And Simeon blessed them, saying to Mary His mother: “Behold this Child is set for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thine own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed — Luke 2:34, 35.
The Blessed Virgin Mary did not have an easy life, despite the joy she knew as the loving mother of Jesus. She faced many difficulties. such as being pregnant and walking — or riding a donkey — for 90 miles over three or four days. Devotionally, the Church lists seven major sorrow-ful events in her life:
1. Hearing a stark prophecy seeming to threaten both her and her newborn Son (Luke 2:25-35);
2. Protecting her infant son from death at the hands of Herod’s soldiers by fleeing with Him to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15);
3. Experiencing the crushing anxiety of a mother who’s lost her twelve year-old son for three days (Luke 2:41-50);
4. Meeting her Son, now an adult, dragging a cross — the sign of contradiction — to a rise outside Jerusalem’s walls where he will die (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17);
5. Standing faithfully at the foot of that cross, offering her son compassion and consolation, as she watches his death agony (John 19:25-30);
6. Receiving her son’s broken body, removed from the cross, and preparing it for burial (Psalm 130; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:31-37);
7. Allowing a large stone, rolled into place at the entrance of her son’s grave, to separate her from the holy body which was formed in her womb (Isaiah 53:8; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47).
Despite such dolorous incidents, as the model for all Christians, Mary’s complete faith in her son is found in her advice given at the wedding feast in Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” The Immaculate Heart, bewreathed with roses, pierced by a sword, and crowned in flame, symbolizes Mary’s sorrows, dedication and ardent love. As Queen of Heaven and mother of the King of kings, she intercedes for those who love her son: “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” — many thousand billion hearts.
Devotion to the Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Mother of Sorrows, or the Seven Dolors of Mary dates to the 12th century. A feast, dedicated to Our Lady of Compassion, was placed in the Roman Missal as a votive Mass in 1482. Pope Benedict XIII set the feast into the Roman Calendar in 1727 for commemoration on the Friday before Palm Sunday.
Pius VII, kidnapped by Napoleon, was set free some years later with Bonaparte’s down-fall. Pius credited his liberation to Mary’s intercession and extended the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows to the Universal Church in 1817.
It was left to St Pius X, in 1913, to fix the date of the feast on Sept. 15, the day following the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. There it forms a kind of octave day to Sept. 8, the liturgical celebration of Mary’s birth.
The commemoration of Mary’s sorrows has special meaning to my family. The Second World War ended 10 years before a Polish-Catholic family settled down in our Hollywood neighborhood in 1955. They were exceedingly grateful to find themselves in America having experienced Nazi — and later Soviet — persecution firsthand.
Our families became friendly, my mother being of Polish descent and the girls being of similar ages to us. Eventually we learned how, living in Poland in 1941, separated from her husband, who was a locally prominent Catholic writer, the mother and her two very young daughters were given an hour to pack a suitcase before being hustled to the train depot.
There, an official sorted through their clothing, tossing everything aside save for a pajama top for the mother to wear and two light, summer sundresses for the little girls, despite it being the dead of winter.
Barefoot, they were crammed into one of the stifling, packed boxcars attached to a train taking whoever survived to the concentration camp in Auschwitz. Roughly 1.2 million people died at Auschwitz. When the camp was liberated in January, 1945, only 7,000 prisoners remained alive.
In the meantime, the father was tortured but escaped his Nazi captors, spending an agonizing three years in hiding, trying to locate his family. At war’s end, the Vatican refugee service finally brought them all together.
The Polish mother told us that she found strength to survive by praying to the Virgin Mary — Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, she who had seen her son’s anguish and legal murder. This formed another bond between our families.
From 1922 till he died in 1949, the pastor of St Basil’s in Los Angeles was Monsignor Edward Kirk. So powerful a preacher was he, the parish regularly scheduled six standing-room-only novena services on Wednesday afternoons and evenings, always concluding with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
During the Depression, my father — an occasional Methodist as he wryly put it — found employment as a butler to a wealthy Catholic family in Los Angeles. One Wednesday evening, they asked if he’d care to accompany them to St Basil’s. My father decided to go.
They arrived a few minutes after one of the services ended and my father was wont to say, “I don’t know if it was the aroma of the candles and incense in the air but, as I entered the church, I suddenly felt as if I’d come home.” My father took instruction and, at the age of 30, in 1940, was received into the Church by Monsignor Kirk.
The service my father attended was the “Perpetual Novena to the Mother of Sorrows.”
Sean M. Wright, an Emmy-nominated television writer, is a Master Catechist for the archdiocese of Los Angeles and part of his parish’s RCIA team. He replies to comments sent him at Locksley69@aol.com.