Four of Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows happened on one day: Good Friday. Mary’s heart was pierced with unimaginable grief that day, and her full suffering can only be known to herself and God. Yet as the Church prepares for the Holy Triduum, I find myself being drawn close to her, meditating on her sufferings as part of God’s plan for re-opening the gates of heaven.
How was Mary able to stand at the foot of the Cross and witness the cruel sufferings of her Son? She willingly agreed to God’s plan for salvation; one proof of her perfect unity to God’s will is that she didn’t get angry at God for having to watch her only Son be made fun of, spat upon, yelled at, and tormented. She always knew that sin was evil, but that day, she saw how evil sin really was (and is). She understood how much each soul is worth to God, seeing He was willing to send His own Son to suffer that way for us.
The devotion to the Seven Sorrows is one that has been promoted by many saints, popes, and even Jesus Himself! He said to Blessed Veronica of Binasco (1445-1497):
My daughter, tears shed for My Passion are dear to Me, but as I loved My Mother Mary with an immense love, the meditation on the torments which she endured at My death is even more agreeable to Me.”
There are numerous prayers in honor of the Seven Sorrows, and there are approved promises for those who are devoted to them. If you would like to learn more about the devotion, please read this booklet.
This devotion has appealed to me for a long time, and I remember when I first started paying more attention to it: after a spelling bee in 7th grade! The winning speller was offered a chaplet of the Seven Sorrows, but she admitted very honestly that she probably wouldn’t use it. It was offered to anyone else, and I raised my hand. Now, I’ll be honest too, and admit that I’ve only prayed the chaplet a few times since. However, that was the moment my devotion to the Sorrows of Mary began.
When I was confirmed, I took the name Marie, and it was in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows. And when I was wondering if I should date my future husband (who wasn’t Catholic at the time), I prayed to her to give me a sign that he would convert. Well, the first day that Mike showed up for Mass was on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15! And our first child was born on September 15th, too. (And I’ll also add that we were married on the Seven Joys of Our Lady, and we of course think this is a perfect circle of events!)
And now here I am, a mother; one who is starting to have more appreciation for what Mary sacrificed when she said “Yes” to God on the feast now known as the Annunciation. I see this picture:
and wonder if she is worrying about the prophecy of Simeon. Did she worry about that every day? Did she smile for her little Boy during the day, but cry at His bedside once He was asleep? No other mother could live day in and day out, knowing that one day, her beautiful Son would fulfill the Messianic prophecies and be led as a sheep to the slaughter.
The sacrifices Mary made, for your salvation and mine, are unimaginable.
As a little thanksgiving to her, I’d like to share with you some songs and hymns that can help you meditate on the last four Seven Sorrows (the ones that took place on Good Friday), and accompany Mary through her saddest day. I hope you get a chance to listen to them, read the words, and try to imagine yourself walking the road to Calvary with Mary.
The Fourth Sorrow is the “Meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Way to Calvary.” I wish I knew more about this piece other than that the words are by Shane Leslie, and the music is Hungarian from about 1797. This song isn’t really about Mary, but it is what Mary saw as Jesus made His way through the streets of Jerusalem and up to Golgatha. Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ portrayed this scene so poignantly, and it is what I re-play in my mind when I hear this song. How hard it must have been for Mary to see her Son, barely recognizable from so many wounds!
Listen to the Benedictines of Mary sing it here. (It’s track #8.)
Or click the orange play button below to hear me play it on our piano.
Who is this passing by wounded and worn,
Who is this wearing a Crown of thorn?
See the face beautiful! Bowed to the road,
While the hands delicate! Drag His load.
O He is sinking fast! Spent is His strength,
See He is lying so still at length.
Yet must He struggle on, falling again,
Thrice is He stricken to Earth by pain.
Jesus of Galilee scorned and alone,
Not yet forsaken of all Thine own.
Lord, we will follow Thee suff’ring betrayed,
Eager to stand, where Thy Cross is laid.
Tracing each drop of Thy Blood in the dust,
Counting each wound where Thy Scourge was thrust.
Jesus of Galilee stricken and torn,
Give us a share in Thy Crown of thorn.
The Fifth Sorrow is “The Crucifixion.” The music is by Mainz, circa 1628. I have always loved this melody for its melancholic mood that fits the words so beautifully. Imagining Mary erect throughout the Crucifixion is what strikes me most. She loved her Son A LOT to be able to stand there, supporting Him. She had every right to wail with grief, but instead of falling to pieces in front of Him, she accepted the Cross and suffered silently with Her Son.
Our Lady, who is full of grace,
Stood in anguish at her place;
Stood erect beneath the Cross,
Close to Him Who died for us.
What must we, the guilty feel
As beside the Cross we kneel?
Ours the voices of the foe,
Ours the hand that struck the blow.
Help us, Mary full of grace,
To look upon His suff’ring face;
Then may we closer to thee move,
And learn to look upon His love.
The Sixth Sorrow is “Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross and Laid in His Mother’s Arms”. This song by Charles Gounod is in a major key, and so it feels strange to me singing sad words to “happy” sounding music, but I guess it reminds me that the hope of the Resurrection was still in Mary’s heart. The words of this song are so descriptive and full of emotion.
What a sea of tears and sorrows, Did the soul of Mary toss
To and fro upon its billows While she wept her bitter loss;
In her arms her Jesus holding; Torn so newly from the Cross.
Oh, that mournful Virgin Mother, See her tears how fast they flow
Down upon His mangles Body Wounded Side and thorny Brow;
While His Hands and Feet she kisses, Picture of immortal woe.
Gentle Mother, we beseech thee, By thy tears and troubles sore;
By the death of thy dear Offspring, By the bloody wounds He bore:
Touch our hearts with that true sorrow, Which afflicted thee of yore.
The Seventh Sorrow is “The Burial of Jesus”. The words attributed to Jacopone da Todi (d. 1306), and the harmonization you hear in the recording below is by A. Bragers. (There are numerous harmonizations to this sequence, but Bragers’ is my favorite!) I’m not going to list all the verses here, but just the ones that could be appropriate for meditating on the Seventh Sorrow, and for sharing the pain of Good Friday with Mary.
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.
Holy Mother, pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified:
Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him Who mourned for me
All the days that I may live;
Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share thy grief divine.
Have a Blessed Holy Week and Easter!