by Mary Kris I. Figueroa
You most likely have heard of “Our Lady of Sorrows” but are not quite familiar that there is a devotion attached to this title of Mary. It is a popular Roman Catholic devotion in many countries.
You might want to pray this devotion throughout Lent. Who knows, even after this season, you will find yourself connected with this devotion, and make it a regular one for you at any time of the year. For today, I will be sharing with you the History of the Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, the Reasons for praying it, and the Promises given by Our Lady herself to those who will dedicate themselves to this devotion.
Who is Our Lady of Sorrows?
Our Lady of Sorrows (Latin: Beata Maria Virgo Perdolens) is likewise known as Our Lady of Dolours, the Sorrowful Mother or Mother of Sorrows (Latin: Mater Dolorosa), and Our Lady of Piety, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows or Our Lady of the Seven Dolours. These are all the names by which the Virgin Mary is referred to in solemn honour of the sorrows in her life as the Mother of God.
The Mater Dolorosa is one of the common key subjects for Marian art in the Catholic Church. Religious Catholic imagery portrays the Virgin Mary in a sorrowful, mournful state, sometimes with visible lacrimation (flow of tears) on her face, with her heart, often bleeding, pierced by seven long knives or daggers, which represent her seven motherly sorrows.
Why do Catholics need a devotion to the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
1. It is our duty to the Lord and to His Most Blessed Mother
“That as we are under great obligations to Jesus for His Passion endured for our love, so also are we under great obligations to Mary for the martyrdom which She voluntarily suffered for our salvation in the death of Her Son.” – Saint Albert the Great
Our Lady herself said that the sufferings of Jesus were like her own sufferings:
“My daughter, consider the suffering of my Son, for His limbs were like my own limbs and His heart like my own heart. For just as other children use to be carried in the womb of their mother, so was He in me. But He was conceived through the burning charity of God’s love. Others, however are conceived through the lust of the flesh. Thus, John the Evangelist, His cousin, rightly says: ‘The Word was made flesh.’ He came through love and was in me. The Word and love created Him in me. He was truly for me like my own heart. For when I gave birth to Him, I felt as though half my heart was born and went out of me. And when He endured suffering, it felt like my own heart was suffering. Just as when something is half inside and half outside – the half outside feels pain and suffering, but the inside also feels a similar pain – so it was for me when My Son was scourged and wounded; it was as if my own heart was scourged and wounded.” – Our Lady to Saint Bridget of Sweden
2. To honour the “voluntary martyrdom” of our Blessed Mother
The sufferings of Our Lady were heavier and worse than all the sufferings of humans that ever lived, then and ours in the present.
I was also the one closest to Him at His suffering and I was never separated from Him. I stood very near His cross, and just like that which is closest to the heart stings the worst, so His pain was heavier and worse for me than for others. When He looked at me from the cross and I saw Him, then tears flowed from my eyes like blood from veins. – Our Lady to Saint Bridget of Sweden “The martyrs endured their torments in their bodies; Mary suffered Hers in Her soul.” – Saint Alphonsus Liguori
The sorrow in Mary’s soul was far beyond any physical pain. Jesus Himself said to Saint Catherine of Sienna, “Between the sufferings of the soul and those of the body there is no comparison.”
3. To express gratitude and compassion, which our Blessed Mother fully deserves
“So great a love has our Heavenly Mother for us, that she deserves our gratitude, and that gratitude should be shown by at least meditating upon, and pitying her in her Sorrows.” – Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Jesus Himself considered His Mother’s sufferings heavier than His own. This must evoke in our hearts a loving compassion for His Sorrowful Mother:
And when He saw me so stricken with pain and overwhelming sorrow, He felt such a sorrow over my pain that all the pain of His own wounds became as subsided and dead for the sake of the pain He saw in me. I can therefore boldly say that His pain was my pain since His heart was my heart. For just as Adam and Eve sold the world for an apple, so My Son and I bought back the world as with one heart. Consider therefore, my daughter, how I was at the death of My Son, and it will not be hard for you to give up the world and her cares.” – Our Lady to Saint Bridget of Sweden
4. To console the Blessed Virgin Mary for the sufferings she bore for the sake of mankind’s salvation
The following visions of Saints show how Our Lady herself yearns for consolation from us Catholic faithful.
“He (Our Lord) said to me, that when He rose again He showed Himself to Our Lady, because she was in great trouble; for sorrow had so pierced her soul that she did not even recover herself at once in order to have the fruition of that joy. By this I saw how different was my piercing. But what must that of the Virgin have been? He (Our Lord) remained long with her then because it was necessary to console her.” – Saint Teresa of Avila “I look around at all who are on earth, to see if by chance there are any who pity me, and meditate upon my Sorrows; and I find that there are very few. Therefore, my daughter, though I am forgotten by many, at least do you not forget me; consider my anguish, and imitate, as far as you can, my grief.” – Our Lady to Saint Bridget of Sweden And as I, filled with sorrow, gazed at their cruelty, I then saw His most mournful Mother lying on the earth, as if trembling and half-dead. She was being consoled by John and by those others, her sisters, who were then standing not far from the cross on its right side. Then the new sorrow of the compassion of that Most Holy Mother so transfixed me that I felt, as it were, that a sharp sword of unbearable bitterness was piercing my heart. Then at last His Sorrowful Mother arose; and, as it were, in a state of physical exhaustion, she looked at Her Son. Thus, supported by her sisters, she stood there all dazed and in suspense, as though dead yet living, transfixed by the sword of sorrow. When Her Son saw her and His other friends weeping, with a tearful voice He commended her to John. It was quite discernible in His bearing and voice that out of compassion for His Mother, His own heart was being penetrated by a most sharp arrow of sorrow beyond all measure. – The vision seen by Saint Bridget of Sweden in the holy city of Jerusalem, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Chapel of Mount Calvary
5. To experience consolation in ourselves for our own sufferings
In praying the devotion, we are able to present our own sorrows before the Lord and His Blessed Mother and ask for heavenly consolation.
How did the Devotion to the Seven Sorrows start?
1. Saint John the Beloved
The Gospel of John describes how Jesus put Mary and His cousin, Apostle Saint John the Beloved, or John the Evangelist himself, in each other’s care as they stand at the foot of Cross (John 19:25-27). Speaking through a vision to Saint Elizabeth, Jesus revealed to her that after the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Heaven, Saint John desired to see the Blessed Virgin again. Indeed it happened when Mary, accompanied by Her Son, appeared to Saint John. The beloved Saint then heard Mary ask Jesus to grant some special grace to all those who are devoted to her Sorrows.
2. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14 and the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15
The Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Holy Cross every September 14, starting in the year 326 when Saint Helen and her son Saint Constantine discovered the True Cross of Jesus on the Calvary. Since then, Ephrem the Syrian and Saint Ambrose venerated the Sorrows of Mary. The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows became popular starting in the 12th Century until it was instituted in the General Roman Calendar in 1913 by Pope Pius X to be celebrated every September 15.
3. The Servite Order
Seven holy men of noble patrician families in the city of Florence, Italy, left their place and started living as a community on Mount Senario in solitude, prayer, and penance: Buonfiglio dei Monaldi (Bonfilius), Giovanni di Buonagiunta (Bonajuncta), Amadeus of the Amidei (Bartolomeus), Ricovero dei Lippi-Ugguccioni (Hugh), Benedetto dell’ Antella (Manettus), Gherardino di Sostegno (Sostene), and Alessio de’ Falconieri (Alexius)
Our Lady appeared to them on Good Friday of 1239 and spoke of her wish for them to form an Order in her honour under the title of Mother of Sorrows. Their Order adopted her virtues of hospitality and compassion. The distinctive spirit of the order was the sanctification of its members by meditation on the Passion of Jesus and the Sorrows of Mary, and spreading abroad this devotion of meditating on their Sorrows, and introducing to Catholics the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Their Order became known as the Order of the Servants of Mary, or the Servites. These holy men later became canonized Saints.
4. The Blessed Mother Mary Herself appeared as “Our Lady of Sorrows”
“In October Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. St. Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world.” – Our Lady of Fatima told to the children, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta on September 13, 1917
The Blessed Virgin Mary fulfilled this promise on her last apparition on October 13, 1917. She appeared as Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and indeed, as Our Lady of Sorrows, along with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Saint Joseph carrying the Child Jesus, true to her word.
What are the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Seven Promises to its Devotees?
The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady
The Prophecy of Simeon
The Flight into Egypt
The Loss of Jesus in the Temple
The Meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Way to Calvary
The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
The Piercing of the Side of Jesus, and His Descent from the Cross
The Burial of Jesus
Seven Promises from Our Lady to those who daily pray seven Hail Mary’s while meditating on Our Lady’s Tears and Sorrows:
(as revealed to Saint Bridget of Sweden, a 14th century mystic who received extraordinary graces of visions of Jesus, Mary, and other Saints, and holy revelations of Heaven)
“I will grant peace to their families.
“They will be enlightened about the divine Mysteries.”
“I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.”
“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.”
“I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
“I will visibly help them at the moment of their death — they will see the face of their Mother."
“I have obtained this grace from My divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to My tears and sorrows will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness, since all their sins will be forgiven and My Son will be their eternal consolation and joy.”
(Prayers and Heavenly Promises by Joan Carroll Cruz; Imprimatur: Most Rev. Francis B. Schulte, 1989, pg. 34-35)
Four Principal Graces or Promises to the Devotees to Her Sorrows:
(as revealed to Saint Elizabeth, from the book “The Glories of Mary” by Saint Alphonsus Liguori)
That those who before death invoke the divine Mother in the name of Her Sorrows will obtain true repentance of all their sins.
That He will protect all who have this devotion in their tribulations, and will protect them especially at the hour of death;
That He will impress on their minds the remembrance of His Passion;
That He will place such devout servants in Mother Mary’s hands to do with them as She wishes and to obtain for them all the graces She desires.
Note: This article was edited and adapted. To read the original article follow the link below