Last week we celebrated with joy Our dear Mother as 'the flower of the field from which came forth the priceless lily of the valley.' To-day our hearts mourn with the blessed Mother in her sorrows in bearing the Son of God, especially at the foot of the cross the fulfilling of the prophesy by the aged Simeon, a sword piercing her heart.
Yesterday we exalted in the Cross as the means of our salvation. The Cross is 'the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, for on it and through it, and for its sake, the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.' The cross is the consummation of Christ's noble life it is the trophy of His victory.
To-day we view the cross from another perspective that of Mater Dolorossa,the grieving Mother. At the cross her station keeping Stood the mournful Mother weeping, Close to Jesus at the last, Through her soul, of joy bereaved Bowed with anguish, deeply grieved Now at length the sword had passed. Mary's bitter, bitter suffering at the foot of the cross and even through her life unites us with her so easily. All Christians know that cross is the heart of living the Gospel in every day living, and many times that cross is heavy to bear with all the pain, anxieties, sickness and suffering in our midst. We wilt under its weight; we are anguished by its pain, we weep hot tears. Yet in this there is always a ray of hope by our Lord's victory, and a ray of comfort through our dear Mother's suffering and sorrow. O, that blessed one, grief laden, Blessed Mother, blessed maiden Mother of the all-holy One O that silent, ceaseless mourning O those dim eyes, never turning From that wondrous, suffering Son.
Originally this day was kept on the Friday before Good Friday. Pius XII changed it to the 15th September. Devotion to our Lady of Sorrows has an apostolic basis with the incorporating of the account of Mary standing at the foot of the cross into St. John's gospel. However it was during the Mediæval years that devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows flowered. In prayer manuals the most popular was The Little Office of Mary with devotions to Mary as the sorrowful Mother at the foot of the cross and the Wounds of Christ being the most used. The visual expression of these devotions was the Rood Screen which are still seen in many European cathedrals and churches:
Christ above in torment hangs; She beneath beholds the pangs Of her dying glorious Son Is there one who would not weep, Whelmed in miseries so deep, Christ's dear Mother to behold.
Part of that mediæval piety was crawling to the cross on Good Friday. From that same expression of piety came the well-known hymn Stabat Mater, from which the readings come in this homily. It became one of the most popular works put to music not only during this period but also down to our age, and of course was always performed during Holy Week. Some of the loveliest versions came from Josquin de Pres, Lassus and Pergolesi.
Art too gave its expression to Mary, the doleful Mother who is depicted in black with seven swords piercing her heart. These seven swords symbolize the chief seven sorrows of Our Lady's life. Sculpture too lent itself to the delicate carving of the Pietà, that is, the sorrowing Mother holding the dead Body of her Son after he had been taken down from the Cross. One naturally thinks of that exquisite Pietà of Michaelangelo in St. Peter's Basilica.
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.
The sorrowful, grieving Mother was also the subject of visions by some mediævalist mystics. One such mystic was Margery Kempe, a contemporary of Julian of Norwich, who was not even afraid to take an archbishop to task in order to save his soul! One Palm Sunday in the early 15thC when meditating in front of a crucifix during Mass Margery saw the events leading to it so vividly.
Then she beheld, in the sight of her soul, our blissful Lord Christ Jesus coming towards His Passion, and before He went, He knelt down and received His Mother's blessing. Then she saw His Mother falling down in a swoon before her Son, saying to Him, `Alas, my dear son, how shall I suffer this sorrow, and have no joy in all this world but you alone? Ah, dear son, if you will die at any event, let me die before you, and let me never suffer this day of sorrow, for I may never bear this sorrow that I shall have for your death. I wish, son, that I might suffer death for you, so that you should not die -if man's soul might so be saved.
Now, dear son, if you have no pity for yourself, have pity on your mother, for you very well know that no man can comfort me in all this world but you alone.'
Then Our Lord took up his mother in his arms and kissed her very sweetly, and said to her, `Ah, blessed mother, be cheered and comforted, for I have very often told you that I must needs suffer death, or else no man would be saved, or ever come to bliss. And mother, it is my Father's will that it be so, and therefore, I pray you, let it be your will also, for my death shall turn for me to great worship, and to great joy and profit for you and all mankind who shall trust in my Passion, and act in accordance with it.
And therefore, blessed Mother, you must remain here after me, for in you shall rest all the faith of Holy church, and by your faith Holy Church shall increase in her faith. And therefore I pray you, beloved Mother, cease from your sorrowing, for I will not leave you comfortless. I shall leave John, my cousin, here with you to comfort you instead of me; I shall send my holy angels to comfort you on earth; and I shall comfort you in your soul myself, for mother, you well know I have promised you the bliss of heaven, and that you are sure of.
Ah, beloved Mother, what would you wish better for than, when I am king, you to be queen, and all angels and saints shall be obedient to your will. And whatever grace you ask of me, I shall not deny your desire. I shall give you power over the devils, so that they shall be afraid of you, and you not of them. And also, my blessed mother, I have said to you before that I shall come for you myself, when you shall pass out of this world, with all
my angels and all my saints who are in heaven, and bring you before my Father with all manner of music, melody and joy. And there I shall set you in great peace and rest without end. And there you shall be crowned as queen of heaven, as lady of all the world, and as empress of hell.
And therefore, my blessed mother, I pray you, bless me and let me go to do my Father's will, because for that I came into this world, and took flesh and blood of you.'
When the said creature beheld this glorious sight in her soul, and saw how He blessed His mother, and his mother Him, and then His blessed mother could not speak one more word to him, but fell down to the ground, and so they parted from each other, his mother lying still, as though she were dead - then the said creature thought she took our Lord Jesus Christ by the clothes, and fell down at his feet, praying Him to bless her, and with that she cried very loudly and wept bitterly, saying in her mind, `Ah, Lord, what shall become of me? I had much rather that you would slay me than let me remain in the world without you, for without you, I may not stay here, Lord.'
Then our Lord answered to her, `Be still, daughter, and rest with my mother here, and comfort yourself in her, for she that is my own mother must suffer this sorrow, But I shall come again, daughter, to my mother, and comfort both her and you, and turn all your sorrow into joy.'
And then she thought our Lord went forth on his way, and she
went to our Lady and said, `Ah, blessed lady, rise up and let us follow your blessed son as long as we may see him, so that I may look upon him enough before he dies. Ah, dear Lady, how can your heart last, and see your blissful son see all this woe? Lady, I may not endure it, and yet I am not his mother.'
Then our Lady answered and said, Daughter, you have heard that it will not be otherwise, and therefore I simply must suffer it for my son's love.
By the time of mystics like Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, the format of the seven sorrows of our Lady had been truly established.
1.The Prophecy of Simeon. At the presentation of Christ in the Temple and of Mary's own purification, 40 days after Christ's birth, the old prophet Simeon, prophesied that 'a sword shall pierce' Mary's heart. This must have always cast a shadow and a sorrow over Mary's life, and paled that joy of motherhood.
2. The Flight into Egypt. The first taste of that sorrow was when Jesus was less than 2years old. The holy family were forced to become refugees when Herod issued a writ for the slaughter of all male children under two years old. God had warned Joseph of this in a dream, and so our Lord escaped being one of the Holy Innocents. Never certain of when and if they would ever return to their home at Nazareth must have been a painful burden for Joseph and Mary.
3. The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days. Each year the holy family went up to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. After one of these the child Jesus stayed behind in the Temple, instead of accompanying his parents and other pilgrims back to Nazareth. After three days journeying and not having found her son, Mary's heart sank in despair.
4. Meeting Jesus on the Via Dolorossa on the way to Calvary. How Mary's heart went out to her Son, indeed it must have broken as her eyes met those of her Beloved. She is bound with her Son in grief, agonising grief. There was nothing she could do for Him the hardest of all things for a Mother.
5. The Crucifixion and Death of the blessed Saviour. That sword, which old Simeon had prophesied would pierce her heart, has. It so pierce Mary that her heart bleeds just as her Son's body and head are bleeding from His gashing wounds. Her love for her Son has crushed her spirit as she watches Her Son die.
6. Jesus is taken down from the cross, and Mary cradles His battered body just as she had done when He was a child before it is placed in the tomb. What thoughts must have flooded her bruised heart of Him as a child, as a carpenter, as a teacher, as the Messiah. That moment of holding her son she would take to her own grave.
7. Jesus Laid in the Tomb. As Joseph and Nicodemus lovingly prepare the body of Jesus for burial, and anoint lavishly with rich ointments the torn and mangled flesh, the weeping Mary looks on with bowed head.
Is there one who would not weep Whelmed in miseries so deep Christ's dear Mother to behold? The purpose of meditating upon the sorrows of our Lady is not only to join us, and our sufferings in her anguished sufferings but also to direct us to her Son and His loving act of salvation for mankind. O Mother, fount of love, Let me feel the strength of your sorrow, That I may grieve with you. Make my heart burn With love for Christ my God That I may be pleasing to Him. Holy Mother, grant that The wounds of the crucified Are scored deep into my heart Share with me the pains Of your wounded Son.
Who designed to die for me.
Let me truly weep with thee
Mourning the crucified
So that I may live
By the Cross let me stand
Freely united with you
Virgin of virgins most high
Be not bitter with me .
Let me weep with you
Let me hear the death of Christ
Let me share His Passion
And take the stripes upon me.
Let me suffer His wounds
To be inflamed by the cross
With love for your Son
Thus kindled and fired
May I be defended by you, O Virgin,
On the Day of Judgment.
Let me protected by the Cross
Fortified by the death of Christ
And refreshed by His grace
When my body dies,
Grant that my soul be given to
The glory of paradise.
O dolorous Mother, take pity upon us who are cast about by the storm of our many sins, extend unto Christ the Lord thy hands that received God, plead our cause before His goodness, asking pardon of our sins, a devout and peaceful life, a happy Christian end and a good defence at His dread judgment seat; so that, saved through thy most effective prayers unto Him, we may inherit the bliss of Paradise and with all the saints sing the glory of the most honourable and majestic name of the Holy Trinity. Amen.