05 Editorial - Our Lady of Sorrows

posted Sep 11, 2018, 10:54 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Sep 11, 2018, 10:55 AM ]
Every year on Sept. 15, the Church commemorates the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. St Paul told the Corinthians that "we preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23), and St Clement I, the fourth Pope, urged the Christians of the late first century to "look steadfastly to the blood of Christ" that was shed on the Cross. It was only a matter of time before Christians, in contemplating Christ's Crucifixion, would also turn their attention to those standing near the Cross, especially His sorrowful mother. Prayerful reflection on Sacred Scripture led to the numbering of Mary's sorrows (or dolours) at seven (Mary's seven sorrows).

In the 13th century, two events occurred that spurred the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows: the founding of the Servite Order and the writing of the Stabat Mater. In 1233, seven cloth merchants left Florence to live a life of prayer and penance. Later, the Blessed Mother appeared to them, and said, "I have chosen you to be my first servants, and under this name, you are to till my Son's vineyard. Here, too, is the habit which you are to wear; its dark colour will recall the pangs which I suffered on the day when I stood by the Cross of my only Son." Their order became known as the Order of Servants of Mary, or Servites; the order grew in numbers; its members spread devotion to Mary's sorrows.

Features of the devotion included the wearing of the black scapular of the seven sorrows of Mary and the recitation of the Servite Rosary, also known as the Rosary (or chaplet) of the Seven Sorrows. In 1645, Pope Innocent X established the Servites' Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows in its present form. In subsequent centuries, the Servites also promoted the Via Matris (Way of the Mother), a counterpart to the Stations of the Cross, in which the faithful meditate on Mary's seven sorrows.

Within decades of the founding of the Servite Order, the hymn Stabat Mater was composed, likely by the Franciscan friar Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306). The most popular English version, often sung in American parishes at Stations of the Cross, begins, "At the Cross, her station keeping." The hymn became popular in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance, and eventually became part of the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as the Mass, in which it is an optional sequence before the Gospel.

As the Stabat Mater grew in popularity, sacred art also increasingly portrayed Mary's sorrows. The image of the Pietà, in which Mary holds the dead body of her son, became increasingly popular from the 14th century; Michelangelo's famous sculpture dates from 1498-99.

The people of the time were particularly receptive to devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, because "there was great suffering at times among the masses of people, and the plague spared no social class." "As people contemplated this sorrowful Mother with whom they could identify, they saw that while she lamented, she also joined herself to that suffering, and as she said 'yes' at the time of the Annunciation, she said 'yes' to this saving action of Christ and so shared in it."

Mary's sorrows came to be commemorated liturgically on the Friday before Palm Sunday, and on Sept. 15, the day after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Lenten commemoration was celebrated throughout the Church from 1727 until 1969; the September commemoration has been part of the Church's calendar since 1815. Source: www.osv.com

J.J. Ziegler writes from North Carolina in OSV Newsweekly.