The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, the day after the feast of the Holy Cross to show the close connection between Jesus' Passion and Mary's Sorrows. The devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows comes to us primarily from two well-known gospel passages. While the connection to this devotion may be a bit more obvious in relation to Mary at the foot of the Cross in John 19:26, it is well worth taking a moment to unpack its relation to a second gospel passage, that of Simeon’s prophecy to Mary in Luke 2:35.
One verse earlier, in Luke 2:34, the devout and righteous Simeon tells Mary and Joseph that the child Jesus is “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” Then, in the next verse, he tells Mary that she will be pierced by a sword. Initially, this passage can be confusing because the gospel does not reveal to us explicitly that this piercing ever happens to Mary. However, over the centuries many saints, theologians, and spiritual writers have written beautifully about what is meant by these words of Simeon.
Let us focus in on one saint from the 17th century, St. John Eudes, who wrote extensively on the Immaculate Heart of Mary. One of the insights he draws out is that the hearts of Jesus and Mary are so united that they cannot be separated. A very practical way to understand St. John Eudes’ meaning behind this is to look at the way in which mothers are connected to their children. A mother’s connection to her children is different than that of the father. When a child falls and scrapes his or her knee, the father can tend to take a look at the wound and simply say to the child, “It’s just a scrape. You’ll be fine.” However, the mother tends to feel the pain as if it were her own.
There is a saying that a mother is as happy as her saddest child. There are stories of men who have committed heinous crimes who find themselves in prison. Having lost all their friends, these men, more often than not, will relate that there is one person who never stopped visiting them, caring for them, and loving them. That person is their mother.
Considering this basic human reality of a mother’s love, we can understand better how it is that Mary suffered at the foot of the Cross. While she remained steadfast there on Calvary, when her Son’s Heart was pierced by the sword, so too was Mary’s Heart pierced. While Mary did not literally experience the physical wounding of her heart, her heart was so closely united to that of her Son and so great was her motherly sorrow that she felt her Son’s pain as if it were her very own.
We must necessarily consider another aspect of the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. All baptized Christians are members of Christ’s mystical body. We, as members of Christ’s body, have a common mother in Mary, who is mother not only of the Head of the Body, Jesus, but of the entire Body of Christ, the Church. Mary, our mother, is only as happy as her saddest child. And so, Mary’s sorrows continue to this day whenever one of her children is suffering.
Let us draw close to the Immaculate Heart of our Blessed Mother today as we consider the great love she has for us, her children, and the great sorrow she endures when we are suffering as well.