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Marian Feast: Our Lady of Sorrows

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It was because He was the son of her heart that the sword would pierce her there.


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By Sonja Corbitt
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
9/15/2009 (1 decade ago)

Published in Living Faith

BETHPAGE, TN (Catholic Online) - She is a strange and beautiful human sign of grace, a holy mystery, Our Lady of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant's mother. There was never a moment in Jesus' thirty three years that Mary did not surround Him with the womb of her love, as she surrounds all of us. After all He gave us to her at the final moment, a final gift from the Cross. In the most remarkable ways, the Old Testament reveals her mysterious role as Our Lady of Sorrows, foreshadowing a most poignant truth, and inspiring deep veneration.

Called the Ark of the New Covenant by the Church Fathers, Our Lady of Sorrows was intimated by the characteristics of the Ark of the Testimony in the tabernacle. Located secretly in the Holy of Holies, the inner chamber of the tabernacle, no man was allowed to touch the ark upon penalty of death. Even the High Priest was completely restricted from its vicinity except on the annual Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year, on which he sprinkled the ark with sacrificial blood.

It was Mary's purity, then, upon which the presence of the Lord would one day uniquely rest just as He had once rested on the untouchable ark, and it was she who would be anointed first with the sacrificial blood of her Son, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Similar in language to "king of kings," the "holy of holies" wherein the ark rested expresses the superlative, meaning the holiest of what is holy. To be holy simply means to be dedicated or uniquely set apart, and the significance and nature of this holiness becomes clear only with an understanding of the word "ark." Strangely and prophetically, "ark" means coffin, so that the ark in the tabernacle was uniquely dedicated to suffering.

This suffering would be excruciatingly private, intimate, and divinely assisted, however. The ark was secluded on one side by a veil, richly woven in blue, scarlet, and purple thread and embroidered with ornate worshipping cherubim. On the remaining sides, the ark was protected within the Holy of Holies by wood paneling overlaid with gold. Within this beautiful cocoon, the ark, uniquely dedicated to suffering, rested secretly in the most holy place of the tabernacle and bore the presence of the Lord.

In addition, the ark's lid was decorated with two of the glorious, worshipping cherubim beaten from a single piece of gold, the one piece signifying unity, and the hammered gold signifying sacrificial worship. Thus the cherubim, worshipping in perpetual service to God, enclosed the ark within the covering of their wings, depicting their role in assisting and surrounding the ark and secluding it in the privacy and mystery of the sacrificial love of the Trinity.


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Contributing even more to the mystery surrounding the ark is that the priests were instructed to cover it in anointing oil in a profoundly sacred ritual that tangibly and literally consecrated and emphasized the "otherness" of its particular use. The divine formula for this holy anointing oil included myrrh as a primary ingredient.

Myrrh was outrageously expensive, and so a lavish and precious commodity; but it was also bitter, so that in Ruth 1:20-21, Naomi took the new name Mara, similar to myrrh, to designate the "bitterness" of her trials. It was also used extensively as a preservative embalming agent, and therefore was a death spice, and came to have connotations of mourning and grief.

Mary, then, her name derived from Mara, was foreknown from the foundation of the world, uniquely dedicated and consecrated to willingly and wholly embracing the bitter sword that would pierce her heart (Luke 2:35), lavishly anointed and set aside, awash in aromatic suffering for the sacrificial purposes of God, just as the ark had been before her.

The suffering Our Lady of Sorrows endured was not arbitrary or otherwise specially added to her, and not abnormal, or even holy on its own, in any way except the most important one. Mary's suffering was for her son, her child, her infant, who was God Almighty Himself, Incarnate.

A mother's natural pity and anguish took on an eternal dimension because of its precious object. Proceeding most naturally from her maternal relationship, Mary's love was exponentially more painful, and more efficacious, for the absolute matchlessness of her Son. It was through this natural relationship that they suffered together, God Himself, the Incarnate Word of the Father and Our Lady of Sorrows, united together in the New Ark in the Holy of Holies of agony and sacrifice.

It was because He was the son of her heart that the sword would pierce her there, but it was because He is the Son of God that her suffering would become so connected with His in the Holy of Holies. To discern the unity of Our Lady of Sorrows with the Ark of the New Covenant is to grasp the utterly unique intimacy Mary shared with the Trinity through a most natural but profound offering, an offering of which each one of us is also capable.

She offered herself, completely, with all the love of which a mother was capable, for a child, whom she offers to all of us. In this most holy way, her sorrows are joined to those of the Redeemer whom she bore for the whole world. They together now share in a mystery of love forged from the secret place of humility.

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Sonja Corbitt is a Catholic Scripture teacher, study author and speaker. She is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit her at www.pursuingthesummit.com and www.pursuingthesummit.blogspot.com.

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