Ask a Franciscan

The Sorrowful Mother

Q. I recently came across the title Our Lady of Sorrows for Mary. I’ve never heard of this before and wonder about its origin and meaning.

A. According to the Dictionary of Catholic Devotions, by Michael Walsh, this title started to be used in the 12th century, but devotion to Mary as the Sorrowful Mother became more widespread in the 14th century, the era of the Black Death, the bubonic plague which killed off a third of Europe’s population. Her feast is celebrated on September 15.

As someone who experienced great sorrow during her life, Mary can help people currently experiencing great suffering. Devotion to Mary as the Sorrowful Mother says that God never abandons those who suffer, though at times that may be how they feel.

In portraying Mary while holding Christ’s body after it was taken down from the cross, Michelangelo and other artists have shown a faith-filled moment amid intense pain. To women and others who have experienced similar suffering (for example, many mothers in Latin America), the Sorrowful Mother devotion still speaks very powerfully.

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