The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady is a beautiful devotional prayer that you can say very easily in your head while walking between classes or during those small, random snatches of free time you encounter during your day. All this devotional consists of is saying seven Hail Marys while thinking about the seven particular sorrows associated with the lives of Mary and Jesus. All of the sorrows are based on scriptural accounts of Jesus’s life and death, and Mary’s journey with her Son from Bethlehem to Calvary. At any rate, it is a good habit to start this Lent (by the way, Happy Feast Day of St. Joseph!)
This is a fruitful and practical devotion mostly because if its simplicity. It helps us to understand the heartache, sorrow, and fear Mary felt watching her Son grow up and begin His life of ministry only to have it seemingly cut short by His excruciating passion and death. You can imagine how she must have felt standing at the foot of the cross; utterly heartbroken, frightened, confused, and longing to comfort her child as only a mother can. For those of you who have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the relationship between Jesus and His Mother is elegantly and poignantly depicted; in one flashback scene, Jesus is shown building a table in his carpenter shop while Mary comments on it, and He even splashes her playfully with water when she demands that He wash His hands before eating supper.
Mary must have been a very tough woman; not only spiritually but physically, traveling on foot to visit her cousin Elizabeth, journeying over 100 miles to Bethlehem and then giving birth in a cold stable, and fleeing to Egypt in the middle of the night. This is quite from the Mary we are used to seeing on our holy cards: paintings of a fragile, pale Madonna with blond hair and delicate limbs, looking like she spends her entire day sitting in pretty chairs with angels around her. Mary probably looked like any typical Middle-Eastern woman: brown or black hair, dark skin and eyes, not very tall, with a sturdy body accustomed to heat and hard labor. And because Jesus lived in her womb for nine months, inherited his blood from her blood, and nursed at her breast, you can bet that the two of them shared a significant physical resemblance and adopted each other’s personalities. We can’t know Jesus without learning about Mary first.
There are seven graces supposedly promised by Mary to souls who practice this devotion: these favors are not officially endorsed by the Church, but they are still a comforting reminder of her love for us. The Seven Sorrows are as follows, and the seven graces are posted below them. I have also included seven brief meditations you can consider while reciting each Hail Mary.
The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady
1) The Prophesy of Simeon: Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem when He is 8 days old and are greeted by Simeon, a prophet. He tells Mary and Joseph “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2: 34-35).
Meditation: Dear Mother, help me not to worry about the future or dwell on the past. Remind me that Jesus never abandons me, even when I feel like He is not there.
2) The Flight into Egypt: Joseph is warned in a dream that King Herod is seeking to kill the infant Jesus. The Holy Family rises in the middle of the night and flees to the foreign country of Egypt, staying there until Herod dies (Matt 2:13-23).
Meditation: Dear Mother, help me to run to Jesus in all of my trials. Remind me that Jesus is always present and willing to shoulder my burdens with me.
3) The Loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem: Mary and Joseph travel to Jerusalem with the 12-year-old Jesus to visit the temple. Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem after his parents leave, and Mary and Joseph spend three days frantically looking for him. The finally find him back in the temple (Luke 2:41-50).
Meditation: Dear Mother, help me when I feel neglected and abandoned. Remind me that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks out His lost sheep, and that I will always find solace and comfort in His arms when the world offers me nothing.
4) The Meeting of Jesus on the Way to Calvary: Mary meets Jesus as He carries the cross up the road towards Golgotha. His flesh is in shreds from the scourging, the crown of thorns obscures His vision, and the Roman soldiers hurry Him along even though He can barely walk. Mary cannot get close enough to Him to comfort Him; she can only speak to Him with her eyes as He staggers by.
Meditation: Dear Mother, help me to remember how much you and Jesus suffered for my sake. Remind me how much it hurts you when I sin, and give me the grace to resist temptations.
5) Standing at the Foot of the Cross: All of Jesus’s disciples have abandoned him except John, who stands by Mary as they both gaze up at His mangled, crucified body. Though barely able to speak, Jesus entrusts Mary to John’s protection: “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother” (John 19:25-30).
Meditation: Dear Mother, help me not to despair when all seems lost. Remind me of Jesus’s great love for me, and show me that the only way I can be happy in this life is by taking up my cross with Jesus’s help.
6) Taking Down Jesus’s Body from the Cross: Jesus’s brutally abused body is taken down from the cross and laid in the arms of Mary. Her heart breaks at the sight of the nails, the thorns, and the jagged wound in His side from the centurion’s spear. Now that she can finally hold Him, she cannot comfort Him.
Meditation: Dear Mother, help me to be kind and generous to those who suffer, especially people in my family and those I find it difficult to love. Remind me that everything I do to the least of my brothers and sisters, I do for Jesus and for you.
7) The Burial of Jesus: Because it is the eve of the Sabbath, Jesus’s body has to be buried quickly. Mary and the others rush to wash off the blood and anoint his wounds with spices and oils in preparation for interment. Mary barely has time to tell her Son goodbye before the stone is rolled into place and they are forced to depart.
Meditation: Dear Mother, help me to remember that this life is temporary. Help me at the hour of my death and intercede for me at my judgment so that I might obtain the loving mercy of God and praise Him and Jesus forever in heaven.
The Seven Graces
1. I will grant peace to their families.
2. They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.
3. I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.
4. I will give them as much as they ask for, as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.
5. I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
6. I will visibly help them at the moment of their death: they will see the face of their Mother.
7. I have obtained from my divine Son that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and sorrows will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.