all to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart and to be thus used be her as she sees fit for the greater honor and glory of the Blessed Trinity and for the salvation of souls. Mothers and fathers have to understand that their children are going to suffer. Some may die at an early age as a result of an incurable disease or an unexpected tragedy. Others may go through life suffering one humiliation after another because they remain steadfast in their defense of the Holy Faith. The first dolor of Our Lady reminds us that no suffering any of us endures is the equal of what she endured to bring us forth in great pain at the foot of the Cross as adopted children of the living God.
The Flight into Egypt
And after they departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: 'Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.' Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod: That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet saying: Out of Egypt I have called my son. (Mt. 2: 13-15)
To avoid the clutches of the evil King Herod, Saint Joseph fled with his most chaste spouse, Our Lady, and his foster-Child, Our Lord, and lived as refugees in Egypt. Our Lord, Who was born in poverty, stripped of all of the royal prerogatives due his kingly dignity, lived as an exile. There was no room in the inn in Bethlehem for the Holy Family. Room was found for them in Egypt, which is where the Hebrew people had suffered for 440 years in cruel slavery as the slaves to the Egyptians before being led out by a figure of Christ, Moses, through the parted waters of the Red Sea to their forty years' desert journey prior to entering into the Promised Land of Canaan. Our Lady was thus forced to make a temporary home for her Child and her husband as they fled for their lives.
The sorrow of not being able to return to Nazareth in light of the evil designs King Herod had on her Divine Son was excruciating for Our Lady. Do we force Our Lady into exile in our lives by forgetting our consecration to her, by forgetting to pray the family Rosary with care each and every day? Do we forget to meditate on the silent, selfless sacrifices made by Saint Joseph as he responded immediate to Saint Gabriel's warnings and abandoned his own place of business in order to do that which he had to do as the head of his household to protect and safeguard his chaste spouse and his foster-Child? Are we willing to take our own flight into a figurative Egypt for the sake of the Faith, especially by means of seeking out the Immemorial Mass of Tradition so as to protect ourselves and our family members from the harmful novelty that is the Novus Ordo Missae? Are we willing to be so completely detached from our desires that we can flee at a moment's notice from our own homes when called to do so, especially to have access to the fullness of Faith? Are we, in other words, willing to do what the Holy Family did? Do we truly understand that we have no permanent home here in this life and that we must seek out first the Kingdom of Heaven, of which Holy Mass is a foretaste?
The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple
And when he was twelve years old, they going into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast. And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day's journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance.
And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: "Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing."
And he said to them: "How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?" And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart." (Lk. 2, 42-51)
There are few worse feelings for a parent than to lose sight of his children. The realization that a child has run off can cause a parent's heart to miss a beat or two. I know. As we were putting our few earthly possessions in a storage facility in Bethpage, Long Island, in July of 2003 prior to resuming our full-time life in our motor home, my wife went to get a hand truck as I held the gate of our storage bin up, thinking that our daughter was with my wife. She was not. Lucy Mary Norma had run away down the hallway of this use facility. Thanks be to God, she came back when I cried out her name, thinking that the whole thing was very funny. We pride ourselves on keeping a very close watch on our daughter, knowing full well the dangers of the era in which we live. We take nothing for granted. All it takes, though, is a momentary lapse, as happened when I simply thought that our daughter was with her mother, before a moment of panic arises.
Our Lady and Saint Joseph believed that Our Lord was with their relatives in the caravan returning to Nazareth. They thought that he was visiting and playing with his cousins and friends. The realization that this was not the case caused Our Lady's Immaculate Heart to be burdened with sorrow. Had He been kidnapped? Had He had an accident? What relief Our Lady and Saint Joseph felt when they found Our Lord answering questions put to Him by the doctors in the Temple. (Just an aside: Our Lord was not "teaching" in the Temple. Our Lord did presumed to do that which was inappropriate for a Jewish boy of his age. A Jewish boy of twelve years of age did not presume the office of teaching. He was responding to questions that had been put to Him by the rabbinical doctors.)
Do we grieve when we lose possession of Our Lord by means losing the state of sanctifying grace if, God forbid, we commit a mortal sin? Do we have sorrow in our hearts knowing that our indifference and our ingratitude have caused us to lose sight frequently of the fact that we are called at all times to live in such a way as to be prepared for a holy death as members of Christ's true Church, outside of which there is no salvation? Do we forget to spend time regularly before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer? Do we forget to adorn our homes with crucifixes and images of the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph and other saints and of the angels? Do we forget the importance of naming our children after saints to help them to learn to grow in sanctity in imitation of the saint whose name they bear? Do we grieve for our relatives who have left the Faith or who are nominal Catholics who don't want to "take things too far" and/or who are hostile to the fullness of the Faith found in the Traditional Mass? Do we make efforts to recover them for Christ and His true Church? There are many ways we continue to cause Our Lady to suffer by means of our forgetfulness of her Divine Son and the supernatural helps He has given us through Holy Mother Church.
The Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Via Dolorosa
The Via Dolorosa. The Way of Sorrows. Each of us walks on a figurative Via Dolorosa as we march forward in the direction of our daily crosses, our daily Calvaries, if you will. Life is full of difficulties. With the exception of the handful of genuine mystics, such as Saint Bridget of Sweden, none of us can possibly imagine the incomprehensible sorrow Our Lady suffered when she saw the fruit of her virginal and immaculate womb carrying His Cross on the Way of Sorrows. Mel Gibson did a pretty good job of showing us the encounter in his The Passion of the Christ. Even that filmed representation, however, cannot begin to plumb the depths of sorrow Our Lady felt.
Our Lady had given her Divine Son the Flesh with which He would pay back the sin of Adam on the wood of the Holy Cross. She had given Him the Blood that would be shed for the forgiveness of sins. The Sacred Heart that was loaded down with our sins had been formed of her own Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Our Lady had beheld the radiance of her newborn Son in the stable in the cave in Bethlehem. She beheld Him on the Way of Sorrows as One Who had been defiled and disfigured almost beyond recognition as a result of our sins, our ingratitude, our indifference, our lack of willingness to even to aspire to scale up to the heights of personal sanctity. She loved Him with a perfect love. She suffered a sorrow beyond all telling when gazing upon His wounded countenance. She grieves for us, her adopted children, because we do not appreciate the horror of our sins and what it cost her as she cast her gaze upon our loving Redeemer.
We must, therefore, resolve to walk our daily Via Dolorosa by taking Our Lady with us so that we will see the face of the suffering Christ in everyone we encounter, so that we will at all times keep in mind our First Cause and our Last End, understanding that everything we say and do has an eternal dimension to it. Everything we say and do either helps us to get to Heaven or heaps more Purgatory time on us if are given the grace to die in a state of sanctifying grace. Those things we say and do that are hurtful to Our Lady and thus to our salvation might wind up sending us to Hell for all eternity if we let the weeds of spiritual sloth and abject neglect of the interior life cast out from within us the very inner life of the Blessed Trinity. We must stand watch with Our Lady as her trusting, docile, submissive children as we encounter her Son in the persons we meet in all walks of our daily life, treating them as we would treat Him, showing them the compassion and love that Our Lady showed Him and that she wants to bestow so generously upon each one of us if we merely invoke her maternal intercession and consecrate ourselves totally to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
Mel Gibson got the portrayal of Our Lady as the actress who portrayed her stood by the foot of the Cross in The Passion of the Christ. As Anne Catherine Emmerich recounts in The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lady stood by the foot of her Divine Son's Cross with a dignified solemnity, containing the unspeakable grief her Immaculate Heart suffered as the sword of sorrow prophesied by Simeon pierced her heart through and through. Our Lady wept, but not uncontrollably (as portrayed in Jesus of Nazareth). She stood by her Son's Cross valorously, suffering physically as He suffered physically, suffering in the depth of her Immaculate Heart as He suffered in the depth of His Most Sacred Heart. Words are useless to describe this sorrow. Words are not only inadequate. They are completely and totally useless. Our puny little hearts, so stained by the vestigial after-effects of our sins, cannot even begin to grasp but the faintest traces of the grief Our Lady suffered as she saw the toll our sins took on her Divine Son's Sacred Humanity and as she herself shared in that suffering completely.
Words are useless. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the unbloody representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, says all we ever need to have said about the dolor of Our Lady standing by the foot of the Cross as her Son underwent His fearful Crucifixion to win back for us on the tree of the Cross what was lost for us on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Our Lady is present at each offering of Holy Mass. She is there not only with the few souls who accompanied her (Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Mary Magdalene. Mary of Clophas) but with all of the souls of Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering. All of the choirs of angels are there. And we, whose sins put us on the wrong side of the Cross as Our Lady suffered so valiantly as our Co-Redemptrix. We have the privilege of consoling Our Lady at Holy Mass, which is why we should have such a love of the Mass that we will make any and all sacrifices imaginable, including (as mentioned before) moving if necessary to have access to the Immemorial Mass of Tradition on a daily basis.
Words are useless. Love the Mass. Keep Our Lady, the Queen of all of the Angels and Saints, company as a sacerdos, priest, enfleshes her Son under the appearances of bread and wine. The more frequently we assist at Holy Mass will be the more we grow in the depth of our understanding of the intense sorrow Our Lady experienced as our sins put her Son to death and the great love she us for us as our Mother.
The taking down of Our Lord's dead Body from the Holy Cross was a source of great sorrow for Our Lady. There are few things so moving as a mother grieving over the dead body of her child. Mothers expect to predecease their children. Our Lady had stored up the words of Simeon's prophecy. The sword of sorrow prophesied by Simeon pierced her heart completely as her Son's body was placed into her loving arms. She who had beheld her Son as a newborn infant beheld his lifeless corpse, grieving over the indifference of the men whose sins had put Him to death and grieving also over the fact that He had died for many souls who would refuse to cooperate with the graces He had just won for them by the shedding of every single drop of His Most Precious Blood.
As Our Lord gave each one of us to be the children of his own Blessed Mother, we must comfort her in these times when her Son's Mystical Body, Holy Mother Church, is wounded by our own sins and by the widespread confusion and the propagation of error within the Church's highest quarters. Although Our Lord cannot suffer again physically, He suffers in the persons of the members of His Mystical Body. Our Lady weeps as each of us worsens the state of the Church by our lukewarmness and our refusal to spend as much time in prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, as we ought. She weeps as the Vicar of Christ and the bishops who are in canonical communion with him distort the authentic patrimony of the Faith and refuse to do that which she has specifically requested: the consecration of Russia to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. She weeps and her Immaculate Heart breaks as novelties devastate her Divine Son's vineyard. Our Lady, who beheld the lifeless corpse of her Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, holds the Church and each of her members as she endures attacks from without and errors aplenty from within. We must resolve never again to be such a source of sorrow for Our Lady, surrendering unto her Immaculate Heart whatever merits we earn by enduring the crosses of ordinary living and the crosses of the reality of the Church Militant's horrific situation today as he consecrated slaves. We must trust in her. As she beheld her Son after death, she wants to behold each one of us if we persist in a state of sanctifying grace until the point of our dying breaths.
The Burial of Jesus
Nicodemus, a disciple of Jesus (but a secret one for fear of the Jews), besought Pontius Pilate to take away the Body of Jesus and to lay it in a new tomb he had hewn out of stone. Pilate gave permission. The life cycle of Our Lord was thus brought to a symmetrical conclusion prior to His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
That is, Our Lady gave birth to Our Lord in a cave on the first Christmas day. She watches as her Son's dead Body is laid in the cave out of which Nicodemus had hewn His tomb. Our Lady wrapped the Infant Jesus in swaddling clothes. She wraps her Son's dead Body in His burial shroud, whose miraculous existence continues to befuddle scientists and to inspire believers. Unlike His Nativity in Bethlehem, though, Our Lady must depart from her Son as the tomb is sealed. She has great Faith. She is still nevertheless a mother grieving over the death of her Son. Her Immaculate Heart, though full of grace and the fortitude provided by her faith, is pierced through for the last time prior to her Son's Resurrection. She then awaits His appearance to her on Easter Sunday as she keeps a vigil in prayer.
We must do no less than what Our Lady did during the forty hours between Our Lord's burial on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. We must keep a vigil in prayer. None of us knows when we will breathe our last. None of us knows when our mortal bodies will be placed in a grave. If we want those bodies to rise up incorrupt and glorious on the Last Day, we must do as Our Lady did during the forty hours. We must pray. We must fast. We must bury any and all hurts. We must forgive all of those who we believe, rightly or wrongly, have hurt us or misunderstood us or calumniated us. Just as Our Lady waited patiently during those forty hours, so must we wait patiently until the intentions of all hearts are revealed at the General Judgment of the Dead on the Last Day. It matters not who misunderstands us and speaks ill of us. All is revealed on the Last Day.
We must not grieve Our Lady by holding grudges or refusing to forgive those who we believe have offended us. We must forgive as her Divine Son forgave us, His executioners, on the wood of the Holy Cross, and as He forgives us through the lips and at the hands of an alter Christus acting in persona Christi in the hospital of Divine Mercy that is the Sacrament of Penance. Et dimmite nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimmitimus debitoribus nostris. We must bury the old man of disordered self-love and lust and hatred and envy and greed and anger and put on the new Man Who is the fruit of Our Lady's womb, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are called to die to self and to bury the past of our sins by cooperating with the sacraments administered to us by Holy Mother Church. We are called to grow in the supernatural virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity with every beat of our hearts, consecrated as they must be to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
A meditation on the Seven Dolors of Our Lady produces abundant peace, yes even in the midst of personal difficulties and of all the problems that beset the Church and the world, which is in more of a state of confusion and barbarism because of the triumph of Modernism for the moment within the Church. Here are the Seven Graces that Our Lady gives to those who meditate on her Seven Dolors:
1) I will grant peace to their families
2) They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.
3) I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.
4) I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.
5) I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
6) I will visibly help them at the moment of their death, they will see the face of their Mother.
7. I have obtained (This Grace) from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy. (Our Lady of the Rosary Library, Prospect, Kentucky)
As a terrible sinner who trembles when he considers that God is just, knowing that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God, I place my trust in Our Lady that this propagation of a devotion to her Seven Dolors might count in some small measure to obtain the graces listed above, especially number seven. May we implore her help at all times so that she will plead for us at the hour of our deaths, presenting us to the Blessed Trinity as one of the children for whom she did not suffer in vain.
Our Lady, Mother or Sorrows, pray for us.