The Sorrows of Mary

The Sorrowful Mother, El Greco

Jesus was born of Mary. She was his mother, and she also was his disciple when he began his mission. From the time the angel spoke to her in Nazareth, a sword pierced her heart. 

“How can this be?” Mary asked the angel who announced his birth. It would not be the last time she asked that question. Mary did not know what lay ahead. She could only trust, and trust is hard when you face the unknown as she did.

Tradition describes seven of Mary’s sorrows: The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35) The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-21 The Loss of Jesus for Three Days (Luke 2:41-50) The Carrying of the Cross (John 19:17) The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:18-30) Jesus Taken Down from the Cross (John 19:39-40) The Burial of Jesus. (John 41-42)

“Your own soul a sword shall pierce, “ the old man Simeon told her in the Temple as he held her newborn Son in his arms. His prophecy was fulfilled in the events of Jesus’ birth. The poor stable he was born in was hardly something Mary would have wanted. Exile in Egypt, with the threats and deaths that took place, was hardly something she ever planned for. When Jesus at twelve years stayed behind in the temple after a Passover celebration, it was a sign of his future mission, but what would Mary, his mother, know of that? She only knew then what it meant to lose him.

And what was Nazareth like? The Jews who settled in the mountain villages of Galilee were strong believers that God’s kingdom would come as the prophets promised. How would it come? The mother of James and John – relatives of Jesus and Mary– believed it would come through a powerful revolution; they were willing to fight for it. Even before Jesus rose in the synagogue at Nazareth to proclaim his mission, Mary knew that would not to be his way. His rejections caused her sorrow.

Luke says that Mary, his mother “ kept all these things in her heart.“ (Luke 2:51) She remembered sorrows as well as joys.

The last four of Mary’s sorrows came when the sword of Jesus’ Passion pierced her heart. She followed her Son to Jerusalem with the others and was there when he was arrested and sentenced. She stood at the cross when he died; she took part in his burial in a garden tomb. 

Some of this information we have from the gospels, some from tradition. The Stations of the Cross presents Mary meeting her Son as he went to Calvary carrying his cross; she then held him in her arms as he was taken down from the Cross.

Tradition is a general word. The gospels rest on multiple sources.Is one of them, perhaps the most important source – Mary, who “kept these things in her heart.” How much of what we have in the gospels and from tradition are her memories?

Devotion to the Seven Sorrows, like the Stations of the Cross, is a meditational prayer. Words and pictures lead us to reflect and imagine the mystery of God found in Mary’s sorrows. They lead us on to the mystery of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

1 thought on “The Sorrows of Mary

  1. cenaclemary12

    How true that “words and pictures lead us to reflect on the mysteries of God.” In this painting, the artist, ElGreco, portrays her young, almost adolescent. Her large dark eyes drew me in. In her sorrow, does she see the bigger picture? Master artist as he was said “I hold the imitation of color to be the greatest difficulty of art.” — El Greco, from notes of the painter in one of his commentaries.
    I think the colors add to the painting. At first I didn’t notice but there is a halo around her head which affirms artistically Mary’s holiness. I give thanks for this and all the art and words we have available for meditation.


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