Friday, April 3, 2020

Our Lady of Sorrows

O God, who in this season give your Church the grace to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary in contemplating the Passion of Christ. grant, we pray, through her intercession, that we may cling more firmly each day to your Only begotten Son and come at last to the fullness of his grace.

This alternative optional collect for today is all that remains of the feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Septem Dolorum Beatae Mariae Virginis) that used to be celebrated on this Lenten Friday. (A second feast of the Seven Sorrows still survives, renamed, on September 15.)

Interestingly, the Fridays of Lent used to be cluttered with a number of passion-related feasts permitted pro aliquibus locis., but the Seven Sorrows - a medieval feast focused on Mary's compassion at the foot of the cross - was the only one which eventually made it  into the universal calendar, which it did in 1727. The duplicate feast in September - originally proper to the Servite order - made it into the universal calendar in 1814, and is more focused on the (traditionally seven) sorrows of Mary throughout the course of her life, from the prophecy of Simeon to Jesus' burial. Distinctive to both feasts was the special sequence Stabat Mater by Giacopone da Todi (1306). That sequence still survives in Lent in the popular devotion of the Way of the Cross, where its verses are traditionally sung by the congregation in the interval between each of the Stations. 

Of course, this year, after a promising start, such Lenten customs have completely disappeared in the enforced social distancing dictated by the covid-19 pandemic, which has inevitably completely taken over our lives and all our attention. All the more, however, does the image resonate this year of Mary's identification with her son's sufferings. For, in a sense, that is what we are all being called to do in a special way, to identify ourselves with the Christ suffering and dying in his people.

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