+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
1 I meditate on the First Sorrow, when Mary, Virgin Mother of my God, presented Jesus, her only Son, in the Temple, laid Him in the arms of holy Simeon, and heard his prophetic word, “Thy own soul a sword shall pierce,” foretelling thereby the Passion and Death of her Son Jesus.
–Hail Mary x7
After the words ‘Hail Mary‘ add-
“who accepted that your own soul would be pierced for love of your Son”
then pause for a few moments before continuing with ‘full of Grace‘.
2 The Second Sorrow of the Blessed Virgin was when she was obliged to fly into Egypt by reason of the persecution of cruel Herod, who impiously sought to slay her beloved Son
-Hail Mary x7
“who for love of your Son fled into darkness and exile.”
3 The Third Sorrow of the Blessed Virgin was when, after having gone up to Jerusalem at the Paschal Feast with Joseph her spouse and Jesus her dear Son, she lost Him on her return to her poor house, and for three days bewailed the loss of her beloved only Son.
-Hail Mary x7
“who filled with anxiety desperately searched for your Son”
4 The Fourth Sorrow of the Blessed Virgin was when she met her dear Son Jesus carrying on His tender shoulders the heavy cross whereon He was to be crucified for our salvation.
–Hail Mary x7
“who, deeply distressed, encountered your cross-bearing and suffering Son.”
5 The Fifth Sorrow of the Blessed Virgin was when she saw her Son Jesus raised upon the Cross, and Blood flowing from every part of His Sacred Body ; and when then, after three long hours’ agony, she beheld Him die.
-Hail Mary x7
“who fully entered into the agony and death of your Crucified Son.”
6 The Sixth Sorrow of the Blessed Virgin was when she saw the lance pierce the Sacred Side of Jesus, the nails withdrawn and His Holy Body laid in her arms.
-Hail Mary x7
“who held the pierced and lifeless body of your Son next to your Immaculate Heart.”
7 The Seventh and last Sorrow of the Blessed Virgin was when she saw the Holy Body of her Son buried in the tomb.
-Hail Mary x7
“whose Son was hidden from you by the darkness and silence of the tomb.”
In veneration of the tears shed by Mary in her sorrows-
Hail Mary x3
Pray for us, Virgin most sorrowful.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, thy mother, whose most holy soul was transfixed with the sword of sorrow in the hour of Thine own passion, may intercede for us before the throne of Thy mercy, now and at the hour of our death.
When praying this at home I find sitting in front of an icon of Our Lady and a Crucifix helps me to maintain focus.
It is possible to obtain (or make) rosary beads specially designed for the Seven Sorrows and it makes things easier if this is used while praying.
The whole chaplet can take a long time if prayed meditatively, it sometimes occupies me for more than an hour. If you don’t have that sort of period at your disposal it is better to fit a few prayers into what you do have available and come back to the others later. If you insist on praying the whole sequence then you may be sacrificing content for the sake of form, which is a bad bargain to make.
As in any form of meditation or contemplation the mind is easily susceptible to distractions. If you notice you have drifted away from where your mind should be just continue with the next part of the prayer paying close attention to the words as a way of re-centering yourself in the privileged moment of contact with God.
The contemplative heart of this prayer lies in the ‘pause for a few moments‘ which we take after each consideration. Which raises a number of questions.
What does a few moments mean? It’s flexible, it can range from a couple of seconds to several minutes. As a rule though it shouldn’t be too long because, since it’s not a free standing prayer, it should keep coming back to the explicitly stated central themes of the Rosary.
What do we do during this pause? I can only speak from my own experience here. When I first began this form of contemplation I would look at the icon or crucifix, empty my mind of words, and fill it with images of the Sorrow which I was considering. That is, I would imaginatively enter into the scenes from the life of our Lord and Our Lady which the prayer was focussing upon. After praying in this fashion for some time, quite a long time in fact, I began to leave behind images as well as words. So, after saying, for example, ‘who, deeply distressed, encountered your cross-bearing and suffering Son‘ I simply sit in silence, gaze at Mary and wait. When it is right to move on then I return to words.
I am hesitant to assert that this change from images to imagelessness marks a stage of ‘progress.’ A mystical theologian may say that, as an abstract principle, total emptiness is objectively superior. However, abstract principles do not pray, people pray. All prayer is grace and that prayer which is most right is the prayer to which the Spirit leads you. If it is words without images or images without words or neither words nor images then it is precisely right for you only if the Spirit has prescribed it for you. And, equally, it is precisely wrong for you if you only attempt it out of your own initiative because somebody has told you that X is better than Y. Docility to the Holy Spirit is certainly the objectively superior approach to prayer and therefore the superior outcome must be that which He has called you to and nothing else.
In a similar way it might be thought that if the pause is the central aspect of the chaplet and if silence is the highest point in the pause then the best form of prayer must be all pause and all silence. This is a misconception. In humans silence never emerges from a void nor does it subsist in a void nor does it return to a void. It comes from something, it is encompassed by something and it returns to something. And all of these things give a content to any particular silence. We all know from experience that not all silences are alike, some have a peaceful quality, some are tense, some are angry and so on. The context is, as it were, the bed upon which the silence rests and it gives a form to the silence and fills it with a particular content. Thus, in the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of Mary each of the forty-nine pauses exists in a mind which is, or should be, filled with the idea of the life of Christ seen through the eyes of Mary. To approach Jesus through Mary is the gold standard of Catholic life and Catholic prayer and therefore also of Catholic contemplation and it is precisely this that meditating on the seven sorrows can effect if we focus our silence on what it emerges from and to what it is directed and not on ourselves.
It is also worth reflecting, either during the Rosary or at other times, on the juxtaposition of some of the words we use. For example we say ‘who for love of your Son fled into darkness and exile, full of Grace.’ And we might wonder in what sense fleeing into the night with death behind and, at best, life as a refugee ahead is a mark of the fullness of Grace. Yet such it was for Mary and such perhaps it may be for us or for others in the many centuries since. This also emphasises the point that the words of our prayer are not mere bridges between pauses, they are our conversation with God, they have value in themselves and lead us on to further meditation if we allow them to.
Finally, it always bears saying that the source and summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist. If you have a choice between praying the Rosary or going to Mass then go to Mass. Likewise, we are members of the body of Christ and the corporate prayer life of the Church brings us into greater unity, therefore if you have to choose between an Office of the Church, like Vespers or Matins, or the Rosary then opt for the Office unless you are moved by a quite extraordinary act of Grace. Private prayer is an addition to liturgical prayer, not an alternative to it.
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The painting is The Seven Sorrows of Mary (The Ashwellthorpe Triptych) by the Master of the Magdalen Legend (c.1483–c.1530)