[Mother of


Our Lady of Sorrows

"and his mother kept all these
things in her heart."
(Luke 2:51b)

The Mary Page presents the first of five Lenten meditations. These meditations take their orientation from the Sunday liturgies for Lent, from the five votive Masses in honor of Mary for the Lenten season, from Sacred Scripture, and from the devotional traditions that have evolved over the centuries which link Mary to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Follow Christ
Liturgical Readings of the Season

The Roman Catholic Church presents two covenant themes in its choice of Old Testament readings for the first two Sundays of Lent. The first is the story of Noah, "See I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; also with every living creature to be found with you." (Genesis 9:8-9)

Noah believed God! He believed in the face of mockery, and in his belief he acted. His belief was not a passive waiting and a silent endurance. Instead, Noah built as he was instructed to do, and he activated his entire family to cooperate in this faith project.

The second Sunday of Lent tells the story of Abraham's great faith. His life had been one great journey of faith, but there was still one act of total abandonment asked of him for the sake of God's kingdom. Abraham was asked to surrender the child of the promise, the child whom he loved more than his own life. Abraham trusted. Abraham believed.

Because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you." (Genesis 22:17)

Abraham's faith also established an unbreakable covenant with God. Noah and his family, Abraham and Sarah believed in God, trusted God and proved their love for God by their day to day actions. The liturgy uses the stories of the Sacred Scriptures to tell us of the marvelous things God did in the past with those whom God chose, but the purpose of the liturgy is on-going, forever fresh. We are to be covenant keepers and followers in our time, as they were in their time. As the Psalms of these two liturgies tell us:

All Yahweh's paths are love and truth for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. (Psalm 25:10)
The close secret of Yahweh belongs to them who fear him, his covenant also to bring them knowledge. (Psalm 25:14)

Those who keep God's covenant and follow him will learn the knowledge of love and truth. The singer of the Psalm begs God:

Relieve the distress of my heart, free me from my sufferings. (Psalm 25:17)
Let innocence and integrity be my protection, since my hope is in you, Yahweh.
(Psalm 25:21)

In the readings, we are led closer to Jesus Christ who is the answer to Noah, who teaches us active patience in our waiting for redemption. (1 Peter 18:22) Jesus is the Son who will be offered once and for all. Jesus is the Son that will be offered as the Lamb of sacrifice.

God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all ... Could anyone accuse those that God has chosen? ... Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled and worried... (Romans 8:31b-35)

Total Oblation
Ennabeuron, Germany

Jesus Christ is the one like us in all things; he underwent temptation and lived the human life in all things except sin. (Mark 1:12-15) He is the Son, the Beloved, to whom we are to listen. (Mark 9:2-10)

The liturgy for the second Lenten Sunday gives yet another text for us to ponder:

Yahweh, I am your servant, your servant, son of a pious mother, you undo my fetters. (Psalm 116:16)

We do not know who the song writer is nor who his pious mother is, but our liturgical sense will link these texts to Jesus, and we may draw his mother into our reflections as well. We may ponder the Sacred Texts with Mary, as she surely did as a faithful daughter of Sion. In her sorrow at his passion and death, she may have found comfort in the Psalm that the liturgy applies to her beloved Son:

[Stabat Mater


Crucifixion, detail
Church of the Cordeliers

Return to your resting place, my soul, Yahweh has treated you kindly.
He has rescued me from death.
My eyes from tears and my feet from stumbling.

 (Psalm 116:7)

Follow Christ with Mary
Liturgical Readings of the Season from the Votive Mass of the Lenten Season:
Holy Mary, Disciple of the Lord

For special occasions, such as pilgrimages to a Marian shrine or extraordinary events for Marian groups, the Church provides votive Masses with a Lenten theme. The first of the five Marian Lenten Masses ties in with the liturgies for the universal Church in the theme of the innocent young heart who rejoices in her heart because the "precepts of the Lord are right." (Sirach 51:13; Psalm 19:9)

Mary is presented to the Church as the woman who has faithfully sought wisdom. She is the one who believed the word of God, who found the Lord trustworthy, "giving wisdom to the simple." (Psalm 19:8) She is the Virgin who kept the word of God and pondered it in her heart.(See Luke 2:19) She followed the Lord from the first moment of his earthly existence, and heard the words praising her for her faith:

Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:45)

The votive liturgy applies a text from the book of Sirach to Mary. Mary has sought wisdom, that is, she has searched for her God and found him who is the truth, the way, the life. Because she sought wisdom and found it, she herself is gifted with wisdom, the wisdom that sings God's praises, as Mary did in her Magnificat song. Read the holy words of Sirach:


When I was young and innocent,
I sought wisdom.
She came to me in her beauty,
and until the end I will cultivate her.
As the blossoms yielded to ripening grapes,
the heart's joy,
my feet kept to the level path
because from earliest youth I was familiar with her.
In the short time I paid heed,
I met with great instruction.
Since in this way I have profited,
I will give my teacher grateful praise.
... My whole being was stirred as I learned about her;
therefore I have made her my prize possession.
The Lord has granted me my lips as a reward,
and my tongue will declare his praises. (Sirach 51:13-18, 20-22)

[Presentation in the

Temple] Presentation in the Temple
Berzosa de Bureba, 16 c

Mary was filled with joy at the Annunciation and at the Visitation. The Nativity, too, had its moments of joy, but also its sorrow. But it was when Jesus was presented in the temple that she heard the prophecy:

"And a sword will pierce your own soul too -- so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare." (Luke 2:35)


From that moment on, Mary pondered on the saving mission of her Son with the knowledge that she, too, must suffer with him and for him. This she faithfully did to the very last.

Devotions Draw Us Into Participation in Christ's Suffering

Over the centuries, Christians pondered the Gospel word concerning the sword that must pierce Mary's soul. Earlier translations often used the word "heart" since the heart was considered the place of love and pain, the place of intense feeling. In time, literature and art began to depict not only the sufferings of Christ, but also Mary's share in them.

Though the cross has been the consistent symbol of Christ's sufferings since the time Christianity came out of the underground in the fourth century, by the ninth century, other symbols were used in sculpture, glass and iconography to represent the sufferings of Jesus Christ. These symbols came to be known as the Arma Christi, meaning:

"all Christ's sufferings;
they were for him the weapons (arms)
with which he conquered death and Satan.
They are visualized through the
instruments which caused him suffering." (Schiller 198)

The weapons were also the insignia of triumph and majesty. The cross, lance, and vinegar sponge were solemnly carried by angels to accompany the resurrected Judge of the World. The earliest known of these representations is dated at 980. The judgment portals of the great medieval cathedrals often represent Mary and John interceding at the judgment of Christ; the instruments of the crucifixion are represented as symbols of victory in these scenes.

In the late Middle Ages, the passion relics from the crusades added the hammer, pliers, the lantern of the capture of Jesus, the iron handcuffs of the scourging, the pillar, the crown of thorns, the blaring trumpet deafening Christ on the way to the crucifixion -- all of Christ's five senses suffered. The greater the number of instruments represented, the greater the notion of suffering increased, a suffering that embraced the totality of an all-encompassing physical and spiritual suffering. The kiss of Judas, the denial of Peter -- each had their place.

[Our Lady of



Our Lady of Perpetual Help
The angels bear the instruments of the crucifixion

But for Jesus, there is a pain most bitter: It is his knowledge of his mother's suffering for him and with him. This pain is indescribable anguish. The triumph of the Arma Christi takes on a different meaning in this light, and it is coupled with the suffering experienced in the Body of Christ through the devastation of the plagues of the late Middle Ages. It is during this time that devotion to Mary's sorrows begins to appear.

The Dictionary of Mary states: "It is probable that Blessed Henry Suso (1295- or 1300-1366) and other "Rhenish mystics" of the Dominican Order were a contributing factor." The Servite Fathers also developed devotions to Mary's five joys, then to her five sorrows. The numeration varies from five, to seven, to thirteen, and many others.

In 1482, John de Coudenberghe, a parish priest from Flanders, taught the Seven Sorrows as we know them today:
  • The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35)
  • The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-21)
  • The Loss of Jesus for Three Days (Luke 2:41-50)
  • The Ascent to Calvary (John 19:17)
  • The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:18-30)
  • Jesus Taken Down from the Cross (John 19:39-40)
  • Jesus Laid in the Tomb (John 19:40-42)


Devotional image 
of Mary
meditating on the
crown of thorns.

After the late Middle Ages, not many representations show Mary with a great number of passion instruments. Mary is more frequently shown contemplating one instrument or weapon, such as the crown of thorns. The experience of sharing has now become the experience of identification. Mary's sufferings are an important participation in redemption. She receives the honor of being a co-redemptrix. Hers is the subjective answer, the personal yes, to the objective redemption of the one and only Savior Jesus Christ.

During the baroque period in post-reformation Europe, especially in Italy and Spain, the devotion of the sorrows and the Arma Christi blended into the devotion of the pierced heart of Mary. This devotion became especially loved in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Mary is often clothed in luxurious clothing with the dagger piercing her heart. It symbolizes the truth that suffering is spared no one, not the immaculately conceived Mary with all her dignity and blessedness from God, not the kings and queens with all their riches.

We illustrate here some devotional images of the pierced heart of Mary:


[German Block


German Block Print




Seven Sorrows Icon
Russian, 1907


Señeora de la Esperanza]

Neustra Señeora de la Esperanza Sevilla, Spain
Dressed as One of the People
Wears the anchor, early symbol of the cross,
a dagger pierces her heart.

Prayer [Devotional


Mater Dolorosa]

 The image at the right is a nineteenth-century devotional image of Our Lady of Sorrows. The heart and the thorns are symbols removed from Mary directly. However, she contemplates deep within her own soul those inscrutable mysteries.

There is a prayer that expresses well the devotion to Mary's broken heart. It is part of the Stabat Mater, a hymn known in English as At the Cross Her Station Keeping, and attributed most frequently to Jacopone di Todi (d. 1306). The many stanzas were incorporated into the Liturgy as a sequence for the Mass of the Seven Sorrows celebrated on September 15. It is also the hymn for the Office of Readings, Morning and Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. Formerly, several religious communities prayed this stanza several times a day each Friday.



Contemporary devotional
image of Mary
 contemplating the cross
and the  cross of thorns. 
The Savior's blood
flows through
Mary's sorrows to the world.

Holy Mother, pierce me through
In my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified.

"And a sword will pierce your own soul too --
so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid b
(Luke 2:35)

Written by M. Jean Frisk, The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute

Resources: Dictionary of Mary Catholic Book Publishing, 1998; Marienlexikon Eos Verlag, Vols 2, 6, 1988-1994.

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