The Dolors of Mary

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Saint Alphonsus on the Sorrows of Mary

By Saint Alphonsus Ligouri

Martyr of Martyrs

As Jesus is called the King of sorrows and the King of martyrs, because He suffered in His life more than all other martyrs; so also is Mary with reason called the Queen of martyrs, having merited this title by suffering the most cruel martyrdom possible after that of her Son. Hence with reason was she called by Richard of St. Laurence, the “Martyr of martyrs;” and of her can the words of Isaias with all truth be said, He will crown thee with a crown of tribulation (Is. 22:16); that is to say, that that suffering itself, which exceeded the suffering of all the other martyrs united, was the crown by which she was shown to be the Queen of martyrs.

That Mary was a true martyr cannot be doubted, as Denis the Carthusian, Pelbart, Catharinus, and others prove; for it is an undoubted opinion that suffering sufficient to cause death is martyrdom, even though death does not ensue from it. Saint John the Evangelist is revered as a martyr, though he did not die in the cauldron of boiling oil, but came out more vigorous than when he went in. Saint Thomas says, “that to have the glory of martyrdom, it is sufficient to exercise obedience in its highest degree, that is to be obedient unto death.”

“Mary was a martyr,” says Saint Bernard, “not by the sword of the executioner, but by bitter sorrow of heart.” If her body was not wounded by the hand of the executioner, her blessed heart was transfixed by a sword of grief at the Passion of her Son, grief which was sufficient to cause her death not once but a thousand times. From this we shall see that Mary was not only a real martyr, but that her martyrdom surpassed all others, and her whole life may be said to have been a prolonged death.

Bitter Sea

“The Passion of Jesus,” as Saint Bernard says, “began with His birth.” So also did Mary, in all things like unto her Son, endure her martyrdom throughout her life. Amongst other significations of the name of Mary, as Saint Albert the Great asserts, is that of “bitter sea.” Hence to her is applicable the text of Jeremias: Great as the sea is thy destruction. For as the sea is all bitter and salt, so was the life of Mary all bitterness at the sight of the Passion of the Redeemer, which was ever present to her mind.

“There can be no doubt, that, enlightened by the Holy Ghost in a far higher degree than all the prophets, she, far better than they, understood the predictions recorded by them in the Sacred Scriptures concerning the Messias.” This is precisely what the angel revealed to Saint Bridget, and he also added, “that the Blessed Virgin, even before she became His Mother, knowing how much the Incarnate word was to suffer for the salvation of men, and compassionating this innocent Saviour, who was to be so cruelly put to death for crimes not His own, even then began her great martyrdom.”

Her grief was immeasurably increased when she became the Mother of this Saviour; so that, at the sad sight of the many torments that were to be endured by her poor Son, she indeed suffered a long martyrdom, a martyrdom which lasted her whole life. This was signified with great exactitude to Saint Bridget in a vision which she had in Rome, in the Church of Saint Mary Major, where the Blessed Virgin, with Saint Simeon, and an angel bearing a very long sword, reddened with blood appeared to her, denoting thereby the long and bitter grief which transpierced the heart of Mary during her whole life. Whence the above-named Rupert supposes Mary thus speaking: “Redeemed souls, and my beloved children, do not pity me only for the hour in which I beheld my dear Jesus expiring before my eyes; for the sword of sorrow predicted by Simeon pierced my soul during the whole of my life; when I was nursing my Son, when I was warming him in my arms, I already foresaw the bitter death that awaited Him. Consider then, what long and bitter sorrows I must have endured.”

Wherefore Mary might well say, in the words of David, “My life is wasted with grief, and my years in sighs. My sorrow is continually before me. My whole life was spent in sorrow and tears; for my sorrow, which was compassion for my Son, never departed from before my eyes, as I always foresaw the sufferings and death which he was one day to endure.”

Continual Sorrow

The divine Mother herself revealed to Saint Bridget, that, “even after the death and ascension of her Son, whether she ate or worked, the remembrance of His Passion was ever deeply impressed on her mind, and fresh in her most tender heart.” Hence Tauler says, “that the most Blessed Virgin spent her whole life in continual sorrow;” for her heart was always occupied with sadness and with suffering.

Therefore time, which usually mitigates the sorrows of the afflicted, did not relieve Mary; nay, even it increased her sorrows; for, as Jesus, on the one hand, advanced in age, and always appeared more and more beautiful and amiable; so also, on the other hand, the time of His death always drew nearer, and grief always increased in the heart of Mary, at the thought of having to lose Him on earth. So that, in the words addressed to Saint Bridget: “As the rose grows up amongst thorns, so the Mother of God advanced in years in the midst of suffering: and as the thorns increase with the growth of the rose, so also did the thorns of her sorrows increase in Mary, the chosen Rose of the Lord, as she advanced in age; and so much more deeply did they pierce her heart.”


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