Our Lady of Sorrows

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Archetypal Gothic Lady of Sorrows from a triptych by the Master of the Stauffenberg Altarpiece, Alsace c. 1455

Our Lady of Sorrows (Latin: Beata Maria Virgo Perdolens), the Sorrowful Mother or Mother of Sorrows (Latin: Mater Dolorosa, at times just Dolorosa), and Our Lady of Piety, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows or Our Lady of the Seven Dolours are names by which the Blessed Virgin Mary is referred to in relation to sorrows in her life. As Mater Dolorosa, it is also a key subject for Marian art in the Catholic Church.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary are a popular Roman Catholic devotion. There are devotional prayers which consist of meditation on her Seven Sorrows. Examples include the Servite rosary, or the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady and the Seven Joys of Mary. The term "Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary" refers to the combined devotion of both the Immaculate Heart and the Seven Sorrows of Mary as first used by the Franciscan Tertiary Berthe Petit.

Seven Sorrows[edit]

Mary, surrounded by the Seven Sorrows

The Seven Sorrows (or Dolors) are events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary which are a popular devotion and are frequently depicted in art.[1]

It is a common devotion for Catholics to say daily one Our Father and seven Hail Marys for each.

  1. The Prophecy of Simeon. (Luke 2:34-35) or the Circumcision of Christ
  2. The Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13)
  3. The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:43-45)
  4. Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary.
  5. Jesus dies on the cross. (John 19:25)
  6. The piercing of the side of Jesus, and Mary's receiving the body of Jesus in her arms. (Matthew 27:57-59)
  7. The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb. (John 19:40-42)

These Seven Sorrows should not be confused with the five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.

Devotions to the Seven Sorrows[edit]

Western Christianity[edit]

The feast of the Our Lady of Sorrows was originated by a provincial synod of Cologne in 1413 as a response to the iconoclast Hussites. It was designated for the Friday after the third Sunday after Easter. It had the title: Commemoratio angustiae et doloris B. Mariae V.. Before the 16th century, the feast was celebrated only in parts of northern Europe.

Earlier, in 1233, seven youths in Tuscany founded the Servite Order (also known as the "Servite Friars", or the "Order of the Servants of Mary"). Five years later, they took up the sorrows of Mary, standing under the Cross, as the principal devotion of their order.[2]

Over the centuries several devotions, and even orders, arose around meditation on Mary's Sorrows in particular. The Servites developed the two most common devotions to Our Lady's Sorrows, namely the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows and the Black Scapular of the Seven Dolours of Mary. The Black Scapular is a symbol of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows, which is associated with the Servite Order.[3] Most devotional scapulars have requirements regarding ornamentation or design. The devotion of the Black Scapular requires only that it be made of black woollen cloth.[4]

Our Lady who softens evil hearts, Russian icon, 19th century

Eastern Christianity[edit]

On February 2, the same day as the Great Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics commemorate a wonder-working icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God) known as "the Softening of Evil Hearts" or "Simeon's Prophecy."[5][6]

It depicts the Virgin Mary at the moment that Simeon the Righteous says, "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also...." (Luke 2:35) She stands with her hands upraised in prayer, and seven swords pierce her heart, indicative of the seven sorrows.[5] This is one of the few Orthodox icons of the Theotokos which do not depict the infant Jesus. The refrain "Rejoice, much-sorrowing Mother of God, turn our sorrows into joy and soften the hearts of evil men!" is also used.[6]

Liturgical feast[edit]

Procession in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows as part of Holy Week observances in Cocula, Guerrero, Mexico

The first altar to the Mater Dolorosa was set up in 1221 at the monastery of Schönau. Especially in Mediterranean countries, parishioners traditionally carry statues of Our Lady of Sorrows in processions on the days leading to Good Friday. Malta - Our Lady of Sorrows. In Malta and Gozo there are also Two Servites of Mary – Third Order in two parishes . In Malta there is the Third Order of the Servites of Mary at the Parish of Stella Maris Sliema. The other Third Order of the Servites of Mary is at the Parish of San Lawrenz in San Lawrenz, Gozo.

The Third Order of the Servites of Mary at the Parish of Stella Maris Parish in Sliema was previously known as the Pia Unjone di Maria Desolata. In 1872 this was blessed by Pope (Blessed) Pius IX and by the Bishop of Malta Mgr Carmelo Scicluna in1878.

On the 8 September 1892 the Pia Unione was alleviated to a Third Order by a Decree of the Prior General of the Order of the Servites of Mary and with another Decree by Bishop of Malta Mgr Pietro Pace on the 27 October 1896. (Source: Tas-Sliema – Il-Knisja u l-Parrocca ta’ Stella Maris. Source: (Sliema –The Church and the Parish of Stella Maris) Maurice Busietta - 1978

No feast in her honour was included in St Pius V's 1570 Tridentine Calendar. Vatican approval for the celebration of a feast in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows was first granted to the Servite order in 1667.

By inserting the feast into the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1814, Pope Pius VII extended the celebration to the whole of the Latin Church. It was assigned to the third Sunday in September. In 1913, Pope Pius X moved the feast to September 15, the day after the Feast of the Cross.[7] It is still observed on that date.

Another feast, originating in the seventeenth century, was extended to the whole of the Latin Church in 1727. It was originally celebrated on Friday in Passion Week, one week before Good Friday. In 1954, it still held the rank of major double (slightly lower than the rank of the September 15 feast) in the General Roman Calendar. In 1962, the feast was reduced to a commemoration. By 1969 the Vatican had come to consider it a duplication of the September 15 feast, and the Passion Week feast was omitted in that year's revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, and took effect in 1970.

Each celebration was called a feast of "The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary." The September 15 feast that now combines and continues both of them is known as the Feast of "Our Lady of Sorrows" (Beatae Mariae Virginis Perdolentis). The sequence known as Stabat Mater may be sung at mass on that day.

Artistic representations[edit]

Dieric Bouts, Netherlandish, Mater Dolorosa, 1480/1500

Our Lady of Sorrows, depicted as "Mater Dolorosa" (Mother of Sorrows) has been the subject of some key works of Roman Catholic Marian art. Mater Dolorosa is one of the three common artistic representations of a sorrowful Virgin Mary, the other two being Stabat Mater (stood the mother) and Pietà.[8]

In this iconography, Our Lady of Seven Sorrows is at times simply represented in a sad and anguished mode by herself, her expression being that of tears and sadness. In other representations the Virgin Mary is depicted with seven swords in her heart, a reference to the prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation.


Our Lady of Sorrows is the patron saint of:



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ball, Ann (2003). "Seven Sorrows of Mary". Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices. Huntington IN: Our Sunday Visitor. p. 525. ISBN 0-87973-910-X. 
  2. ^ Catholic encyclopedia
  3. ^ Order of Friar Servants of Mary: The Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows - retrieved on 22-Mar-2009
  4. ^ Francis de Zulueta, 2008, Early Steps In The Fold, Miller Press, ISBN 978-1-4086-6003-4, p. 301
  5. ^ a b Churchly joy: Orthodox devotions for the church year by Sergeĭ Nikolaevich Bulgakov, Boris Jakim 2008 ISBN 0-8028-4834-6 pages 10-11
  6. ^ a b Orthodox life, Volumes 54-55, Holy Trinity Monastery (Jordanville, N.Y.) page 7
  7. ^ "Calendarium Romanum", Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969, p. 103
  8. ^ Arthur de Bles, 2004 How to Distinguish the Saints in Art by Their Costumes, Symbols and Attributes ISBN 1-4179-0870-X page 35
  9. ^ "Miraculous' stone with image of Mary 'grows' in Bicol", gmanews.tv

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]