[The Sorrowful


The Sorrowful Mother
II Sassoferrato,

"As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)

"He went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:51-52)

The Mary Page presents the second 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 to the Foot of the Cross
Liturgical Readings of the Season

The Roman Catholic Lenten liturgy for March 2 presents a reflection on the laws of the covenant between God and his people. (See Exodus 19:5; 20:1-17) God revealed to Moses the conditions that would secure a blessing for the nation. Yahweh gave the Decalogue to the people through Moses:

"...I show kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:6)
The powerful message of the Ten Commandments also warns us that God is a jealous God who will punish us for generations if the terms of the covenant are not kept. (See Exodus 20:5) Does the Gospel writer think Mary has remembered these covenant promises when she sings her Magnificat? All generations will call her blessed! The Almighty has shown his kindness to her. "He has routed the proud of heart." (Luke 1:51) It is not for us to know fully the connections Mary makes between her love for the law and the Lawgiver. Her song of praise does, however, give us these hints.

When we participate in the liturgy, we relate the readings to our own experience. Just as we may apply the readings to ourselves, we may also reflect on what may have moved Mary's heart when she learned the Ten Commandments of the Exodus narration. For certain, we know that it was characteristic of Mary to ponder, to treasure, to think, to store the meanings of things in her heart.

"As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)

His mother stored up all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:52)

[The Sorrowful Mother]

The Sorrowful Mother
Joos van Cleve

Did she know and sing the Psalms? Did she teach them to her infant son and growing boy? Probably! What would have been Mary's reaction to this week's liturgical choice?

If you live in the shelter of Elyon
and make your home in the shadow of Shaddai,
you can say to Yahweh, "My refuge, my fortress,
my God in whom I trust!"

You need not fear the terrors of night,
the arrow that flies in the daytime,
the plague that stalks in the dark,
the scourge that wreaks havoc in broad daylight.

"I rescue all who cling to me,
I protect whoever knows my name,
I answer everyone who invokes me,
I am with them when they are in trouble;

I bring them safety and honour.
I give them life, long and full,
and show them how I can save."
(Psalm 91: 1-2;5-6;14-16)

When Mary gave her yes to God, she did not know where it would lead. She had to search continually for God's intention, just as we do. In this week's New Testament readings, we are given the passages from I Corinthians 22-25. The writer tells us about the madness and the obstacle of the crucified Christ. Just prior to these statements, there are passages in I Corinthians that invite further reflection:

Where are any of our thinkers today? Do you see now how God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom? If it was God's wisdom that human wisdom should not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the foolishness of the message that we preach.


Imalit Maredret
Contemporary Devotional

Last week's Lenten meditation reflected on the faith of Mary, faith as we have it in the Pauline text above. It is a faith that sees beyond the madness and the obstacle of the suffering of Christ. Mary believed God! She believed the messenger of God. In contrast to last week's discussion, this week, we look beyond belief to pondering, to thinking about reasons, and about making connections to our contemporary situation.

The final reading for the Sunday liturgy is the story of Jesus' radical attempt to set the priorities of the temple staff straight. Jesus strews the hard-earned profits on the floor, he throws over tables; he shows zeal for his "Father's house"-- it is not to become a market place. (John 2:13-17) When he is asked to justify his actions, he uses the strange language about destroying the sanctuary and raising it up again in three days. (See John 2:18-22)

But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.


The Crucifixion
Patrick Pye
Oil on Canvas, 1989

The disciples remembered! They believed the scriptures! They believed him! But their belief was strengthened and confirmed after Christ's resurrection. First, they would have to experience the great time of trial and the death of their Lord. The Sacred Scriptures praise Mary for her belief in Jesus Christ from the moment of his conception onward. She believed even as she stood at the cross.

Follow Christ with Mary to the Foot of the Cross
Liturgical Readings of the Season from the Votive Mass of the Lenten Season:
The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross

[Removal from the


Way of the Cross, detail
Salvator, ca. 1350-1400
Cologne Cathedral

The special Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary has two liturgies listed under the theme, The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross. This meditation includes only the first selection. We pray in the opening prayer:

Lord our God,
in your mysterious wisdom
you fill out the passion of Christ
through the suffering that his members endure
in the many trials of this life.

As you chose to have the mournful mother
stand by your Son in his agony on the cross,
grant that we too may bring love and comfort
to our brothers and sisters in distress.

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala.
(John 19:25)

Mary was prepared for this moment through her life-long attitude of listening, pondering faith. She heard the word of God and kept it. This reflective pondering was prayer in its deepest sense. The Church has honored Mary's pondering and her intimate connection to the sufferings of Christ. Words from Scripture are reflected in symbols such as this image to our right.

She is the strong woman who stood. The Gospel explicitly uses the word "to stand." Even though her heart was broken, she remained open, reflective, listening for the message of God in the moment of profound sorrow.

The preface of the Marian Mass prays to our God:

In your loving providence
you decreed that Mary, the mother of your Son,
should stand faithfully beside his cross,
and so fulfill in her person
the prophecies of old,
and enrich the world
with her own witness of living faith.



Our Lady of Sorrows
Westminster Cathedral
Painted on the reverse side
of the great crucifix which hangs
from the main arch in the nave.


Devotions Draw Us into Participation in Christ's Suffering

The Roman Catholic Church has used the rosary for nearly six centuries to contemplate the sufferings of Christ in and with Mary. Pope Paul VI called the rosary a "compendium of the entire Gospel," a prayer "centered on the redemptive Incarnation," in which "the litany-like succession of Hail Mary's becomes an unceasing praise of Christ." (Marialis Cultus 46) As the Dictionary of Mary states, "To pray the rosary is to contemplate with Mary the Lord made flesh, crucified, and raised for our salvation." (p. 296) In drawing our connection to the Sacred Texts used above, we recommend the rosary as a form of contemplative pondering, a time to think about the mysteries represented there, and to simply savor the opportunity to rest peacefully as we view the sorrows of Christ through Mary's eyes.

It was Alain of Roche, a Dominican preacher at Douai in 1464, who first taught the structure of the prayer as we know it today. We leave aside the joyful and glorious mysteries and list the five known as the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary:

  • The Agony in the Garden (Mark 14:35)
  • The Scourging at the Pillar (Mark 15:15)
  • The Crowning with Thorns (Mark 15:17)
  • The Carrying of the Cross (John 19:17)
  • The Crucifixion (Luke 23:33)

[I. Günther]

I. Güther
Ettal, Germany, 1974

Reflections on the sufferings of Jesus in written form and in art becomes increasingly evident in the literature, art and devotions of the later Middle Ages. Heinrich Seuse wrote about the painful experiences of the Sorrowful Mother. For him, it was only possible to contemplate Mary's share in Christ's suffering as an incomparable experience of human sorrow. Hildegard of Bingen spoke of the utter wretchedness of Mary's, and hence of the human condition. Mechthild of Mageburg describes the life-giving strength of the suffering under the cross. No suffering is its equal.

In art, the quiet interaction between an image and its beholder does perhaps more than words are capable of doing to express the intensity of this suffering. The remainder of this Lenten reflection will stop with its words and give the viewer images for contemplation.



The Agony in the Garden (Mark 14:35)


Agony in the Garden
Roxolana Luchakowski Armstrong
Contemporary Watercolor

Boy]The Abandoned Boy
Patrick Pye

The central panel of the triptych depicts Abraham's challenge of faith; the left panel images the abandonment at the Crucifixion; the right panel shows the victory of Resurrection

[Mater Dolorsa]

Mater Dolorosa
Mary Whelan


[Our Lady of Sorrows]

Our Lady of Sorrows

This contemporary interpretation was drawn by a Crosier Brother of the Crosier monastery in Hastings, Nebraska.

The Scourging at the Pillar (Mark 15:15)


Christ in Misery
Cistercian Abbey
Lichtenthal, Germany
End of fifteenth century

Scourging at the Pillar
Mater Dolorsa
Roxolana Luchakowski Armstrong


The Crowning with Thorns (Mark 15:17)

[Thorn Crown]

Wing Altar of the Bad Hersfeld Abbey Church
Erfurt Master
ca. 1460/70, detail
Located in the Kassel State Collection of the Hessian National Museam

The "Soledad" of Mena
Mary contemplates the thorn crown

[Soledad de Mena]


After the Judgment of Jesus
Rita Goodwill

Published in The Life of Mary,
Louis M. Savary
Regina Press
A children's reflection.

Contemporary Devotional
Artist Unknown

The reflection reads:
Mary has seated herself, proudly erect, with all the dignity of a queen, as though she, too, crowned with mockery, were receiving the insults to the Holy Face of Jesus. Closed eyes speak of the inward vision of the awful humiliation of her divine son.


The Carrying of the Cross (John 19:17)

[The Meeting]

The Meeting
Fernando Saez

Published in La Virgen Maria Madre de Dios Barcelona and Madrid, 1977


The Crucifixion
Di Giorgio Trevisan

Published in Maria di Nazaret Piero Bargellini
Padova, 1978

The Meeting
Contemporary Devotional
Artist Unknown



Christ Carrying the Cross
Simone Martini, 1285?-1344
Sienese School

Mary is among the crowd left.

[Christ Carrying the Cross]

The Crucifixion (Luke 23:4)


Mantegna, 14331?-1506
North Italian School

Mary's Contemplation
Twentieth Century Devotional
Mary, accept me as as a sharer in your sorrows and permit not that I should ever abandon the Cross, whereon your only begotten Son breathed forth his blessed spirit for my sake.

[Mary Under the Cross]



Mary's Reflection
Chung Hing

Published in Sur les chemins de Marie
Christiane Gaud
Editions MAME, Parish, 1987


Alfonso Ruano
Published in Maria
Lene Mayer-Skumanz
Translation to Italian from the German:
Konstanze Szelényi and Roberto Graziotto
Editrice Elle Di Ci
Torino, 1989


Dorothée Duntze

Published in La Vie de Jésus
Les Grand Moments des Quartre Évangiles
Claude Plettner, et al
Grain de Soleil
Éditions du Centurion, Paris, 1992.


Early Twentieth Century Devotional

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


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