Q: Describe the origins of Mary's title: Our Lady of Sorrows?

A: The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, the day after the feast of the Holy Cross to show the close connection between Jesus' Passion and Mary's Sorrows.

This advocation has its roots in the Gospel. Here are some major references: John 19:25 (Calvary); Luke 2:35 (Mary pierced with a sword). Other sorrows can be inferred: Luke 2:7 (no room at the inn); Matthew 2:6-18 (massacre of the Innocents); Luke 2:41-50 (anxious search for Jesus); Luke 4:28-30 (rejection by townspeople of Nazareth); and Luke 11:53-54 (rejection by authorities of Jerusalem), etc.

This form of Marian piety goes back to the fourteenth century, but Mary's compassion was remembered from early centuries:

Abbot Poemon (5 c.) Apothegms 144: "I would like to weep with her always."

Ephrem the Syrian (373) "Lamentation of Mary" (still used in the Syrian Rite).

Romanos the Melodist (500) "Hymn of Mary at the Cross" (Jesus instructs His mother on the mystery of the Cross).

Also to be mentioned are Ambrose, Anselm and Bernard who preached/meditated on Mary's sorrows. There is also abundant Franciscan and Servite literature on this theme, for example, Plaint of the Madonna by Jacopone da Todi (1306), and Meditations on the Life of Christ (eleventh century. -- "swooning" of Mary).

The devotion to the Sorrows of Mary properly appears toward the middle of the fourteenth century. Contributing authors may have been Henry Suso (d. 1366) and other Rhenish mystics. Devotion to the five sorrows of Mary appears first and eventually develops into devotion to seven sorrows. In fact, two lists of seven sorrows were drawn up, one including the infancy and childhood of Jesus Christ, the other concentrating on the Passion.

1. The prophecy of Simeon ("a sword ...");
2. The massacre of the Innocents and flight to Egypt;
3. Jesus lost in Jerusalem;
4. Jesus arrested and judged;
5. Jesus crucified and dying;
6. Jesus taken down from the Cross;
7. Jesus wrapped and laid in the tomb;

and ...

1. Jesus is arrested and struck;
2. Jesus is led to Pilate to be judged;
3. Jesus is condemned to death;
4. Jesus is nailed to the Cross;
5. Jesus gives up His Spirit and dies on the Cross;
6. Jesus is taken down from the Cross;
7. Jesus is wrapped and laid in the tomb.

The commemoration of Mary's sorrows gave rise to meditations, prayers, poems, lamentations, not to forget the representations of the Pieta. This devotion became part of the rosary, as we know, and the present form of the Seven Sorrows was popularized by John de Coudenberghe (1482):

1. The prophecy of Simeon (Lk 2:34-35);
2. The flight into Egypt (Mt 2:13-21);
3. The loss of Jesus for Three Days (Lk 2:41-50);
4. The ascent to Calvary (Jn 19:17);
5. The crucifixion and death of Jesus (Jn 19:18-30);
6. Jesus taken down from the cross (Jn 19:39-40);
7. Jesus laid in the tomb (Jn 19:39-42).


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