There is an ancient Catholic devotion known as The Seven Joys of the Virgin, often associated with a prayer called The Franciscan Crown or Seraphic Rosary. As Our Lady of Light and the mother of the One who is the source of all joy there is no doubt that Mary experienced much happiness in her earthly life. Yet it is as Our Lady of Sorrows that many Catholics most love to think of her. There is wisdom in this; all the joys we can experience in time are but a foretaste or shadow of the state of joy which eternity provides. Only in time do we experience the fullness of the reality of sorrow (the damned are regretful, not sorrowful.)
The sadnesses of Mary’s life, like those of her Son, the Man of Sorrows, were cups which she drank to the bitter dregs just as we do. Her earthly sorrow was like our earthly sorrow. The only difference being that with her perfect faith in, perfect hope about and perfect love for Jesus she was able wholly to unite her sorrows to His and offer them through the Spirit to the Father as an oblation of charity for sinners, the most effective of all intercessory prayers.
Surely the most poignant of Mary’s sorrows was that occasioned by the encounter which tradition tells us that she had with her Cross-bearing Son on the Via Dolorosa. This was to be the last time, before death had its brief triumph, that they would meet. The last time that she would touch Him. Perhaps she held His hands in hers, or gently stroked that bruised, bleeding and thorn-pierced face which she had loved with all her heart for over thirty years.
It may be they exchanged a few words. If all she said was “My Son! My Son!” and all He said was “Mother!” it would, nonetheless be one of the most profound and heartrending conversations ever to take place on this earth. Most of all they would have looked into each other’s eyes one final time. What would they see? In the eyes of Our Lord there would of course be pain, the pain of betrayal and abandonment as well as that caused by scourging and the weight of the Cross. There would too be fear, the coming agony on Golgotha was something from which His flesh shrank. No doubt also there would be compassion, compassion for His betrayer, for His faithless friends, for His torturers and executioners, for all whose weakness and sin had brought Him to this Way of the Cross. Above all there would be compassion for His afflicted mother whose presence both strengthened and weakened Him, such is the paradox of love.
And in the eyes of Mary? Anguish, of course, who can be more anguished than a mother watching her child going towards agony and death? And such a child! Such a mother! There would be love too, the motherlove that sees not only the big picture but the tiny details, blood trickling towards a blackened eye, a body trembling under the weight of the hard and heavy Cross. More than that, deep down there would be a look of trust. Like her ancestor Abraham on Mount Moriah Mary could not doubt that the Father would be faithful to His promises. Somehow what the Archangel had said- “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.“- would come true despite all the horrors that she was witnessing on that first Good Friday.
Sorrow also would be visible in the eyes both of the suffering Son and of his distressed mother. A sorrow for loss and for the sin which brought this particular loss into the world. But it would not be sorrow without hope, sorrow without end, sorrow without consolation. Our Lady is a symbol to us of a great truth. The Christian life promises no exemption from suffering and death, pain and bereavement. It certainly makes no promise of prosperity or worldly success. What it promises is that no night is without an end, no death without a resurrection and no desolation need be endured alone. If we are with Him as she was with Him, if we love Him as she loves Him, then these things which we cannot escape will be transmuted, if not in time then in eternity, and our sorrow will become gladness, our mourning will turn into joy.
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On my old blog Catholic Scot I also wrote about this- The Fourth Sorrow of Mary: She Meets Jesus Bearing His Cross
The painting, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, is Christ Bearing the Cross,