Given the universality of the Catholic Church, one is sure to find a devotion to match every eccentricity, pathology, emotional hang-up, or disposition on earth. For me and for my melancholia, the Church provides the devotion to the Sorrowful Mother. During my most lackluster Lent, I read a good portion of The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by the stigmatist Sister Emmerich as well as tag-teamed (Verb? Behold!) to that a first time viewing of The Passion of the Christ. (I know–I am a little late in hopping on that wagon.) One thing that stood out to me–apart from the unsettling horror that enshrouded me as I connected the dots from my sins to scourging of Jesus–was the suffering of Mary. Theologians, doctors of the Church, saints, and poets could spend the rest of the time allotted to earth’s existence and still never fully understand the suffering of the Mother of God for and with her Son. The Church refers to her as the Queen of Martyrs, given her motherly and mystical union with her Son–a union that surpasses any in which we could ever participate. St. Basil states: “As the sun surpasses all the stars in lustre, so the sorrows of Mary surpass all the tortures of the martyrs.” Concerning their union in death, St. Alphonsus (a saint I am in no great hurry to read given the severity of his work) says that “[t]wo hung upon one Cross.” Perhaps, though, given our modern orientation to moving images, the most poignant reminder comes from Mel Gibson (I think he may have been in the news a couple times these past few years…) himself: the scene in which Mary, as she follows her Son through the Stations of the Cross and witnesses Him fall beneath the Cross, remembers how she would pick Him whenever He fell as a child, yet she, for the sake of us all, must now allow Him to fall without her motherly consolation.
Her sorrows are as follows:
1). The prophecy of Simeon.
2). The flight into Egypt.
3). The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple.
4). Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary.
5). Jesus dies on the Cross.
6). Mary receives the dead body of Jesus in her arms.
7). Jesus is placed in the tomb.
If we remember her sufferings daily by saying seven Hail Marys while meditating upon Our Lady’s sorrows, the Blessed Virgin has promised through St. Bridget of Sweden, among other things, to “visibly help [us] at the moment of [our] death–[we] will see the face of [our] mother.” In lieu of a dogmatic pronouncement from the Teaching Authority of the Church, no Catholic must believe this as de fide. However, much like wearing the brown scapular, I find these spiritually anecdotal promises very comforting and perhaps the best shot that a lukewarm and lustful Catholic like myself has in the hour of death. Besides, Our Lady of Sorrows is the patroness of the state of Mississippi, and given what the state has recently suffered from and will continue to suffer with floods, it is high time that we lay our magnolia blossoms at her feet.
Prayer for a Happy Death (from this source)
O Mother of Sorrows, by the anguish and love with which thou didst stand by the Cross of Jesus, stand by me in my last agony. To thy maternal heart I commend the three last hours of my life. Offer these hours to the Eternal Father in union with the agony of our dearest Lord. Offer frequently to the Eternal Father, in atonement for my sins, the Precious Blood of Jesus, mingled with thy tears on Calvary, to obtain for me the grace to receive Holy Communion with most perfect love and contrition before my death, and to breathe forth my soul in the actual presence of Jesus.
Dearest Mother, when the moment of my death has come, present me as thy child to Jesus; say to Him on my behalf: “Son, forgive him, for he knew not what he did. Receive him this day into Thy kingdom.” Amen