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.”