As I was working on my certificate in Marian Studies with the International Marian Research Library some years ago, I ran across a scholarly passage suggesting that the sword that would pierce Mary’s heart, as predicted by Simeon’s prohecy in St. Luke’s Gospel (Lu 2:35), was not the hardships she endured – the fleeing to Egypt, losing the Boy Jesus on the way back from Jerusalem, not even his Passion and Crucifixion or receiving and burying her Son’s mutilated Body – but rather, it was doubt. The scholar (sadly, I cannot remember his name) suggested that Mary experienced doubt, not in God’s power, but in his reason. The way things were unfolding, according to the passage, couldn’t have made sense to Mary, and therefore, she may have doubted the sensibility of God’s plan.
I struggle with that view. Mary was free from original sin, she was as perfect as a human being can get next to our Lord, and so I can’t see her doubting God in any possible way.
On the other hand, I can imagine that Mary may have caught herself – ever so instantaneously – wondering how God would work things out, especially during the most dire situations. At the Annunciation, she asked, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lu 1:34). I can imagine that Mary could have been deeply grieved by catching herself questioning the “how” of God’s plan, even for a nano-second. I know she never would have questioned the “why.”
This suggestion of Mary’s sword being doubt has stuck with me all this time, not because I give it any credence, but because I learned an important lesson from it for my own spiritual journey. If Mary had doubted even so much as the “how” of God’s plan, she would have been deeply grieved, so much so, that her grief could be likened to a sword piercing her heart. I often doubt both the “how” and the “why” of God’s plan! And yet, I seldom am deeply grieved over it.
Now, whenever I’m tempted toward doubt, I think of Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows, whose feast we celebrate today in commemoration of her faithful and courageous acceptance of Simeon’s prophecy. I think of the sword that pierces her heart, and of all that she endured for my sake so that I can (by the grace of God) one day join her and her Son in Eternity. I think about how, if she were capable of doubting God, she would be devastatingly grieved by it. And then I become grieved over my own doubt. I want my heart to be like Mary’s – strong, noble, trusting, holy – and I want to be able to accept the piercing swords God sends to me in my life without doubting.
Church tradition holds that there are seven times in Mary’s life that her heart was particularly pierced by the sword, and they’ve become known as “The Seven Sorrows of Mary.” They include:
The Prophecy of Simeon
The Flight into Egypt
The Loss of Jesus in the Temple
The Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross
The Taking Down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross
Jesus Laid in the Tomb
Below is a beautiful prayer for today’s feast, written by Pope Pius VII. I hope that you will pray the prayer with me, asking for the grace to be deeply grieved by our own doubt.
Litany of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, Pray for us.
Mother of the Crucified, Pray for us.
Sorrowful Mother, Pray for us.
Mournful Mother, Pray for us.
Sighing Mother, Pray for us.
Afflicted Mother, Pray for us.
Foresaken Mother, Pray for us.
Desolate Mother Pray for us.
Mother most sad, Pray for us.
Mother set around with anguish, Pray for us.
Mother overwhelmed by grief, Pray for us.
Mother transfixed by a sword, Pray for us.
Mother crucified in thy heart, Pray for us.
Mother bereaved of thy Son, Pray for us.
Sighing Dove, Pray for us.
Mother of Dolors, Pray for us.
Fount of tears, Pray for us.
Sea of bitterness, Pray for us.
Field of tribulation, Pray for us.
Mass of suffering, Pray for us.
Mirror of patience, Pray for us.
Rock of constancy, Pray for us.
Remedy in perplexity, Pray for us.
Joy of the afflicted, Pray for us.
Ark of the desolate, Pray for us.
Refuge of the abandoned, Pray for us.
Shield of the oppressed, Pray for us.
Conqueror of the incredulous, Pray for us.
Solace of the wretched, Pray for us.
Medicine of the sick, Pray for us.
Help of the faint, Pray for us.
Strength of the weak, Pray for us.
Protectress of those who fight, Pray for us.
Haven of the shipwrecked, Pray for us.
Calmer of tempests, Pray for us.
Companion of the sorrowful, Pray for us.
Retreat of those who groan, Pray for us.
Terror of the treacherous, Pray for us.
Standard-bearer of the Martyrs, Pray for us.
Treasure of the Faithful, Pray for us.
Light of Confessors, Pray for us.
Pearl of Virgins, Pray for us.
Comfort of Widows, Pray for us.
Joy of all Saints, Pray for us.
Queen of thy Servants, Pray for us.
Holy Mary, who alone art unexampled, Pray for us.
Pray for us, most Sorrowful Virgin,
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray.
O God, in whose Passion,
According to the prophecy of Simeon,
A sword of grief pierced through
The most sweet soul Of Thy glorious Blessed Virgin Mother Mary:
Grant that we, who celebrate
The memory of her Seven Sorrows,
May obtain the happy effect of Thy Passion,
Who lives and reigns world without end. Amen.