Seven Sorrows of Mary, Our Lady of SorrowsYou likely are familiar with the title of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. Devotion to our Blessed Mother under that title has taken place since the 12th century.

Typically, Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows in depicted with her in black and having seven swords pierce her heart – one for each of the major life events that caused her great sorrow:our-lady-of-sorrows-wikimedia-commons

  1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
  2. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
  3. Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41-50)
  4. Mary meets Jesus on his way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17)
  5. Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25-30)
  6. The body of Jesus being taken from the Cross (Psalm 130; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:31-37)
  7. The burial of Jesus (Isaiah 53:8; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47)


What you might not be familiar with is the Litany of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. During his five-year exile (1809-1814) at the hands of French Emperor Napoleon Bonapart, Pope Pius VII wrote the litany.

At the time, all of Europe was under threat from Napoleon’s vicious ambition, including the Vatican itself.

Among other atrocities, he arrested many of its cardinals, robbing them of their red garments and allowing them only to wear their black cassocks. Thus, they became known as the “black cardinals.” He tried desperately to coerce Pius VII to choose a side – his, preferably – but the prelate valiantly refused.

And so the mistreatment continued until the Pope was released in 1814 and Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Imagine writing something so beautiful while suffering sucha terrible predicament!

Yet, Pius VII wrote it and I’m sure prayed it countless times himself. Once he’d been released from exile, he extended the traditionally Servite-only feast to the universal Church.

Litany of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows

by Pope Pius VII

V. Lord, have mercy on us.
R. Christ, have mercy on us.
V. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
R. 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, [etc.]
Sorrowful Mother
Mournful Mother
Sighing Mother
Afflicted Mother
Foresaken Mother
Desolate Mother
Mother most sad
Mother set around with anguish
Mother overwhelmed by grief
Mother transfixed by a sword
Mother crucified in thy heart
Mother bereaved of thy Son
Sighing Dove
Mother of Dolors
Fount of tears
Sea of bitterness
Field of tribulation
Mass of suffering
Mirror of patience
Rock of constancy
Remedy in perplexity
Joy of the afflicted
Ark of the desolate
Refuge of the abandoned
Shiled of the oppressed
Conqueror of the incredulous
Solace of the wretched
Medicine of the sick
Help of the faint
Strength of the weak
Protectress of those who fight
Haven of the shipwrecked
Calmer of tempests
Companion of the sorrowful
Retreat of those who groan
Terror of the treacherous
Standard-bearer of the Martyrs
Treasure of the Faithful
Light of Confessors
Pearl of Virgins
Comfort of Widows
Joy of all Saints
Queen of thy Servants
Holy Mary, who alone art unexampled

V. Pray for us, most Sorrowful Virgin,
R. 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.


I encourage you to pray the litany at least once during this feast honoring Mary’s spiritual martyrdom. Each one in and of itself is fodder for meditation.

There is one title, however, to which I’d like to draw your attention:

Sighing Dove

That one stops me in my tracks, so to speak. It contains an interesting mix of metaphor that touches my heart deeply.

The dove – gentle, meek, lovely, pure, and graceful – is a perfect image of our Blessed Mother. She is definitely all of those qualities and more. The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and Mary is known as the Vessel of the Holy Spirit, having conceived Jesus Christ in her womb by his power.

But, depicting her as a sighing dove adds a surprising dimension.

I think of a sigh as both an expression of longing, admiration, and weariness.

I sigh when I’m wishing for the impossible.

I sigh when I’m appreciating something truly beautiful.

I sigh when I’m content.

I sigh when I’m perplexed or defeated.

I sigh when I’m just plain tired.

And sometimes I sigh to get someone’s attention.

In my mind’s eye – or you might say, my heart’s “eye” – I can picture Mary as the Dove, sighing for all of these reasons.

I can imagine Mary sighing while wishing for the impossibility that all of her and her Son’s suffering would be taken away.

I can imagine Mary sighing in appreciation of the astoundingly true beauty of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus is making for all humankind.

I can imagine Mary sighing in the contentment of following the Father’s holy (albeit difficult) will.

Certainly I can imagine Mary sighing out of defeat and perplexity!

Could the Dove be just plain tired? She endured so very much; I couldn’t fault her for letting a sigh of fatigue escape.

I think above all, I can envision Mary as the Dove sighing to get the Father’s attention. Not in a haughty, self-centered way. Rather, in a mournful, yearning way.

The Dove, in her staggering sorrow, sighs in an attempt to call out to the Father for consolation and strength. Her sigh signals her dependency on him, and her desperate need to feel his love.

At the same time, her sigh draws the Father to her, since he cannot resist her call.

Sighing Dove

I can see it perfectly. Or, I should say, I can see her  perfectly.

Can you?



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