CHAPTER VI MARY'S SORROWS
Ah, Mary, pierced with sorrow,
Remember, reach and save
The soul that comes tomorrow
Before the God that gave !
Since each was born of woman,
For each at utter need—
True comrade and true foeman,
Madonna intercede !
RUDYARD KIPLING : Hymn before Going into Action.
OUR Lord Jesus Christ might have redeemed the world by shedding one single tear, by one sigh of His Heart, by one act of His Will. But this, we know, was not to be. The Life of the Incarnate Word was a life of sorrow, culminating in the Mysteries of the Sacred Passion, having its term and completion in His Death upon the Cross, where He poured forth His Precious Blood to the last drop— thus paying the price which had been set by God for man's redemption. " When He loved His own, He loved them to the end " — to the last extremity. St. Alphonsus has written that our Most Holy Redeemer endured so many distinct and separate sufferings, especially during His last days on earth, in order that we might have so many various proofs of His Love, on which to dwell in loving contemplation.
As with her Son, so too was it with His Blessed Mother. Our Lady might have known nothing of the Passion of her Beloved, before it was actually accomplished. All the future might have been hidden from her eyes until the last. And then, by one act of conformity to the Will of her Lord and God, revealed to her soul in the flash of a divine locution, the sacrifice of the Queen of Martyrs would have been consummated at the hour when Jesus died. But it was not so to be. The life of Mary, like the life of Jesus, was throughout, a life of sorrow—at least from the moment of the Incarnation —when He, in whose Face one day there should be " no beauty nor comeliness," became her Child. She " believed the report " of the Prophet. (Is. liii. 12.) Henceforth, her gaze was ever fixed upon Mount Calvary and the Sepulchre beyond. So intimately was her life interwoven with the life of Christ, that her sorrows were inseparable from His—as were also her incomparable joys. Of our Lord it had been written that His " sorrow was ever before Him," (Ps. xxxvii. 18.) so was it with Mary. At no instant of conscious life could the Mother of the Crucified forget that which was to come. Yet, as in the life of Christ certain moments stand out in which, as it were, the rest were concentrated, in which the Son of Man stands revealed as the Man of Sorrows, wounded in the House of His friends—so too was it with our Sorrowful Queen. We sometimes see an Image of Our Lady of Sorrows, with seven swords transfixing her heart. 1 These represent the Seven Sorrows, or Dolours as they are often called, which the Church singles out from the rest, lovingly to cherish and commemorate. They commemorate the Prophecy of Simeon ; The Flight into Egypt ; The Loss of the Holy Child in the Temple; The Meeting with Jesus on the Way to Calvary; the Crucifixion; The Taking down from the Cross ; The Burial of our Lord. We will briefly contemplate these Mysteries.
I. SIMEON'S PROPHECY
" But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart . . . and after the days of her Purification, The First according to the Law of Moses, were Dolour. accomplished, they carried Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord:' (Luke ii. 19, 22.)
The Law which prescribed this offering, ordered also, that the mother " should bring a lamb of a year old to the door of the tabernacle of the testimony for a holocaust, and a young pigeon or a turtle-dove for sin and shall deliver them to the priest . . . and if her hand find not sufficiency, and she is not able to offer a lamb, she shall take two doves, or two young pigeons, one for holocaust and another for sin." (Levit. xii. 6, 8.) Our Blessed Lady's hand "did not find sufficiency," for she was poor. She offered with her Son either two doves or two young pigeons, though that Son was Lord of all. We know that Mary— the Virgin Mother—was exempt from this Law of Purification which touched her not, and Jesus, whom, in accordance with the Law, she thus presented in the Temple, was Himself the Lawgiver. Surely a Mystery is here.
"It became, indeed, the Lord of the Law and of the Prophets to do all things in accordance with His own Law, and not to make void the Law, but to fulfil it; and so to connect with the passing away of the Law the beginning of His Grace. Therefore is it, that the Mother, who was superior to the Law, submitted to the Law. And she, the holy and undefiled one, observed that period of forty days that was appointed for the unclean."
Thus wrote St. Methodius at the beginning of the fourth century. Jesus and Mary would obey the Law of Moses, though in no way bound by it, until it should be abrogated--thus making a real offering of God. The offering of Jesus in the Temple was an anticipation of the Sacrifice on Mount Calvary. It was fitting that this offering should be made by the hands of Mary, in whose pure womb Jesus had first been laid as upon an altar of sacrifice —by the hands of the Immaculate Mother who had already so often offered her Child to God as He lay in her arms, or was drawn to her breast.
"Hence it was," continues Saint Methodius, " that the Ark of God [the Virgin Mother] removed from the Stable of Bethlehem . . . and rested upon the mountains of Sion; receiving into her pure bosom as upon a lofty throne—such as transcends the nature of man—the Monarch of all, she presented Him there to God the Father—the Son joint-partner of His Throne and inseparable from Him, together with that pure and undefiled Flesh, which He had assumed from her. She goes up, therefore, to the Temple—she who was more exalted than the Temple—clothed with a twofold glory—the glory of undefiled Virginity and that of ineffable Childbearing, the Benediction of the Law, and the Sanctification of Grace. . . . Tremendous, of a truth, is the Mystery connected with thee, O Virgin-Mother, thou spiritual Throne, glorified and made worthy of God." (Oral, de Simeone et Anna II., IV.)
At the time when Mary, with Joseph her spouse, carried their Child into the Temple, there dwelt in Jerusalem " a man named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the Temple." (Luke ii. 25, 27.) Taking the Child into his arms he said: " Now dost Thou, O Lord, dismiss Thy servant according to Thy Word in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation ... a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel." Then turning to Mary, he gave utterance to these other words: " Behold this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
1 In England before the Reformation, the Heart of the Blessed Virgin was represented with five swords, symbolising the live Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Cf. Bridgett, Our Lady's Dowry, p. 343.