The Church celebrates the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15th. It is a feast rooted in the gospels with Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart. As Mary stood by the foot of the cross, she truly became an icon of the sorrowful mother. Michelangelo’s masterpiece of the Pieta depicts Mary holding the lifeless body of her Son.
Naturally, on this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, our attention should turn to the grief and sorrow of Mary in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. But we, as people who mourn the deaths of loved ones in our own life, can stand with Mary in the moment of her sorrow, as surely she stands with us from her place in heaven, in the time of our sorrow too. The Sorrowful Mother offers us different lessons in the time of our own sorrow and grief.
Mary Stands With Us
Death has come for someone we love. And it’s possible we were present as our loved one breathed their last. As a priest, when I pray with a family gathered at the bedside of their dying loved one, I often imagine the presence of Mary with us. As Catholics, throughout life we often invoked the intercession of Mary in the Hail Mary, asking her to pray for us at the hour of our death. In those last hours, minutes, and seconds of life, I believe Mary remains faithful to our request and her prayers assist they dying in that moment. Stories from the saints also relate the presence of Mary at the death bed. In our time of grief, we stand with Mary, who stood at the foot of the cross, who knew sorrow, and we ask her to not only stand with us in that time, but to join us in prayer for our loved one, and too intercede for us.
Visiting the Grave
The gospels tell us that on the morning of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus. She wanted to anoint the body of Jesus. There are many different biographies of Mary. One of my favorites is The Life of the Virgin by Maximus the Confessor. In the telling of Mary’s participation in Christ’s passion, he also writes about Mary’s presence at the Resurrection. Of course, his account is not biblical, but it gives us something to think about and consider, especially in our own grief. Maximus tells us that Mary was inseparable from the tomb, that she was “seized by love of her son” and remained at the tomb until she became a witness of the Resurrection. Of course, some people might question how Maximus can assert this, especially given that the gospels tell us Mary Magdalene was the recorded witness of the resurrection, nevertheless, if we give consideration to what Maximus suggests, it helps us in our own sorrow.
If Mary remained at the tomb, and as we know Mary Magdalene visited the grave of Jesus, it emphasizes to us the importance for us to visit the graves of our loved ones who have died. Just as Jesus was placed in the tomb for three days, our loved ones share in this same action of Christ, and just as Jesus came forth from the grave, on the last day, in the bodily resurrection, our bodies too will rise like Christ’s. For the time being then, we visit the grave, anticipating that day when Christ will call forth the living and the dead. Visit the grave of your loved ones often, especially on their birthday or key dates in their life. Have conversations with them. Visiting the grave can become a source of comfort for us and a sign of our love and devotion. Just like Mary’s inseparable love for Jesus.
Re-Tracing Their Life
In another biography of the life of Jesus and Mary, Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich’s account of what happens after Christ’s crucifixion differs slightly from Maximus the Confessor’s. Emmerich, whose biography is based off of visions she had of Christ’s life, passion, and death, suggests that after Jesus was placed in the tomb, Mary retraced the steps of Jesus passion from the steps of Caiaphas, to Pilate’s Palace, the place of the scourging, the way to calvary, and Calvary. She re-lived the experience of her son.
For Emmerich, the sorrowful mother mourned by remembering and re-tracing key events in the life of Jesus. The same can be helpful for us who mourn. It could be visiting places of significance, such as childhood homes or places where memories were forged. Re-tracing the life of our loved ones can be a source of comfort, as we remember the milestones of their life.
Treasuring the Memories
Luke tells us that Mary treasured the special moments of Jesus life in her heart, reflecting on them and pondering over them. As Our Lady of Sorrows, the Madonna of the Pieta embraced her son’s lifeless body, did she recall holding him as infant in the manger of Bethlehem. Treasuring the beautiful memories of the live she lived with the son of God? In the aftermath of death and preparation for the funeral, memories flood one’s mind and heart, looking through photo albums and sharing memories. And when Mary joined the Apostles in the Upper Room, consoling them, I can only imagine they treasured all the events they shared with Jesus. The sorrowful mother teaches us to remember and treasure as an aid to grief and mourning.
Living to Be Reunited
After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, Mary lived the rest of her days longing to be with her son. There were however times in her life which she could draw close to Jesus–in the celebration of the Eucharist. Every time the Apostles broke bread with the early Church, every time they said those words of consecration from the night of the Last Supper, the presence of Jesus was among them. As Mary received Holy Communion, she welcomed Jesus within her. The same is true for us and our loved ones. The Mass we celebrate on earth is a participation of the liturgy of Heaven. That means when we join the Angels and Saints in their hymn of praise, we are joining the praise of the blessed in Heaven. Believing that our loved ones are with God, our participation at Mass unites us with those who have gone before us. Which is just one of the many reasons we should have Masses celebrated for our beloved dead.
Further, we should live our lives with the expectation of being reunited. Our unity on earth is limited to the celebration of the Eucharist, but we know that we can be united with those we love for all eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven, when we receive that reward promised to us by our Lord. That means we should live our lives worthy of inheriting the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world by putting away sin, amending our lives, and loving God and neighbor. I’m sure that everyday of Mary’s life she wanted to be with her Son, and God granted that desire of hers by assuming her body and soul into Heaven. God wishes to fulfill our desire too, but we must do our part. Live every day in expectation of that blessed homeland.