Mary, Queen of Martyrs
The Dolors of Mary
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
TAKEN FROM THE VICTORIES OF THE MARTYRS
Discourse 2: The Dolors of Mary
Reflections on the Seven Sorrows
The Death of Jesus on the Cross
We have now to witness a new kind of Martyrdom—a Mother condemned to see an innocent Son, and One Whom she loves with the whole affection of her soul, cruelly tormented and put to death before her own eyes.
There stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother. [John xix. 25] St. John believed that in these words he had said enough of Mary’s Martyrdom. Consider her at the foot of the Cross in the presence of her dying Son, and then see if there be a sorrow like unto her sorrow. Let us remain for awhile this day on Calvary, and consider the fifth sword which, in the death of Jesus, transfixed the heart of Mary.
As soon as our agonized Redeemer had reached the Mount of Calvary, the executioners stripped Him of His clothes, and piercing His hands and feet “not with sharp, but with blunt nails,” as St. Bernard says, to torment Him more, they fastened Him on the Cross. Having crucified Him, they planted the Cross, and thus left Him to die. The executioners left Him; but not so Mary. She then drew nearer to the Cross, to be present at His death: “I did not leave Him” (thus the Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Bridget), “but stood nearer to the Cross.”
“But what did it avail thee, O Lady,” says St. Bonaventure, “to go to Calvary, and see this Son expire? Shame should have prevented thee; for His disgrace was thine, since thou wert His Mother. At least, horror of witnessing such a crime as the crucifixion of a God by His Own creatures should have prevented thee from going there.” But the same Saint answers, “Ah, thy heart did not then think of its own sorrows, but of the sufferings and death of thy dear Son,” and therefore thou wouldst thyself be present, at least to compassionate Him. “Ah, true Mother,” says the Abbot William, “most loving Mother, whom not even the fear of death could separate from thy beloved Son!”
But, O God, what a cruel sight was it there to behold this Son in agony on the Cross, and at its foot this Mother in agony, suffering all the torments endured by her Son! Listen to the words in which Mary revealed to St. Bridget the sorrowful state in which she saw her dying Son on the Cross: “My dear Jesus was breathless, exhausted, and in His last agony on the Cross; His eyes were sunk, half closed, and lifeless; His lips hanging, and His mouth open; His cheeks hollow and drawn in; His face elongated, His nose sharp, His countenance sad; His head had fallen on His breast, His hair was black with Blood, His stomach collapsed, His arms and legs stiff, and His whole body covered with wounds and Blood.”
All these sufferings of Jesus were also those of Mary; “Every torture inflicted on the body of Jesus,” says St. Jerome, “was a wound in the heart of the Mother.” “Whoever then was present on the Mount of Calvary,” says St. John Chrysostom, “might see two altars, on which two great sacrifices were consummated; the one in the body of Jesus, the other in the heart of Mary.” Nay, better still may we say with St. Bonaventure, “there was but one altar—that of the Cross of the Son, on which, together with His Divine Lamb, the victim, the Mother was also sacrificed;” therefore the Saint asks this Mother, “O Lady, where art thou? Near the Cross? Nay, rather, thou art on the Cross, crucified, sacrificing thyself with thy Son.” St. Augustine assures us of the same thing: “The Cross and nails of the Son were, also those of His Mother; with Christ crucified the Mother was also crucified.” Yes; for, as St. Bernard says, “Love inflicted on the heart of Mary the tortures caused by nails in the body of Jesus.” So much so, that, as St. Bernardine writes, “At the same time that the Son sacrificed His body, the Mother sacrificed her soul.” Mothers ordinarily fly from the presence of their dying children; but when a mother is obliged to witness, such a scene, she procures all possible relief for her child; she arranges his bed, that he may be more at ease; she administers refreshments to him; and thus the poor mother soothes her own grief. Ah, most afflicted of all Mothers! O Mary, thou hast to witness the agony of thy dying Jesus; but thou canst administer Him no relief. Mary heard her Son exclaim, I thirst, but she could not even give Him a drop of water to refresh Him in that great thirst. She could only say, as St. Vincent Ferrer remarks, “My Son, I have only the water of tears.” She saw that on that bed of torture her Son, suspended by three nails, could find no repose; she would have clasped Him in her arms to give Him relief, or that at least He might there have expired; but she could not. “In vain,” says St. Bernard, “did she extend her arms; they sank back empty on her breast.” She beheld that poor Son, Who in His sea of grief sought consolation, as it was foretold by the prophet, but in vain: I have trodden the winepress alone; I looked about and there was none to help; I sought, and there was none to give aid. [Is. lxiii. 3] But who amongst men would console Him, since all were enemies? Even on the Cross He was taunted and blasphemed on all sides: And they that passed by, blasphemed Him, wagging their heads. [Matt. xxvii. 39] Some said to His face, If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” Others, He saved others, Himself He cannot save. Again, If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the Cross. Our Blessed Lady herself said to St. Bridget, “I heard some say that my Son was a thief; others, that He was an impostor; others, that no one deserved death more than He did; and every word was a new sword of grief to my heart.”
But that which the most increased the sorrows which Mary endured through compassion for her Son, was hearing Him complain on the Cross that even His Eternal Father had abandoned Him: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? [Matt. xxvii. 46] Words which the Divine Mother told the same St. Bridget could never, during her whole life, depart from her mind. So that the afflicted Mother saw her Jesus suffering on every side; she desired to comfort Him, but could not.
That which grieved her the most was to see that she herself, by her presence and sorrow, increased the sufferings of her Son. “The grief,” says St. Bernard,” which filled Mary’s heart, as a torrent flowed into and embittered the heart of Jesus.” “So much so,” says the same Saint, “that Jesus on the Cross suffered more from compassion for His Mother than from His Own torments.” He thus speaks in the name of our Blessed Lady: “I stood with my eyes fixed on Him, and His on me, and He grieved more for me than for Himself.” And then, speaking of Mary beside her dying Son, he says, “that she lived dying without being able to die.” Near the Cross of Christ His Mother stood half-dead; she spoke not; dying she lived, and living she died; nor could she die, for death was her very life.”
Passino writes that Jesus Christ Himself one day, speaking to blessed Baptista Varani of Camerino, assured her that when on the Cross, so great was His affliction at seeing His Mother at His feet in so bitter an anguish, that compassion for her caused Him to die without consolation; so much so, that the Blessed Baptista, being supernaturally enlightened as to the greatness of this suffering of Jesus, exclaimed, “O Lord, tell me no more of this Thy sorrow, for I can no longer bear it.”
“All,” says Simon of Cassia, “who then saw this Mother silent, and not uttering a complaint in the midst of so great suffering, were filled with astonishment.” But if Mary’s lips were silent, her heart was not so, for she incessantly offered the life of her Son to the Divine justice for our salvation. Therefore, we know that by the merits of her dolors she cooperated in our birth to the life of grace; and hence we are the children of her sorrows. “Christ,” says Lanspergius, “was pleased that she, the cooperatress in our redemption, and whom He had determined to give us for our Mother, should be there present; for it was at the foot of the Cross that she was to bring us, her children, forth.” If any consolation entered that sea of bitterness, the heart of Mary, the only one was this, that she knew that by her sorrows she was leading us to eternal salvation, as Jesus Himself revealed to St. Bridget: “My Mother Mary, on account of her compassion and love, was made the Mother of all in Heaven and on earth.” And indeed these were the last words with which Jesus bid her farewell before His death: this was His last recommendation, leaving us to her for her children in the person of St. John: Woman, behold thy son. [John xix. 26] From that time Mary began to perform this good office of a mother for us; for St. Peter Damian attests, “that by the prayers of Mary, who stood between the Cross of the good thief and that of her Son, the thief was converted and saved, and thereby she repaid a former service.” For, as other authors also relate, this thief had been kind to Jesus and Mary on their journey to Egypt; and this same office the Blessed Virgin has ever continued, and still continues, to perform.
Blessed Joachim Piccolomini had always a most tender devotion for Mary, and from his childhood was in the habit of visiting an image of our Blessed Lady of Sorrows, which was in the neighboring church, three times a day; and on Saturdays, in her honor, he abstained from all food; and in addition to this he always rose at midnight to meditate on her dolors. But let us see how abundantly this good Mother recompensed him. In the first place, when he was a young man she appeared to him and desired him to embrace the Order of the Servites and this the holy young man did. Again, in the latter years of his life she appeared to him with two crowns in her hands: the one was composed of rubies, and this was to reward him for his compassion for her sorrows; the other of pearls, as a recompense for his virginity, which he vowed in her honor. Shortly before his death she once more appeared to him; and then the Saint begged, as a favor, that he might die on the same day on which Jesus Christ had expired. Our Blessed Lady immediately gratified him, saying: “It is well: prepare thyself; for tomorrow, Good Friday, thou shalt die suddenly as thou desirest; tomorrow thou shalt be with me in Heaven.” And so it was; for the next day, during the singing of the Passion according to St. John, at the words, Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother, he fell into the last struggles of death; and at the words, He bowed down His head and expired, the Saint also breathed his last; and in the same moment the whole church was filled with an extraordinary light and most delicious perfume!
Ah, Mother, the most sorrowful of all mothers, thy son is, then, dead; that Son so amiable, and Who loved thee so much! Weep, then, for thou hast reason to weep. Who can ever console thee? The thought alone that Jesus by His death conquered Hell, opened Heaven until then closed to men, and gained so many souls, can console thee. From that throne of the Cross He will reign in so many hearts, which, conquered by His love, will serve Him with love. Disdain not, in the mean time, O my Mother, to keep me near thee, to weep with thee, since I have so much reason to weep for the crimes by which I have offended Him. Ah, Mother of Mercy, I hope, first, through the death of my Redeemer, and then through thy sorrows, to obtain pardon and eternal salvation. Amen.