The pieta in the Anglican parish of Saint Silas, Kentish Town, London
As today’s collect reflects, by tradition the Friday before Holy Week is kept in honour of the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These are seven ways, described in sacred scripture, in which Our Lady comes to share in the sufferings of her beloved son. Depictions of Our Lady of Sorrows (see above) often show seven swords piercing her heart, recalling the words of the prophet Simeon in the temple, ‘A sword shall pierce your own heart’ (Lk. 2:35).
This revelation of Simeon to Our Lady is the first sorrow, followed by the flight into Egypt (Mt. 2:13-14) and the finding of the Lord in the temple (Lk. 3:43-45). In these three moments, Our Lady suffers with and through her divine son because of her unflinching obedience to God’s will. The four remaining scenes: the meeting of Our Lord and the women of Jerusalem on the road to Calvary (usually understood to include Our Lady), the crucifixion, the deposition (from which we get the beautiful image of the pieta), and the burial of the Lord, each show a more obvious tie with the events of the passion itself.
As Our Lady stood by the cross of her son, so the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows now (in the ordinary form) follows that of the Holy Cross, in September. And yet, we are right to reflect in these days before Holy Week on these sufferings of the Mother of the Lord, because by them we are taught how our own lives can more closely reflect Christ’s passion, filled as they often are with disappointment, with anxiety, and with unpleasantness at the hands of others. It is for this reason that we make the Church’s hymn, Stabat Mater, our own today: ‘O thou Mother! fount of love! touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord: make me feel as thou hast felt; make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ my Lord’.
O God, who in this season
give your Church the grace
to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary
in contemplating the Passion of Christ,
grant, we pray, through her intercession,
that we may cling more firmly each day
to your Only Begotten Son
and come at last to the fullness of his grace.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Alternative collect in the 2002 Missale Romanum.