Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Holy Week

“Grant that we who call to mind with veneration her anguish and suffering ... may obtain the blessed fruit of Thy Passion.”

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

On Monday evening of the Fourth Week of Lent, I attended a presentation on the First Holy Triduum given by one of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters in our diocese. Three IHM sisters from California came to Wichita in 1976 to establish a new province with the welcome of our bishop at the time, David Maloney. The order has grown here and the sisters teach in three parish grade schools and three of our four high schools. Sister Mary Ann, whom I knew as the friend of a high school classmate, offered insights from the Jewish Passover Ritual, the Gospel of St. Luke, and the Shroud of Turin to explain what Jesus endured and accomplished on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Many of those attending were RCIA candidates and elect from a nearby parish, making their final preparations for becoming Catholics at the Easter Vigil.

After class, she handed out Rosaries of the Seven Dolors on the Blessed Virgin Mary and a booklet explaining the devotion and the reason the IHM Sisters pray this Rosary, which begins with the Act of Contrition, continues with a series of meditations while praying the Our Father and seven Hail Mary’s, and concludes with three Hail Mary’s in honor of Our Lady’s tears. As Sister Mary Ann commented when she called us forward to receive the rosaries and the booklets, they are praying for seven young women to discern a vocation to their order and asked for our prayers too.


Seven Dolors (Sorrows) of Mary

The Seven Dolors are three mysteries from Jesus’s infancy and childhood and four from His Passion, highlighting Mary’s sorrows:

  1. The Prophecy of Simon
  2. The Flight into Egypt
  3. The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days
  4. Mary Meets Jesus as He Carries His Cross
  5. Mary Stands at the Foot of the Cross
  6. Mary Receives the Dead Body of Jesus
  7. Mary Witnesses the Burial of Her Son

The first dolor corresponds to the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Presentation in the Temple; the third to the fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding in the Temple. I remember from Catholic grade school being taught that those two Joyful Mysteries were mixed with sorrow: Mary and Joseph were joyful that Simeon and Anna rejoiced that Jesus was the Savior but Simeon’s warning that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart troubled them; Mary and Joseph were relieved and happy to find Jesus in the Temple but they were stunned by His statement that He had to be in His Father’s house, emphasizing that God was His Father, not Joseph and His home was the Temple not with them in Nazareth.

The Flight into Egypt was sorrowful for Mary—and for Joseph too—not only because of the dangers of travel and exile but because the Holy Innocents had suffered and died.

The last four Dolors focus on Mary’s sorrows during the Passion of Jesus as he carries the Cross to Golgotha and meets her, as the traditional Fourth Station of Cross denotes; as she stands the foot of the Cross as described in the Gospel of St. John; and as she receives His Body from the Cross and hastily buries it before the Sabbath. After seeing Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the image of Mary holding Jesus’s body—inspired by the art of Caravaggio— immediately came to my mind when I prayed that mystery.


Mary and the Passion

Attentive daily Mass attendants might have noticed the alternative Collect for the Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent in their Magnificat prayer book or missalette, even if the priest did not use it:

O God, who in this season
give your Church the grace
to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary
in contemplating the Passion of Christ,
grant, we pray, through her intercession,
that we may cling more firmly each day
to your Only Begotten Son
and come at last to the fullness of his grace.

This alternative collect in the Ordinary Form was added in the 2002 revision of the Roman Missal.

On the Roman Calendar before the 1970 revision, the Friday before Palm Sunday was the Commemoration of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Passion Week. Parishes where the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite is celebrated—and in Anglican Ordinariate parishes and communities—observe this special remembrance of what Our Lady endured in seeing her Son so cruelly tortured and executed.

In Pope St. John XXIII’s 1962 revision of the Roman Missal, the Collect, which the Divine Worship of the Anglican Ordinariate has slightly revised, is:

O God, in whose Passion, according to the prophesy
of Simeon, the sword of sorrow didst pierce the most
sweet soul of the glorious Mary, Virgin and Mother; mercifully
grant that we who call to mind with veneration her anguish
and suffering, by the glorious merits and prayers of all the
Saints who faithfully stood beneath the cross interceding for
us, may obtain the blessed fruit of Thy Passion, Thou Who
livest and reigneth with God the Father, in the unity of the
Holy Ghost, ever one God, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Reading that Collect reminds me that meditation on Mary, the Mother of God and her sorrows begins at the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, when Simeon warns her, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) After all, the Immaculate Heart of Mary is depicted with a sword piercing it. She grieved to see her Son suffering even as she trusted in God’s will. She meditated on the mysteries of her Son’s life from His birth to His Resurrection, and she rejoices in His Paschal Mystery today in Heaven, while we are still “in this vale of tears” living a mixture of joy and sorrow and glory as we meditate this Holy Week on the three greatest days in the history of the world, the Holy Triduum.