I first learned about the Seven Sorrows devotion through my obsession with art depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary. While I was used to the joyful image of the Mother and Child, I was mesmerized by its tragic counterpart. Mary holding the lifeless body of her son, in utter sorrow and despair. In some depictions, the artist chooses to show seven swords piercing Mary’s heart. I learned later that the swords represented the Seven Sorrows—events in Mary’s life that made her a unique participant in Christ’s own sacrifice. No one suffers quite like a Mother who watches her child endure pain and agony.

After reflecting on the Seven Sorrows (the Prophecy of Simeon and Anna, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Child Jesus, the Condemnation of Jesus, the Crucifixion, the Retrieval of Jesus’ Body from the Cross, and the Burial of Jesus), I found them remarkably relevant to our world today. People still lose loved ones. People are still unjustly persecuted and killed. The Seven Sorrows gives us a chance not only to pray with Mary, but also to invite her to pray with us in our own sorrows. I have adapted an 1815 meditation originally composed by Pope Pius VII. It is designed to be prayed like the Stations of the Cross, with each Sorrow featuring a passage from scripture and a prayer petition. This devotion can be prayed silently or out loud, individually or communally, and perhaps with some visual art or music to help guide the meditation. 

Introduction

(While making the Sign of the Cross) O God, come to my assistance.

O Lord, make haste to help me. 

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Good and gracious God, open our hearts to find you in the sorrows of our heart, and in the pain of our world. As we make this prayer to you, we invite Mary, our mother and yours, to walk alongside us. May her faithful witness to your own suffering and death inspire and console us.

The First Sorrow: The Prophecy of Simeon and Anna

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Luke 2:34–35

We grieve with you, O Mary most sorrowful. 

Your heart was pierced by the prophecy of holy Simeon and Anna. Comfort us in our times of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Give us tender hearts for those who live with deep anxiety and insecurity about their future. 

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Second Sorrow: The Flight into Egypt

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under. (Matthew 2:13–14, 16)

We grieve with you, O Mary most sorrowful.

Your heart was pierced by the sudden departure from your homeland to a foreign country. Comfort us when we meet unexpected challenges that draw us away from our complacency. Give us tender hearts for all the migrants and refugees in our world who flee their homes because of violence, persecution, and insecurity. 

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Third Sorrow: The Loss of the Child Jesus

The boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:43–50)

We grieve with you, O Mary most sorrowful.

Your heart was pierced by losing your beloved son for three days. Comfort us when we feel lost and vulnerable. Give us tender hearts for all families who are separated from one another either by circumstance or by injustice.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Fourth Sorrow: The Condemnation of Jesus

With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished. As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. (Luke 23: 23–27).

We grieve with you, O Mary most sorrowful.

Your heart was pierced by watching Jesus unjustly condemned and forced to carry his own cross to his death. Comfort us when we feel unfairly judged and humiliated. Give us tender hearts for all those who are unjustly condemned, discriminated against, and killed in our world today.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Fifth Station: The Crucifixion of Jesus

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. (John 19:25–30)

[A brief silence is observed]

We grieve with you, O Mary most sorrowful.

Your heart was pierced when you stood at the foot of his cross and watched him declare “It is finished”. Comfort us when we face the death of those we love. Give us tender hearts for all those who die due to persecution, abuse, neglect, and lack of resources.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Sixth Station: The Retrieval of Jesus’ Body

They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. (John 19:40)

We grieve with you, O Mary most sorrowful.

Your heart was pierced when you held your beloved son’s lifeless body in your arms. Comfort us when we feel defeated. Give us tender hearts for all parents who watch helplessly as their children die in their arms.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Seventh Station: The Burial of Jesus

Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.  (John 19:41–42)

We grieve with you, O Mary most sorrowful.

Your heart was pierced when you watched them put your son in the tomb, not knowing when you would see him again. Comfort us when we feel helpless and afraid. Give us tender hearts to respond with kindness and generosity to all the suffering around us.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Conclusion

Let Us Pray:

Hear our prayer, O merciful God, through the intercession of our Beloved Mother. Through this meditation, may we find comfort and strength in our own sorrows. And, knowing that our faith calls us to care for one another, may this prayer give us compassion for our neighbors. And, at the hour of our death, may Mary draw close to us, bringing us to rest in eternity with you. Amen.

ANGELO JESUS CANTA (STM ’20) is The C21 Center’s Graduate Assistant to the Director. Before arriving at Boston College, Angelo studied theology at Loyola University Chicago and is a former O’Hare Fellow at America Magazine. His work can be found at angeloxcanta.com.


PHOTO CREDIT: Mater Dolorosa by Lawrence OP on Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) *cropped