Mark Miravalle, professor of theology and Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, is author of a new book entitled, "With Jesus: The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix" (Queenship Publishing).
He shared with ZENIT his views on the theological significance of the feast, which the Church celebrates this Monday.
Q: What precisely do we celebrate in the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows and what are its historical roots?
Miravalle: In the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we commemorate the unparalleled human sufferings experienced by the Virgin Mary in her unique role with Jesus in the mission of redemption.
In "Salvifici Doloris," No. 25, John Paul II describes these shared sufferings by Christ's Mother, particularly during their climactic moments at the foot of the cross, as reaching an "intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view, but which was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the redemption of the world."
Historically, this feast can be traced to the 15th century and was fostered by popular devotion to the seven dolors, or sorrows, of Mary, particularly among the Flemish faithful and through its promulgation by the Servites of Mary.
Until 1960, two feasts of the Sorrows of Mary were liturgically celebrated each year, the first on the Friday after Palm Sunday, which emphasized the "cumpassio" or "co-suffering" of Mary at Calvary; the second on Sept. 15, which commemorates her entire life of co-redemptive suffering, which is highlighted in seven key scriptural events.
Q: What are the specific "seven sorrows" of Mary, and why does the Church encourage our liturgical and personal meditation upon these sorrows?
Miravalle: The specific number of sorrows, originally varied, became fixed to these seven events: 1) Simeon's prophecy in the temple; 2) the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt; 3) the loss of the Christ child in the temple; 4) the encounter of Mary with Jesus on the way of the cross; 5) the crucifixion and death of Jesus; 6) the taking down of Jesus from the cross; 7) the burial of Jesus in the tomb.
The Church calls us to ponder the sufferings of the Sorrowful Mother to more deeply appreciate the sacrifice the Virgin of Nazareth endured in order to participate with and under Jesus in humanity's redemption, and through this suffering, to become the spiritual mother of all peoples, as designated by her crucified Son: "'Woman, behold your son!' ... 'Behold, your mother!'"
We too are called to enter into the mystery of the passion of Christ and the compassion of Mary, to join our sufferings with theirs, in order to mysteriously release the graces of redemption for the many spiritual needs of the Church and world. The Stabat Mater, the medieval sequence recited on this memorial, reminds us:
"Can the human heart refrain / From partaking in her pain, / In that Mother's pain untold? ... Let me share with you this pain / Who for all our sins was slain, / Who for me in torments died."
Q: Do the sufferings of Mary continue today? Does the reported phenomenon of the "tears" of Mary relate to the question of her ongoing sufferings?
Miravalle: It is hard to conceive of a mother that does not suffer when her children suffer. Indeed, the maternal heart of Mary continues to suffer mystically in virtue of her role as the spiritual Mother of all peoples amid the fresh dangers and trials presently facing the human family.
In his Aug. 31 Angelus address, the Holy Father referred to the lacrimations, or tears, of Mary as a phenomenon that mysteriously expresses her deep maternal concern for humanity, and provides a concrete sign for spiritual conversion and peace.
Concerning these Marian tears, he stated: "How mysterious these tears are! They speak of suffering and tenderness, of comfort and divine mercy. They are a sign of a maternal presence, and an appeal to conversion to God, abandoning the way to evil to follow faithfully Jesus Christ."
Q: You have recently authored a book on the history of the Marian title of Co-redemptrix. How does this title relate to the Lady of Sorrows feast?
Miravalle: In a certain sense, the feast of the Sorrowful Mother is the liturgical expression of the theological title and doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix.
The Co-redemptrix term as used by the Church refers to Mary's unique though subordinate cooperation and suffering with Jesus in the accomplishment of redemption. The prefix "co" means "with" -- in Latin, "cum" -- and not "equal to."
Mary's cooperation "with Jesus" from the annunciation to Calvary summarizes her role as Co-redemptrix and what is venerated in this feast.
ZENIT: How old is the Co-redemptrix title and what are its historical roots?
Miravalle: The Co-redemptrix title is well over 600 years old, and is the fruit of a gradual Church development from apostolic times.
The Co-redemptrix title appears for the first time in a Salzburg hymn from around the 15th century. The addition of the prefix "co" to the previously used Redemptrix title further emphasizes Our Lady's rightful subordination to the divine Redeemer. One of the foremost theologians of the Council of Trent, Jesuit Alphonsus Salmerón, repeatedly defends the legitimacy of the Co-redemptrix title, as well as her consequent titles of Mediatrix and Advocate. During the 17th century "Golden Age" of Marian Co-redemption, the doctrine and title was defended in over 300 theological works, with all of its fundamental soteriological aspects treated.
The Popes of the 19th and 20th centuries incorporated the best of this consistent development of doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix into the teachings of the ordinary magisterium, with its doctrine conveyed through encyclicals and other papal teachings and its title repeatedly used by the Holy See during the magisterium of St. Pius X, and explicitly by Pius XI on three occasions and John Paul II on six occasions.
Q: Is there any relationship between Our Lady of Sorrows and the contemporary Fatima message, which has also involved the pontificate of John Paul II?
Miravalle: The Fatima message is a Marian call to be a "co-worker," or co-redeemer, with Jesus -- see 1 Corinthians 3:9. Our Lady tells the young visionaries to "sacrifice yourselves for sinners" and asks them, "Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings he wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?"
The spiritual practice of offering reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, particularly as found in the First Saturday devotions, is an efficacious spiritual practice which serves to console the Immaculate Heart, who is mystically wounded by those who reject her spiritual maternity, as well as her other prerogatives given her by God.
During the Oct. 13, 1917, apparition and subsequent solar phenomenon, the Mother of Jesus appeared to the children precisely as our Lady of Sorrows in calling for recognition of her co-redemptive suffering and for reparation to her Immaculate Heart.
In Sister Lucia's recent book, "Calls from the Message of Fatima," she defends the Co-redemptrix title and doctrine in six different passages with an inspired eloquence. The Fatima visionary testifies that the role of Mary Co-redemptrix is clearly an integral part of the Fatima message and its ultimate fulfillment in the prophesied "triumph" of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Q: Historically and theologically, then, the feast and the doctrine of Our Lady's sorrows are firmly part of our Catholic life?
Miravalle: The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows and the corresponding doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix is our heritage.
The story of Mary's suffering "with Jesus" is deeply embedded in the Church's 2,000-year memory and life which we call "Tradition." We should not deny this Tradition about Mary Co-redemptrix, our spiritual Mother of Sorrows, but should use the most precise means by which to articulate and "live" its truth in its proper biblical and ecumenical context.