The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Seven Dolors, is a traditional Catholic devotion that focuses on seven events or moments in the life of the Blessed Mother Mary that caused her great suffering.
The Seven Sorrows
The prophecy of Simeon – When Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the Temple, the Prophet Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul.
The flight into Egypt – When King Herod sought to kill the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt.
The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple – When Jesus was 12 years old, He went missing in Jerusalem, causing Mary and Joseph great anxiety.
The meeting of Mary and Jesus on the way to the Cross – Mary encountered her Son carrying His cross on the way to His crucifixion.
The crucifixion and death of Jesus – Mary witnessed the brutal crucifixion and death of her Son.
The taking down of the body of Jesus from the cross – After Jesus died, Mary received His body in her arms.
The burial of Jesus – Mary witnessed the burial of her Son.
It is our custom to meditate upon these events during the season of Lent. We will look at a few passages later.
The devotion has its roots in the early Church, but it was not until the Middle Ages that it began to take on a more formal structure. The number seven has long been associated with the Blessed Mother, as it represents completeness or perfection, and the Seven Sorrows are seen as a way to focus on the suffering and sacrifice of both Jesus and Mary.
One of the earliest mentions of the Seven Sorrows comes from the writings of Saint Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century. He wrote about the sorrows of Mary in his prayers and meditations, and his writings helped to popularize the devotion.
In the 13th century, the Servite Order of monks developed a specific practice which included the recitation of prayers and the wearing of a black scapular as a sign of devotion. The Servites were instrumental in spreading the devotion throughout Europe, and it became widely popular in the 14th and 15th centuries.
In 1482, Sixtus IV established the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows as an official liturgical celebration in the Church, which helped to further popularize the devotion. “Sixtus IV composed the liturgical Mass in 1482 and had it inserted in the Roman Missal.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia) Over time, various devotions and practices associated with the Seven Sorrows, such as the Seven Sorrows Rosary and the Seven Sorrows Chaplet, developed. More on this below.
Let’s reflect on some of the Scriptures related to the Seven Sorrows:
The Prophecy of Simeon:
And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; and thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. – Luke 2:34-35
The Flight into Egypt:
And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him. Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod – Matthew 2:13-14
The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple:
And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. – Luke 2:43-44
The Meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Way to the Cross:
And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. – Luke 23:27-28
The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus:
And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, they crucified him there; and the robbers, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But they, dividing his garments, cast lots. – Luke 23:33-34
The Taking Down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross:
But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. – John 19:33-34
The Burial of Jesus:
Now there was in the place where he was crucified, a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein no man yet had been laid. There, therefore, because of the (preparation) of the Jews, they laid Jesus, because the sepulchre was nigh at hand. – John 19:41-42
A few traditional practices related to the Seven Sorrows:
There are several traditional practices related to the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we may observe:
The Seven Sorrows Rosary – This is a devotional prayer that involves reciting a set of prayers while meditating on each of the Seven Sorrows. It is similar to the traditional rosary, but with a specific focus on the sorrows of Mary.
The Black Scapular of the Seven Sorrows – This is a devotional scapular worn as a sign of our devotion to Mary and her Seven Sorrows.
The Seven Sorrows Chaplet – This is a prayer that involves reciting a set of prayers while meditating on each of the Seven Sorrows. It is similar to the Seven Sorrows Rosary, but with a different structure.
The Mater Dolorosa – This is a representation of Mary as the Sorrowful Mother, often depicted with seven swords piercing her heart.
The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows – This is a liturgical feast day in the Church that celebrates the Seven Sorrows of Mary. It is typically observed on September 15th.
Fasting and Abstinence – Some within the Church choose to observe fasting and abstinence on Fridays in honour of the Seven Sorrows in addition to the meat fast.
These practices are meant to help us deepen our devotion to Mary and to reflect on the sufferings of Jesus and His mother.