Tomorrow, September 15, is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Having been raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this was never an important day for me growing up. While Mary is honored as the mother of Jesus in the LDS tradition, particularly around Christmas, she is not venerated or celebrated. But in recent months, Mary has taken up more space in my heart and spiritual formation. While Mary in the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church is quite different from the explanation of a Heavenly Mother in the LDS tradition, I am drawn to the idea of a Holy Mother who is accessible in everyday practice, art, and prayer. A mother I can access here, not only a mother there.
A few months ago I spoke with a Roman Catholic friend about the hesitation of myself and many other Mormon feminists to embrace any concept of Heavenly Mother that includes polygamy. I told her about an essay I wrote that is awaiting publication about the ways my seeking Heavenly Mother has crashed against the limits set forth by LDS general authorities. She then shared some of her beliefs and practices around Mary, particularly Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows.
To my great embarrassment, I found myself crying in public as I considered what it would be like to a have a relationship with a Mother in Heaven that wasn’t wrapped in fear. While I have sought Heavenly Mother through study, poetry, art, and prayer, I spent many years in trepidation, aware of the threat of discipline and ostracism that looms over LDS members who speak openly about Heavenly Mother. Within the LDS church, I think the increase in visibility of Heavenly Mother is the launch of a movement, not just a moment, but there is still intense division.
I thought about my friend’s words in the weeks that followed. About this version of Mary who is always sorrowful and to whom you can go with grief and sadness and worry. This intrigued me because I’d felt that the LDS Church does not hold space for grief and sorrow in ways that I’ve needed. Certainly I’ve known LDS individuals who will sit with me in grief, but at church there was intense social pressure to have a smiling Sunday face and to talk about even my greatest trials as blessings. But Mary doesn’t require my forced smile.
My friend spoke of God’s greatest gifts to the world—the first being Jesus Christ, the second being His Mother. On the cross, Jesus turns to His disciple and says, “Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her as his own” (John 19:27). The idea is that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we can all behold the Blessed Mother and take her as our own.
So one evening in July, I found myself on Etsy ordering a rosary of Our Lady of Sorrows and a card that explained the Seven Sorrows of Mary. I do not pray the rosary—quite frankly, I don’t even know how—but I’ve held the rosary and read the scriptures about Mary’s sorrows as a source of meditation and study.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary are:
- The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35)
- The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14)
- The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. (Luke 2:43-45)
- The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross (Luke 23:27)
- The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:25-27)
- The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross (John 19:38)
- The burial of Jesus (Mark 15:46-47)
Though I’d read Luke 2 dozens of times in my life, reading it again while focusing on Simeon’s prophesy about Mary made it feel entirely new.
Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
What would Mary have felt in hearing these words about her son? What is the sword that pierces her soul? Is it grief? And how does Mary’s grief help reveal the hearts of many? What is revealed in my own heart as I consider Mary’s experiences? I don’t recall ever discussing these verses in LDS scripture study settings. Reading the verses of the Seven Sorrows of Mary has breathed new life and energy into my engagement with scripture.
This seeking has helped me realize the depths of my ignorance about the Roman Catholic veneration of Mary. There were likely many factors that kept me from studying more, but the core reasons were probably the biases instilled in me by the same teachings from male LDS leaders that had stopped me from seeking Heavenly Mother, and the healthy doses of anti-Catholicism that made its way into Sunday school discussions. Mary, the Holy Mother, is not a theological equivalent to the LDS Heavenly Mother as I understand Her. But my tradition claims a belief in a Heavenly Mother and then attempts to deny access to Her in almost every way. I know so little of the long and rich Marian tradition within Catholicism, or in the other traditions that also honor or venerate Mary, but I am fascinated that Mary can be an active and integral part of daily religious life for millions across the world.
I’ve loved and been moved by books and blog posts that help me consider an earthy Mary who experiences the grittiness of human motherhood. I’m glad to have those interpretations. I have also enjoyed learning about a very different Mary—one who was full of the grace of God from her own conception until her assumption into Heaven.
I barely know this Mary. I’m excited to learn more about her in material practice, theology, and debate, including what Catholic feminists have to say. Perhaps in a future year when I’m not concerned about daytime childcare or an ongoing pandemic, I will attend mass on September 15 and observe how Mary is honored on that day. Tomorrow, however, I will take a few minutes to read some scriptures about Mary and contemplate her sorrows.
Please share in the comments – what has Mary meant to you? Has she been a part of your gospel study? What resources about Mary are your favorite?