Monday, September 06, 2010

Mater Dolorosa

September, the month dedicated to Our Mother of Sorrows

Taken from: "The Servite Manual: BEHOLD THY MOTHER - a Collection of Devotions Chiefly in Honor of Our Lady of Sorrows," compiled by The Servite Fathers; 6th ed; Servite Fathers, Chicago, 1947; pages xv-xxix.


The Devotion and Confraternity of Our Lady of Seven Dolors

Origin and Propagation of the Devotion to the Seven Dolors of our Blessed Lady

The devotion to the Dolors of Mary is as old as Holy Church: it had its birth on the day of the Passion at the foot of the cross, when our Lord gave us His Mother to be our Mother also. She to whom He bade us turn our eyes, when in the person of St. John He said to us, "Behold thy Mother," is not Mary in her Immaculate Conception, in her Annunciation, or her Assumption, but Mary plunged in sorrow and bathed in tears, the Mother of Dolors. Thus we see that among the manifestations of Christian piety towards the most holy Mother of God, compassion for her Dolors is one of the most ancient; and among the oldest archaeological remains it is by no means rare to find her image at the foot of the cross beside that of the crucified Savior.

Like all the devotions of Holy Church, that to the Dolors of Mary developed by degrees and took a more precise and definite form. In the middle ages it had become extremely popular; and we may venture to say that there was no cathedral or principal church wherein was not exposed for the veneration of the faithful the image or statue of Mary at the foot of the cross, or holding the dead body of Jesus on her knees. Nay more, the same was often found in even the humblest village churches. But in order that this worship might be still more extended, God willed that there should be in His Church an Order especially set apart for its propagation, and in the persons of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order, of St. Philip Benizi and their successors, He raised up indefatigable apostles to travel through Italy and the whole of Europe, preaching everywhere compassion for the sufferings of Jesus crucified and of Mary desolate, as well as hatred for sin, the accursed cause o! f these sufferings.

Nothing is more touching and wonderful than the manner in which this mission was entrusted to the Seven Holy Founders. These men where seven Florentine patricians who, according to the custom of that period, were also engaged in commerce. Their names were Bonfilius, Monaldi, Bonagiunta Manetti, Amideus de Amedei, Manettus dell Antella, Sosteneus Sostegni, Hugh Uguccioni and Alexius Falconieri. They were enrolled in the ranks of canonized Saints by Pope Leo XIII, January 5, 1888.

We designate them now by the names of Saints Bonfil, Bunajunt, Amideus, Manettus, or Manette, Sostene, Hugh and Alexis. Members of a pious Confraternity of the most holy Virgin, they were engaged in reciting her office on the 15th of August, the feast of her Assumption, in the year 1233, when she herself appeared to them in the glory of her triumph, and exhorted them to leave the world, in order to dedicate themselves under her auspices to the service of God. They renounced their riches and their families without delay, and retiring to an hermitage near their native town of Florence, lived a life of prayer and penance in the closest brotherly love. God was soon pleased to manifest by a wondrous miracle how pleasing to Mary were these holy men. In the following month of January, when two of them were traversing the streets of Florence and asking alms, infants still unweaned cried: "Behold the Servants of Mary; give alms to the Servants of Mary." Among these inf! ants was St. Philip Benizi, who was to become one of the most glorious in the Order of Servites. Owing to the crowds drawn to them by this miracle, the Seven Holy Founders were obliged to seek a more secluded retreat, and chose Mount Senario, a wild and desert spot about nine miles North of Florence. There, after six years passed in extreme austerities, Mary showed them, by many miracles, the design she had in calling them out of the world. First of all, in the month of March 1240, a time of the year in which the mountain is still covered with hoar frost, a young vine, which they had planted in the previous year, grew miraculously during the night, and was clothed at once with foliage, flower, and fruit, symbol of the speedy increase of their little company, as was revealed at the same time to the Bishop of Florence, Ardingo Trotti. Shortly afterwards, on Good Friday of the same year, after having meditated and wept all day over the sufferings of Jesus and the Dolors of His! most holy Mother, the Holy Founders were gathered together at! eventid e in their little oratory, when our Lady of Dolors appeared to them, gentle and majestic in aspect, her eyes streaming with tears, in black garments, and covered with a long mourning robe. She bore in her hands habits of like color and form. Around her was a numerous choir of angels and heavenly spirits. One of these bore a kind of label, on which, in letters as of gold, glowed the words "Servi Mariae" (Servants of Mary), another held an open book, whereon were inscribed the first words of the Rule of St. Augustine, while a third gently waved a magnificent palm, emblem of victory.

Looking upon them with love, while she slowly drew near, she signed to them to approach and take the habits which she delivered to them, saying in gentle tones: "It is I, my beloved, I upon whom you have so often called. I have chosen you out of the world, in order that you may be my Servants, and under that name work in the vineyard of my Son, producing fruits of salvation in abundance. Look upon the habit wherewith I am clothed; symbol of mourning and sadness, it indicates the profound grief which filled my soul at the death of my only Son. Take this mourning habit," and as she said this, she gave to them the garments which she held in her hands, "this habit like unto mine, and, in memory of the extreme dolor which I suffered, when I witnessed the cruel death of my dear Son, wear it through life and until the hour of your death, spreading everywhere the memory of my Dolors and of the Passion of my Jesus." Then she gave them the Rule of St. Augustin! e, and commanded them to observe it diligently, as also to keep always the name of Servants of Mary, promising as their reward the palm of eternal life. Thus having spoken, she vanished from the eyes of the Seven Founders, leaving their hearts filled with pity, gratitude and sweet consolation.

[FOOTNOTE: These facts, as well as those which follow, are told with greater detail in the "Story of the Seven Holy Founders," by Fr. Ledoux (Burns & Oates), and in the "Storia dei Sette Santi Fondatori," published in Rome at Propaganda, in 1888, on the occasion of their canonization.]

Such is the origin of the black scapular of our Lady of Dolors, such its touching significance. It recalls to us the profound grief of the most holy Virgin, and associates us with it, in making us wear with her a garb of mourning. It should be still more venerable in our eyes from its great antiquity, since it even preceded that of Mount Carmel, which is often supposed to be the most ancient in the Church, but was given to St. Simon Stock only several years after the gift of that of the Seven Dolors.

. . . to be continued



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