LADY’S NIGHT - “Madre Dolorosa”
(Sorry. I know I’m a day late, but I actually fell asleep writing this last night.)
As you might have guessed, I have a fondness for Spanish religious art, particularly their statues. I am drawn to the realism of the figures, the expressiveness of their features, and, since I’m Filipino, we share many cultural similarities including devotional imagery with our former colonists, so Spanish religious statues give me a sense of familiarity; there’s something about them that I find them quite comforting.
In my adventures in Spain, I’ve learned that the Spaniards have a great devotion to Our Lady, most especially to the Sorrowful Mother. Why is it? One may think that life is depressing enough without being surrounded by melancholy, teary-eyed Virgins often with swords sticking into their hearts. Why not choose another, happier moment in Our Lady’s life of which to create splendid sacramentals?
Of course, Spain abounds in statues of the Immaculate Conception or Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but I get the impression that our Sorrowful Mother is by far the most popular.
When I was in Madrid last summer for World Youth Day, I had a couple hours to explore the city before meeting up with the other pilgrims in my group. One of my stops was the Colegiata de San Isidro el Real where I wished to venerate the relics of St. Isidore the Laborer and his wife, St. Mary of the Head.
I arrived just as the large wooden doors were being opened. Upon entering the beautiful church, the vaulted ceiling drew my eye up towards heaven and the long nave directed my attention to the tabernacle, heaven on earth, and to the baroque altar piece where the remains of St. Isidore and St. Mary of the Head were kept. I walked down one of the side isles, slowly making my way towards the coffin-shaped reliquary.
Then, behind one of the grilles which protected the many side chapels, I saw her. A light shown on her, making the tears on her cheeks sparkle like the stars which encircled her crown. There Our Lady stood as if she had been waiting for me. Later, I learned her name; the title of this life-size statue of the Blessed Virgin is María Santísima de la Esperanza Macarena de Madrid.
The door of the grille was open, so I entered the chapel and knelt at the feet of our crying Mother. There was something about this image which engaged my heart, drawing me closer. I can honestly tell you that it wasn’t her gold crown, delicate lace, or intricate robes. Perhaps it was her eyes, furrowed brows, or parted lips.
Then I reached into my backpack and pulled out about 30 sheets of folded paper inside a clear Ziploc bag. These were the petitions of our family, friends, and parishioners that we carried with us since the start of our pilgrimage. In every shrine and church we visited, we would lift up the prayers of the people from back home who were unable to physically accompany us on our journey. I laid these memorialized cries—the broken marriages, the unsuccessful job searches, the diagnoses of cancer—of our loved ones and even total strangers before Our Lady, entrusting them and their needs to her maternal care.
Perhaps the reason that the Sorrowful Mother is so popular with Spaniards is that they feel she can relate to their sufferings. It is not that life is difficult enough without mournful images, but that life is, in fact, very difficult, so images of Our Lady of Sorrows help us to realize that we have a Mother who not only understands our trials and suffering, but who can also provide us with relief, for she gave to the world Jesus, our greatest and eternal Relief.
Such images which we will often see in these next 7 days, reflect the agony of Our Lady as she accompanied her little Boy through His scourging, as she witnessed His Crucifixion, and as she held the lifeless body of the world’s Redeemer in her arms. It is truly heartbreaking. Here is how St. Alphonsus Liguori describes Our Lady’s martyrdom:
Mary was the Queen of Martyrs, for her martyrdom was longer and greater than that of all the Martyrs.
Who can ever have a heart so hard that it will not melt on hearing the most lamentable event which once occurred in the world?…This poor Mother had to suffer the grief of seeing that amiable and beloved Son unjustly snatched from her in the flower of His age by a barbarous death….
First point. As Jesus is called the King of sorrows and the King of martyrs, because He suffered during, 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 Saint Lawrence, “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;” 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…”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…
Second point. Ah, Mary was not only Queen of martyrs because her martyrdom, was longer than that of all others, but also because it was the greatest of all martyrdoms. Who, however, can measure its greatness? Jeremias seems unable to find any one with whom be can compare this Mother of Sorrows, when he considers her great sufferings at the death of her Son. “To what shall I compare thee or to what shall I liken thee, O daughter of Jerusalem “… for great as the sea is thy destruction: who shall heal thee?” Wherefore Cardinal Hugo, in a commentary on these words, says, “O Blessed Virgin, as the sea in bitterness exceeds all other bitterness, so does thy grief exceed all other grief. Hence Saint Anselm asserts, that “had not God by a special miracle preserved the life of Mary in each moment of her life, her grief was such that it would have caused her death. Saint Bernardine of Siena goes so far as to say, “that the grief of Mary was so great that, were it divided amongst all men, it would suffice to cause their immediate death…Whence the holy Abbot Arnold of Chartres says, “that whoever had been present on Mount Calvary, to witness the great sacrifice of the Immaculate Lamb, would there have beheld two great altars, the one in the body of Jesus, the other in the heart of Mary; for, on that mount, at the same time that the Son sacrificed His body by death, Mary sacrificed her soul by compassion.”
Moreover, says Saint Antoninus, “while other martyrs suffered by sacrificing their own lives, the Blessed Virgin suffered by sacrificing her Son’s life, a life that she loved far more than her own; so that she not only suffered in her soul all that her Son endured in His body, but moreover the sight of her Son’s torments brought more grief to her heart than if she had endured them all in her own person. No one can doubt that Mary suffered in her heart all the outrages which she saw inflicted on her beloved Jesus. Any one can understand that the sufferings of children are also those of their mothers who witness them. Saint Augustine, considering the anguish endured by the mother of the Maccabees in witnessing the tortures of her sons, says, “she, seeing their sufferings, suffered in each one; because she loved them all, she endured in her soul what they endured in their flesh.” Thus also did Mary suffer all those torments, scourges, thorns, nails, and the cross, which tortured the innocent flesh of Jesus, all entered at the same time into the heart of this Blessed Virgin, to complete her martyrdom. “He suffered in “the flesh, and she in her heart,” writes that Blessed Amadeus. “So much so,” says Saint Lawrence Justinian, “that the heart of Mary became, as it were, a mirror of the Passion of the Son, in which might be seen, faithfully reflected, the spitting, the blows and wounds, and all that Jesus suffered.” Saint Bonaventure also remarks that “those wounds—which were scattered over the body of our Lord were all united in the single heart of Mary.”
Thus was our Blessed Lady, through the compassion of her loving heart for her Son, scourged, crowned with thorns, insulted, and nailed to the cross. Whence the same Saint, considering Mary on Mount Calvary, present at the death of her Son, questions her in these words: “O Lady, tell me where didst thou stand? Was it only at the foot of the cross? Ah, much more than this, thou wast on the cross itself, crucified with thy Son.” Richard of Saint Lawrence, on the words of the Redeemer, spoken by Isaias the prophet, “I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me,” says, “It is true, O Lord, that in the work of human redemption Thou didst suffer alone, and that there was not a man who sufficiently pitied Thee; but there was a woman with Thee, and she was Thine own Mother; she suffered in her heart all that Thou didst endure in Thy body.”…
Let us now imagine to ourselves the Divine Mother standing—near her Son expiring on the cross, and justly applying to herself the words of Jeremias, thus addressing us: “O all ye that pass by the way attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.” O you who spend your lives upon earth, and pity me not, stop awhile to look at me, now that I behold this beloved Son dying before my eyes; and then see if, amongst all those who are afflicted and tormented, a sorrow is to be found like unto my sorrow. “No, O most suffering of all mothers,” replies Saint Bonaventure, “no more bitter grief than thine can be found; for no son more dear than thine can be found.” Ah, “there never was a more amiable son in the world than Jesus,” says Richard of Saint Lawrence; “nor has there ever been a mother who more tenderly loved her son than Mary! But since there never has been in the world a love like unto Mary’s love, how can any sorrow be found like unto Mary’s sorrow?”
Perhaps in a moment of chivalry, I wanted to comfort her but, instead, she was the one who comforted me. For I confided to her Most Sorrowful Heart my own trials and struggles, and experienced her maternal consolation.
What child upon seeing his or her mother in such great distress is not moved to run to her side? The image of Sorrowful Mother, most especially, is quite disarming because we see in her a very universal human quality, and our hearts cannot help but be moved with tenderness and compassion. In this way, Our Lady shows herself as being very accessible to even the most wayward of her children. She invites us to fly to her protection, to bound into her arms which once held the Infant Jesus and his bloody corpse.
As I knelt there before Our Lady, I looked into her eyes and saw the intensity of her pain and the undying love of a mother. Her tears, gracefully resting on her flushed cheeks, are not a sign of weakness. No. Despite her anguish of soul, Our Sorrowful Mother is a fortress of strength. While others fled and hid out of fear, Our Lady stood at the foot of the cross, strong and unwavering as the fortified stone walls of ancient Castile. She stood, and she watched.
Mary beheld every step that He took, every strike from the soldiers, every painful fall to the ground, every hammer blow. In doing so, she witnessed the means of our salvation, the price of eternal life, our ransom paid. And having watched these most lamentable events unfold, what testimony does give? Tears. Our Mother weeps.
Surely, Our Lady weeps as a Mother for her only Son reviled by so many and tortued so greatly. But her will is perfectly conformed to that of God; she knows this must be since her Son—Who could do all things—willed it thus. So, as Jesus said to the Daughters of Jerusalem, “do not weep for me; but for yourselves and your children…” (Luke 23:28), Mary shed tears also for us.
No mother wishes to see her child suffer. In fact she would do almost anything to prevent her little one from experiencing terrible pain. What then is the source of our greatest pain? Sin. Sin causes us tremendous suffering in this life, and can lead to unspeakable torment in the next life.
Our Mother weeps for us because she sees our affliction; she knows how much sin hurts us, and she does not want any of her children to be lost. She sees the unhappiness which sin has causes us, the self-inflicted gashes of pride and lust and greed. These, too, are the swords that pierce her heart. And so our Mother is moved with pity. She desires to tend our wounds and to lead us to her Son who is rich in mercy. But we, rebellious children, refuse to take our Mother’s hand. We choose to remain far from Christ, our only Good and the source of true joy. He alone can fulfill the deepest longings of our heart. He alone can satisfy.
On Calvery’s hill, the Place of the Skull, Mary saw with her red and tear-filled eyes the smug satisfaction of the Pharises, the brutality of the guards, and the hate of the crowd who demanded blood, the Blood of her Son. She looked at them not with hate or contempt in her eyes but with love. For, they were her children too, and what mother can ever hate her child? On the cross, Jesus, barely breathing, gave us one more gift before handing over His spirit. He turned to St. John and to all of us, and said, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27).
On that first Good Friday, our Mother saw me as well. She saw me spit on Jesus. She saw me laugh at Him. She saw me scourge Him and impail on His head a crown of thorns. She saw me nail Him to the tree and taunt Him to come down. And even now she still loves me; in her eyes, I am her beloved child. Oh, how undeserving we are of the love of our mothers, especially from so tender, so gentle a Christ’s own Mother!
Despite her martyrdom, Our Lady of Sorrows, the weeping Mother of the Crucified Savior, is also the Mother of our Risen Lord. The Glorious Mysteries follow the Sorrowful. As no one can fully appreciate the sword that pierced her heart, who could ever know the profound joy she experienced on that Easter morning?
Thus, the last reason why I think that the Sorrowful Mother receives so much affection from her Spanish sons and daughters is that she speaks of the life that comes after the cross and of the joy that proceeds from the empty tomb. For in the name of this particular image is “Esperanza,” Hope. Indeed there is hope! Hope flows from His side, shaking the earth, opening graves, and calling out to the dead, “‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). Rise!”