Feasts are for Reflection

Ryrson cross
Feasts are for reflection. In  The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th,  Mary  follows  Jesus, even in sorrow.

The 13th century icon above, from the Ryerson collection from the Art Institute of Chicago, once belonged to a European pilgrim to the Holy Land who brought it home as a reminder of a pilgrimage. What places did that pilgrim visit? Surely, Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and Jerusalem where he was crucified and rose  from the dead. In both places , Mary was there with her Son.

In the picture on the left Mary is a joyful mother  holding her Son, a divine Son whom the angels praise.  She is a daughter of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a daughter of the human family whom she represents. She never loses that joy, which she invites us to share.

In the picture on the right, Mary stands with John, an image of the church, beneath the cross of Jesus. Angels are astonished at the sight. Jesus seems to enfold his mother and the disciple whom he loves in his arms..

The gospel reading for the feast of Mary’s Sorrows, from St. John. says simply that Mary stood by the cross of Jesus. She’s a brave woman, not afraid to come close to the fearful place where Jesus was put to death. The Book of Judith, ordinarily the 1st reading for the feast, praises Judith, the brave and wise Jewish woman who’s not afraid to stand with her people at a dangerous moment in their history. Two women of courage face suffering and the challenge it brings.

The prayers, traditions and art of this feast take up the theme of Mary standing by the cross. She’s remembered  in poetry, music and art. “Stabat Mater” Here’s an example in Gregorian Chant and Pergolesi’s magnificent baroque setting.

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother keeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

Women mystics, like St.Bridgid of Sweden, a mother herself and an important pilgrim to the Holy Land, saw the life of Jesus, particularly his passion, through a mother’s eyes. Wouldn’t Mary draw close to her Son’s cross and then hold him in her arms as they brought him down. The gospels do not mention it, but women like Bridgid were sure it was  so.

Women mystics like Bridgid gave us the Pieta.

A study of the Pieta in art in early medieval France shows the various ways this scene was pictured in art before Michaelangelo’s Pieta became an overpowering icon surpassing others. “Often she is viewed as caught up in the horror of the moment, but she is also shown praying or even gazing into the distance, as if contemplating comforting memories or the reunion to come. Her demeanor ranges from youthful innocence—the Purity that Time cannot age—to careworn maturity—Our Lady of Sorrows.”

Sorrow. like joy, has a range of faces. Mary shows us them all.

3 thoughts on “Feasts are for Reflection

  1. Harry warren

    Fr. Victor,
    Your beautiful reflection of Mary at The Cross reminds me of a reflection of my own. Each morning, at Mass in my parish chape,l I have a direct view of a statue of Mary with baby Jesus on her lap. He is chubby and sweet and she sits there looking wistful. I have her thinking, as all mothers must have pondered in like position, ‘what will He become?” She always knew who He was, but still must have wondered how things would go. Then there is your beautiful reflection of Mary at the Foot of The Cross. Quite a thought provoking contrast. Harry

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  2. fdan

    Dear Father Victor, Your reflection has me thinking about and remembering another great loss that Our Lady had to endure. That of her husband, Saint Joseph. Scripture doesn’t tell us about that side of her. How she suffered the loss of her companion who God gave her to raise our Redeemer with her. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us and teach us how to continue to serve God, especially during times of loss and sorrow.

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