In September, the Church celebrates three Marian feasts in one week: the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (8th September), the Holy Name of Mary (12th September) and Our Lady of Sorrows (15th September). On this day, the Church honours her incomparable sorrows, especially those she felt at the foot of the Cross.
It was in the Middle Ages that Christians began to meditate on the compassion of the Mother of Jesus. She was in fact the only person faithful to her son from his birth to his death on the Cross, at which she stood. The devotion recognised seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary: the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the disappearance of Jesus during the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the meeting between Jesus and his mother on Via Dolorosa, the crucifixion, the descent from the Cross and the burial of Jesus. The veneration of the sorrows of Our Lady led to the institution of a liturgical celebration, which was extended to the entire Church by Pope Pius VIII in 1814. Through this institution, he wanted to thank the Virgin Mary for her maternal protection during revolutionary turmoil. The day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Church contemplates the one who “enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Vatican Council II).
On this day, we can listen to, sing and especially pray the beautiful hymn of the Stabat Mater. In Lourdes, it is sung every Friday during the Marian procession. The Stations of the Cross is also a beautiful prayer that makes us sharers in Jesus’ oblation for sinners. Mary is by our side in our trials just as she was with Jesus during his Passion.
During Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Lourdes (12-15th September 2008), on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions, during the homily of the Mass of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Pope reminded us:
”Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God’s compassion for our world is perfectly manifested. Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners. As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf. Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son.”
To illustrate the sorrows of the Virgin-Mother, the painters represent her Heart pierced with seven swords, symbol of the seven principal sorrows of the Mother of God, which crowned her Queen of martyrs. This the list of these seven sorrows whose memory is so dear to the children of Mary:
The call to penance holds an important place in the cycle of Apparitions: the fifth out of eighteen. It is roughly in the middle of the cycle. Penance is neither the first nor the last word of the message of Lourdes, but there is no Christian message that does not ask for conversion. “Conversion”, “repentance”, “penance” are three ways of translating the same word used in the Gospels. On 24th February 1858, at the Grotto of Lourdes, the Lady who introduced herself to Bernadette, said to her, “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners”.