Years ago I read a passage in a book about our Blessed Mother’s sorrows. Sadly, I no longer remember the book or the author. I do, however, remember one specific point. Not only do I remember it, but also I carry it in my heart and meditate upon it from time to time.
The passage referred to the Biblical scene in which Simeon approaches Mary and prophesies that a sword shall pierce her heart. The author suggested a theory held by certain scholars that the “sword” that pierced our Lady’s heart was the sword of doubt.
Before you shake the heresy finger at me, let me explain. Of course Mary, unaffected by original sin, was perfect in every way. Of course she was the ultimate Father-child. Of course she joyfully followed God’s will in even the slightest detail.
The “doubt” that pierced her heart was not a doubt of God’s wisdom and goodness; its was a doubt of how his will would be accomplished in her life in terms of the extreme suffering both she and her Son would bear. She knew the Scriptures, and so she knew the Messiah would come. But her Son? Crucifixion? Resurrection? How could this be? How was she to understand all of this? The mere possibility of doubt was enough to cause her anguish!
Whether the scholars are correct or not isn’t as important to me as the idea of it. Mary was perfect, true, but she was completely human and prone to the same pain and fear to which we are all prone. When the Gospels and literature speak of the Sorrowful Mother beneath the Cross, they’re talking about a real, living, human being not some angelic figure fabricated for effect.
She walked, she talked, she ate, she drank, she slept, she worked, she loved, she laughed and she cried. On this feast we remember how she cried.
Below is an explanation of the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows from AmericanCatholic.org and the link to another beautiful description from the Marian Library’s Mary Pages:
For a while there were two feasts in honor of the Sorrowful Mother: one going back to the 15th century, the other to the 17th century. For a while both were celebrated by the universal Church: one on the Friday before Palm Sunday, the other in September.
The principal biblical references to Mary’s sorrows are in Luke 2:35 and John 19:26-27. The Lucan passage is Simeon’s prediction about a sword piercing Mary’s soul; the Johannine passage relates Jesus’ words to Mary and to the beloved disciple.
Many early Church writers interpret the sword as Mary’s sorrows, especially as she saw Jesus die on the cross. Thus, the two passages are brought together as prediction and fulfillment.
St. Ambrose (December7) in particular sees Mary as a sorrowful yet powerful figure at the cross. Mary stood fearlessly at the cross while others fled. Mary looked on her Son’s wounds with pity, but saw in them the salvation of the world. As Jesus hung on the cross, Mary did not fear to be killed but offered herself to her persecutors.
From the Marian Library at the University of Dayton: