Mater Dolorosa, Ora Pro Nobis

The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady help put our current sorrows into perspective.

Absolon Stumme, “Virgin of Seven Sorrows”, 1499
Absolon Stumme, “Virgin of Seven Sorrows”, 1499 (photo: Public Domain)

At Yom Kippur, Jews will greet each other not with “Happy Yom Kippur,” as this would be inappropriate at such a somber and solemn feast. Observant Jews are asked to fast and pray intently just as Christians do at Lent. Instead, they say tzom kal, which means, “I hope you have an easy fast.”

This Lent was a hard one for everyone ― not just the Christians. This might have been the longest Lent in Christian history. As Patrick Coffin of the eponymously named webcast tweeted, it was “the Lentiest Lent I’ve Ever Lented.”

This is not to take away from all of the others bad ones the world has experienced, including the ones during World War I, World War II and every act of violence since Cain slew Abel. The difference however is this one has stripped us of anything that could have offered us succor like the sacraments and camaraderie. But, despite it all, God is still with us. We have prayer. We have each other.

I’m not one for “newfangled” spiritual devotions ― I hold in suspicion anything that was created after the 15th century. But I’m very comfortable with the Rosary and other traditional prayer forms. In fact, I had written earlier of my devotion to the Franciscan Crown Rosary in a Register article some time ago.

Before taking my vows to become a Secular Franciscan about a decade ago, I struggled with the decision as to whether or not I could commit myself to a minimum of the Divine Office prayers (i.e., Morning and Evening prayers) and a daily recitation of the Franciscan Crown Rosary.

Traditionally, those dedicated to the Franciscan Rosary ― also known as the Seraphic Rosary ― will pray the Seven Joyful Mysteries but will switch to the Seven Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent, Advent and Fridays but I never felt called to that particular aspect of the devotion. At the beginning of this Lent season ― Ash Wednesday ― I hesitated as I picked up my seven-decade rosary and intoned the Our Father, the first prayer said to begin the devotional practice.

During Lent, those who pray the Franciscan Crown Rosary concentrate on seven sorrowful events in Mary’s life, commonly known as the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

  1. The prophecy of Simeon the Patriarch (Luke 2:34-35)
  2. The flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14)
  3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple for three days (Luke 2: 43-45)
  4. Mary meets Jesus on his way to His Crucifixion. (Luke 2:34-35,51)
  5. The Crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 27:32-56)
  6. The Piercing of Jesus’ side by St. Longinus the Centurion (John 19:34)
  7. The Deposition of Christ (the taking down of Jesus’ body from the cross and placing Him in the arms of his mother Mary (John 19:38-42) and then into the tomb by St. Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50-54)

Of course, the Sorrowful Mysteries were always a part of the standard Dominican Rosary on a weekly rotation on Tuesdays and Fridays, but I actively avoided the depressing mysteries when I switched to the Franciscan Rosary and simply prayed the Seven Joyful Mysteries on Fridays and Lent.

But, this Ash Wednesday was different. I’m not of an age to have to worry about my health during this crisis, and the same for the kids, but I worried about my parents and their friends and other older family members. That’s what brought me to that moment when I stared at the rosaries in my hand and gradually realized what I had to do.

I had avoided those Sorrowful Mysteries for so long that I had forgotten their order and so had to look them up on the internet. I looked over the list of incredibly sad periods in Mary’s and Jesus’ lives and I saw my own sadness and that of the world. The Germans call it Weltschmerz ― the totality of the pain of the world.

And as I prayed each of Mary’s Seven Dolors, I felt somehow, oddly, comforted in praying along with her as she recounted to me the worst sorrows any human has ever experienced. I wouldn’t say I achieved a higher spiritual state, but I did experience emotional healing and I felt I had come to an understanding as to the place of suffering in life and its connection to the suffering that Mary and Jesus experienced. The great spiritual writers of Rosary often speak about how the devotion is designed to give the believer a perspective into Christ’s suffering as seen through the eyes of Mary. I always thought that was above my paygrade. Instead, I just saw the Rosary as a mini-catechism lesson through which I might slowly and reverently review the events of Christ’s life. Now I see it as lifeline when pain, confusion and fear are about to overwhelm you. It is a balm for my soul.

Our detractors say religion is a crutch. Do you know what else is a crutch? A crutch. Actual, physical crutches are used by the determined ― those who refuse to give up. Crutches assist the wounded in standing and to go about their business. God is absolutely my crutch. Without him I would not be able to stand, let alone function in this time of crisis and sadness beset with the needs and emotions of those who rely upon me.

All in all, I would say my Lent was easier and my time reciting the Rosary was lighter due to the daily recitation of the Franciscan Crown Rosary. It is said that the Blessed Virgin Mary promised seven graces to the souls who meditate on her tears and sorrows:

  • “I will grant peace to their families.”
  • “They will be enlightened concerning 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 moment of their lives.”
  • “I will visibly assist them at the moment of their death and they will see the face of their Mother.
  • “I have obtained 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 and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.”

In addition, the Franciscan Crown Rosary also carries a plenary indulgence and is applicable to the deceased each time the Rosary is prayed. Further, in 1905, Pope St. Pius X, in response to a petition of the Franciscan procurator general, added new indulgences to the Franciscan Crown which may be gained by all the faithful. Those who assist at a public recitation of the Franciscan Crown participate in all the indulgences attached to the Seraphic Rosary.

At Yom Kippur, Jews will greet each with tzom kal to express sympathy and empathy with each other as they communicably suffering for the sins of the world. However, believers can substitute the expression, g’mar fatima tova which means “May you be sealed in the Book of Life.”

I like that one even better.