The prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus that He is a “Man of sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:3). Sorrow was something His mother experienced quite a lot of as well.
In this article, I will discuss the Seven Sorrows of Mary. I will provide the biblical basis for each of the sorrows and seek to explain their context and significance.
The Seven Sorrows
The first sorrow is reported in Luke’s Gospel and is known as the prophecy of Simeon. “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.”
Simeon is described as a “just and devout” man living in Jerusalem. We are told that the Holy Spirit had informed Simeon that he would not experience death until he had seen the Messiah. This prophecy is fulfilled when Joseph and Mary present Jesus to the Temple. It is at this time that Simeon prophesized about both Jesus and Mary.
Of Jesus, Simeon says He “is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel.” Simeon then utters the heartbreaking prophecy concerning Mary, whose “soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.”
The second sorrow involves the Holy family’s flight into Egypt. A short time after the birth of Jesus, Scripture tells us that “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.” (Matthew 2:13-21).
The cause of this sorrow is what came to be called the massacre of the innocents. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the Magi (priests from Persia), who had visited the infant Jesus, were to report back to the Roman King Herod. When they did not, Herod “Became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.”
To save the life of the baby Jesus, Mary (and Joseph) had to leave everything they owned and knew behind and flee to a foreign land.
The story of the third sorrow involves Mary “losing” Jesus for three days. The event is depicted in Luke’s Gospel. “Each year, his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed their days, as they were returning, 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.” (Luke 2:41-46).
Upon discovering Jesus, Mary asks Him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Jesus’ response is evidence that even as a child, He knew who He was. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
The final four sorrows of Mary all involve the suffering and death of her Son. In John’s Gospel, we read of Mary’s fourth sorrow, the carrying of the Cross. “Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the Cross Himself, He went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.” (John 19:16-17).
At the time of Jesus, Israel was under the control of the Roman Empire. While the Romans allowed some form of self-government, the Jews were not permitted to put anyone to death. As such, Jesus was handed over to the Romans.
There is some significance to the manner of Jesus’ execution. The standard form used by the Jews to put someone to death was stoning. However, in being crucified, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of David regarding the Messiah. “Dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat.”
The fifth sorrow is, along with the Resurrection, the most significant event depicted in the Gospels. That is, of course, the Crucifixion of Jesus. “There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the Cross. It read, ‘Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:18-30). Catholic crucifixes almost always reflect the words written by Pilate, with the acronym INRI. This acronym is drawn from the first four words of Pilate’s Latin inscription, Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum.
The nineteenth chapter of John also narrates Mary’s sixth sorrow, Jesus being taken down from the Cross. “Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.” (John 19:39-40).
The last of Mary’s sorrows is Jesus being laid in His tomb. “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 19:39-42).
It has been said that sorrow is the price one pays for love. It is undoubtedly evident from Scripture that Mary paid that price.
In this paper, I have sought to provide a review of the seven sorrows of Mary as they are presented in the Bible.