The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

** Our Lady of Sorrows **

Feast of the Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Sept. 15

"O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow!" (Lam. 1:12) Is this, then, the first cry of that sweet babe, whose coming brought such pure joy to our earth? Is the standard of suffering to be so soon unfurled over the cradle of such lovely innocence? Yet the heart of our Holy Mother Church has not deceived Her; this Feast, coming at such a time, is ever the answer to that question of the expectant human race: What shall this child be?

The Savior to come is not only the reason of Mary's existence, He is also Her Exemplar in all things. It is as His Mother that the Blessed Virgin came, and therefore as the "Mother of Sorrows;" for the God, Whose future birth was the very cause of Her own birth, is to be in this world "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity" (Is. 53:3). "To whom shall I compare Thee?" sings the prophet of Lamentations: "O Virgin… great as the sea is Thy destruction" (Lam. 2:13). On the mountain of the sacrifice, as Mother She gave Her Son, as Bride She offered Herself together with Him; by Her sufferings, both as Bride and as Mother, She was the Co-Redemptrix of the human race. This teaching and these recollections were deeply engraved on our hearts on that other Feast of Our Lady's Dolors which immediately preceded Holy Week.

Christ dieth now no more; and Our Lady's sufferings are over. Nevertheless, the Passion of Christ is continued in His elect, in His Church, against which Hell vents the rage it cannot exercise against Himself. To this Passion of Christ's Mystical Body, of which She is also Mother, Mary still contributes Her compassion. How often have Her venerated images attested the fact, by miraculously shedding tears! This explains the Church's departure from liturgical custom, by celebrating two Feasts, in different seasons, under one same title. (The first Feast, that of Friday in Passion Week, honors mainly Mary's compassion on Calvary, and has a distinct origin from today's Feast, which honors Her lifelong sorrows.)

On perusing the register of the apostolic decrees concerning sacred rites, the reader is astonished to find a long and unusual interruption lasting from March 20, 1809 to September 18, 1814, at which latter date is entered the decree instituting, on the Sunday following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a second Commemoration of Our Lady's Dolors. 1809-1814, five sorrowful years, during which the government of Christendom was suspended; years of blood which beheld the Man-God agonizing once more in the person of His Vicar, the captive of Napoleon. But the Mother of Sorrows was still standing beneath the Cross, offering to God the Church's sufferings; and when the trial was over, Pope Pius VII, knowing well whence the mercy had come, dedicated this day to Mary as a fresh memorial of the day of Calvary.

Even in the 17th century, the Servites had the privilege of possessing this second Feast, which they celebrated as a double of the second class, with a vigil and an octave. It is from them that the Church has borrowed the Office and Mass. This honor and privilege was due to the Order established by Our Lady to honor Her sufferings and to spread devotion to them. St. Philip Benizi, heir to the Seven Holy Founders, propagated the flame kindled by them on the heights of Monte Senario; thanks to the zeal of his sons and successors, the devotion to the Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin Mary, once their family property, is now the treasure of the whole world.

The Prophecy of the aged Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Divine Child in Jerusalem, the Carrying of the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Taking Down from the Cross, and the Burial of Jesus: these are the seven mysteries into which are grouped the well-nigh infinite sufferings which made Our Lady the Queen of Martyrs, the first and loveliest rose in the garden of the Spouse.

"God," says the pious and profound Father Faber, "vouchsafed to select the very things about Him which are most incommunicable, and in a most mysteriously real way communicate them to Her. See how He had already mixed Her up with the eternal designs of creation, making Her almost a partial cause and partial model of it. Our Lady's cooperation in the Redemption of the world gives us a fresh view of Her magnificence. Neither the Immaculate Conception nor the Assumption will give us a higher idea of Mary's exaltation than the title of Co-Redemptrix. Her Dolors were not necessary for the redemption of the world, but in the counsels of God they were inseparable from it. They belong to the integrity of the Divine plan. Are not Mary's mysteries Jesus' mysteries, and His mysteries Hers? The truth appears to be, that all the mysteries of Jesus and Mary were in God's design as one mystery. Jesus Himself was Mary's sorrow, seven times repeated, aggravated sevenfold. During the hours of the Passion, the offering of Jesus and the offering of Mary were tied in one. They kept pace together; they were made of the same materials; they were perfumed with kindred fragrance; they were lighted with the same fire; there were offered with kindred dispositions. The two things were one simultaneous oblation, interwoven each moment through the thickly crowded mysteries of that dread time, unto the Eternal Father, out of two sinless Hearts, that were the Hearts of Son and Mother, for the sins of a guilty world which fell on Them contrary to Their merits, but according to Their own free will" (The Foot of the Cross 9:1,2).

In 1913, Pope St. Pius X fixed the celebration of this Feast to September 15. This date is appropriate for several reasons. The establishment of this Feast has given its character to the entire month of September. In the devotion of the Catholic Faithful, this is the month of Mary's Sorrows, and the 15th is precisely in the middle of this month. September 15 is also the day following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Lastly it is the octave day of the Nativity of Mary, thus emphasizing the fact that Her Sorrows were life-long.

Let us mingle our tears with Mary's, in union with the sufferings of the great Victim. In proportion as we do this during life, we shall rejoice in Heaven with the Son and the Mother.

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