By Fr. J. Heyrmann S.J.
OUR LADY OF DOLOURS
Although the feast of our Lady of Dolours, which used to be kept on this Friday (Friday of Passion Week), has been suppressed, yet we deem it fit to meditate on this subject, because Mary, more than any one else had a share in the bitter and saving passion of her Son. Jesus willed that His Mother should be in a very special manner connected with the work of our salvation, even, in a way, associated with it.
1. Mary stands near the cross and hears Jesus saying to her, “Woman, behold thy son! … and to the disciple, Behold thy mother” (John 19:26,27).
2. Petition: The grace to be given a share in the sufferings of Mary, the grace to understand better her motherhood of men.
I. Mary’s Via Dolorosa
By her unconditional Fiat at the time of the visit of the Angel, Mary had accepted whatever was implied in being the Mother of the Redeemer. This would be gradually revealed to her and experienced by her.
Gabriel had said that her Son “would be great, the Son of the Most High, seated on the throne of David …” But much had happened to her since that moment: Old Simeon had told her that her Child, who was to reign in the house of Jacob for ever, “was set for the fall and the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted” and “thy own soul a sword shall pierce …” Her destiny will therefore be closely linked with that of her Son, which will be a tragic one. These forebodings she surely has kept in her heart, pondering over them.
During the years of the public ministry Mary remains in the background. That He is “a sign which is contradicted”, she learns soon enough, in her own neighbourhood, and from her own kith and kin. Again and again she hears reports of the hostility of the Pharisees; she is aware of the violence of their hatred; she knows they are plotting to take her Son’s life. Mary accepts it all, maintaining her Fiat, though the sword ever enters deeper into her heart.
These things are not mentioned in the Gospel. Was there any need to mention them? “The Evangelists supposed that we have common sense” is St. Ignatius’ annotation in connection with the meager details found in the Scriptures concerning Mary. All the more precious, then, to us are the details which St. John supplies in his account of the Passion.
During those days before the Passover Mary was at Jerusalem, and she would thus be a witness of the great tragedy. Did she, after the arrest of our Lord, follow from a distance all the proceedings? Did she hear the mad yells of the mob, “Not this man, but Barrabas” … “Crucify him!”? If so they were so many torturing thrusts of the sword penetrating ever more deeply into her soul. Did Jesus meet His Mother along the Via Dolorosa? … These are devout surmises to supplement the sober Gospel account.
But one thing is absolutely certain: Mary, in the company of John, of Mary Cleophas and of Mary Magdalen, went up to Mount Calvary and stood by the Cross of her dying Son. It has all the appearance of a summons from God Himself: When the Word was made Flesh to dwell among us, she had by her Fiat called Him down and welcomed Him. The sacrifice whereof that was the beginning is now about to be consummated: she ought, therefore, to be present at its completion too, and by her ultimate Fiat to be associated with its final oblation.
II. Christ’s Creative Words
“When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He said to His Mother, Woman, behold thy son. After that He said to His disciple, Behold Thy Mother. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own” (John 19:26,27). Words most painful to hear, but how “blessed” too!
St. Bernard has pointed out to us in burning accents how soul-torturing they must have been for Mary. “What an exchange! In the place of Jesus thou receivest John, the servant in stead of the Lord, the disciple in place of the Master, the son of Zebedee to replace the Son of God, a mere man in exchange for the true God. How is it impossible that at the hearing of those words thy soul should not have been pierced through, since the mere remembrance of them breaks our hearts of stone and steel?”
Painful words to Mary, but how full of solace to us, nay creative words, according to the opinion of many theologians and exegetes. By these simple words, quietly spoken, now that “His hour is come”, Jesus in the fullness of His power solemnly appoints Mary Mother of all those who, like John, will believe in Him. Thus in sorrow and pain Mary becomes the Mother of all the living. And so she is for ever associated in a unique manner with her Son in the work of redemption, becoming the Mediatrix of all graces.
Just as, “from that moment, the disciple took her to his own”, i.e. took her into his house as the Mother of Jesus and his own Mother, so will we give to Mary in our lives the place that is her due as the Mother of Jesus and our own Mother.
III. Mary Unites Her Sacrifice with That of Her Son
At no other moment did Mary feel, live, and suffer so closely in union with her divine Son as when He, utterly surrendering Himself to the Father, consummated His work of salvation. By a most sublime Fiat she associated herself with and acceded to, the Sacrifice which achieved our and her own redemption. “As Jesus, with arms stretched out on the cross, and His Body naked, offered Himself to the Father a willing victim for our sins, so that nothing remained in Him which was not entire offered in sacrifice” (4 Imitation of Christ 8:1), so also Mary, standing by the Cross, offered herself to the Father, together with her Son and through Him, with all her powers and desires, a pure and holy sacrifice. Consummatum est. It is consummated.
Prayer: O God, at whose Passion, as Simeon had prophesied, the most gentle soul of Mary, Thy Virgin Mother, was pierced with a sword of sorrow; mercifully grant through the glorious merits and intercession of all the Saints who loyally stood around Thy Cross, that we, who devoutly recall to mind her transfixion and sorrows, may attain to the happiness won for us by Thy Passion; Who livest and reignest world without end.
(Collect of today’s Mass).