From the Purification to Calvary, Mary was at each moment of her existence a prey to limitless sorrow; but she was never crushed, never without animation or spirit. A profound joy accompanied her at every instant; an invincible serenity suffused her personality.
What was the source of this joy and serenity if not her absolute and radiant acceptance of the Father’s every wish? Like Jesus, she could say, “My meat is to do the will of the Father who is in Heaven,” that is to say, “The divine will is the marrow of my existence, its very essence.” Crucifying though this will might be for Mary, the happiness experienced in accomplishing it outstripped the sufferings involved; the breathing of Mary was like that of Jesus, a perpetual Amen, an unfailing Yes, Father. This complete conformity to all the wishes of God imparted to her a foretaste of beatitude against which nothing could prevail.
With what unparalleled joy, moreover, did not the thought of being the Mother of such a Son flood her soul. If every woman who brings a child into the world is transported with joy at the thought of her motherhood, what ecstasy must Mary have experienced in her privilege of being the Mother of God!
But this consideration of the perfect serenity of Mary, Mother of All Joy, Our Lady of Gladness, should not permit us to forget the agony of suffering ever present in her life. St. Alphonsus Liguori, commenting on the sorrows of Mary, explains that hers was a martyrdom without consolation. On the other hand, the English Oratorian Faber, stressing, rather, the serenity of Mary, affirms that at each instant, the Virgin was consoled in her sorrow. Both are right, but, instead of considering their views as contradictory, we must unite them.
The Savior, from the first moment of His entrance into human existence, had before His eyes the perspective of His Calvary. His divine knowledge unfolded for Him all the dreadful aspects of the agony: the odious conduct of the tribunals, the condemnation, the elevation on the Cross. At every instant, a horrible vision rose before Him, but at the same time He experienced, of necessity, the Beatific Vision.
When we see our Lord appearing transfigured in the Gospel, we must not conclude that only then did the Son of God benefit by that radiant life. Absolute happiness was His habitual state. Therefore, although it pleased Him to manifest His glory only partially, as in the Transfiguration, nevertheless, the glory invisible to us, but effective for Him in reality, never left Him. Similarly, when our Lord appears as a crushed victim in the agony, we must not conclude that only then was the Son of God broken by sorrow. Our Lord was in agony always, since, at each instant, His divine knowledge showed Him completely the future toward which He was advancing.
Present to Him always were the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Tabor: at each instant, heartbreak and joy, agony and the splendor of beatitude. In this consists one of the aspects, and not the least surprising, of Christ’s two natures: the human and the divine in the unity of a single person.
The hypostatic union, of course, did not apply to the Blessed Virgin; that is self-evident. We can, nevertheless, compare the state of her soul with that of her Son. Perfectly enlightened about the future, she lived in a continual agony; perfectly submissive to God and profoundly happy in being the Mother of the Savior, she experienced ineffable joy. Mary, like her Son, lived Gethsemane and Tabor simultaneously. We must never let the thought of her Tabor make us forget her perpetual Gethsemane!
The Church keeps the memory of it for us. Although she does not give the feast commemorating Mary’s sorrows the solemn rank of the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception, she has, by way of compensation, set aside two feasts in the liturgical year to honor our Lady’s dolors.
The Feast of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin, the Friday of Passion Week, dates from the beginning of the fifteenth century. It was inaugurated by the Archbishop of Cologne in 1423, as an honorable reparation for the outrages of the Hussites against the images of the Mother of God, particularly as the Pietà. At the end of the same century, in 1482, Pope Sixtus IV, the Franciscan and a brother in religion to Jacopone de Todi, the author of the Stabat Mater, extended it to the whole Church; and in 1725, Benedict XII raised it to the rank of a double major, giving it a fixed place in the liturgical calendar. The second Feast of the Sorrows of Mary is solemnized in September. Pope Pius VII, in gratitude to our Lady for having consoled him during the captivity to which the emperor Napoleon had subjected him, established it on the occasion of his deliverance, September 18, 1814.
The Legend of the Eighth Sword is an appealing story that we might well recall in considering Our Lady of Seven Dolors. A young man, accustomed to visit the Madonna each day, fell into sin. When he returned to the feet of the Virgin, he was surprised to find that one sword more than usual pierced the heart of the Pietà. He understood its significance immediately. Then and there, he sought a priest and made his confession, which snatched from the heart of his mother the newly thrust sword. Back again he went to the Madonna; the eighth sword had disappeared. This was indeed a touching symbol, expressive of a great idea.