Today the Church asks us to meditate on Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the cross in fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy on seeing the baby Jesus: “a sword shall pierce your own soul also.”
Sorrow is typically downward and inward. We’re downcast and we feel inward pain. Mary was no different in this regard; the pain at the loss of her son is almost unbearable.
Yet she did bear the pain, and this was possible because her sorrow was outward and upward.
Simeon suggests that Mary’s suffering would be in some sense parallel to the suffering of Jesus. From what we know about Jesus, we can get a sense of the nature of Mary’s suffering. As immense as his suffering was, he didn’t feel sorry for himself, but rather grieved for the sins of the world. He lamented over the sin of Jerusalem, still longing that to gather the city in his arms. Because Mary shared in Jesus’ mission, she would not have been dwelling solely on her own loss, but would have shared in his sorrow for the world.
Mary’s sorrow was without despair because she was could look upward. Michelangelo’s Pietá displays what was perhaps the most grievous momen of Mary’s life as she held the lifeless body of her son. Yet he fashioned her left hand open in prayer, a posture indicating that she was still open to receive from God, knowing that somehow, redemption was possible.
This does not necessarily mean that Mary fully anticipated the resurrection of Jesus. As we see in the Gospels, Mary learned about Jesus as events unfolded as she received the prophecy and “pondered these things in her heart.” Her not knowing all that makes her hope so powerful and relatable to our suffering today.
Michelangelo’s Pietá illustrates the sensus fidei of the ages. In Christian art, Mary is never depicted as overcome with sorrow at the crucifixion scene. Mary Magdalen is often shown to be collapsing, but not our Lady of Sorrows. Her hope sustained her, and her hope was ultimately fulfilled.
When we experience great sorrow, we may not understand how God’s redemption will bring any relief. But with Mary, we can learn to look outward and upward in faith.