Thursday, September 1, 2011

September: Dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows

Her sword-pierced heart refers to Luke 2:35
In long-standing Catholic tradition, many months of the year are dedicated to different devotional themes. The month of September is dedicated to Mary under the title "Our Lady of Sorrows."

Our Lady of Sorrows is the patroness of the state of Mississippi. The original cathedral for the Diocese of Natchez (which encompassed the entire state of Mississippi) is dedicated to St. Mary under the title "Our Lady of Sorrows", so there is a historic connection between this devotion and the establishment of Catholicism in our state.

Here are a few common questions about this particular devotion and about monthly devotions in general:

1. Why does the Church dedicate September to Our Lady of Sorrows? The answer is pretty simple: the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows falls on September 15th, in the middle of the month. Like many Marian feasts, the Memorial (and the title) of Our Lady of Sorrows is connected to an important event in the life of her Son, Jesus. In this case, the day before, September 14th, is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. On that day, we celebrate Christ's victory on the Cross of our salvation. The next day, then, we remember Mary's presence at the foot of the Cross, where she suffered with great sorrow as a witness to Christ's death.

2. Is the title "Our Lady of Sorrows" biblical? If by "biblical" you mean to ask if there a verse in the Bible that commands Christians to call Mary "Our Lady of Sorrows". The answer to that is "of course not!" But as with many facets of the Christian faith, remembering Mary as the Sorrowful Mother may not be explicitly commanded in Scripture, it is certainly rooted in Scripture. For example, the Gospel writer John's account of the crucifixion records Mary's presence at the foot of the Cross (see John 19:25). Additionally, Mary's suffering was prophesied by Simeon, who declared that to Mary that "you yourself a sword will pierce." (Luke 2:35) In images of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary is usually depicted with a sword (or swords) piercing her heart in reference to this passage.

3. What are some other months dedicated to specific devotions? Let's see...

Depiction of the Holy Name in a city wall. Siena, Italy.
January is dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. Yep, Jesus' name is kind of important according to Scripture (check out Philippians 2:10). Why January? Well, January 1st was traditionally the Feast of the Holy Name, but it's now usually celebrated on January 3rd.

March is dedicated to St. Joseph. Why March? Because St. Joseph is the patron saint of the universal Church and his feast day is on March 19th each year. He definitely deserves a month, wouldn't you say?

May is dedicated to Mary. This is the oldest of the month-long devotions and it starts each year, on the first Sunday of the month, with a "May Crowning", when, in many parishes, an image of Mary is crowned with flowers.

June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The heart of Jesus is emblematic of his limitless love and mercy. This devotion reminds us to pray always: "Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto yours."

The month of July is dedicated to the Precious Blood.
July is dedicated to the Precious Blood. On the old Church calendar, the first Sunday of July was dedicated to the Precious Blood of Christ. If we understand the price that Jesus paid for our sins with his precious blood, we can certainly understand honoring his sacrifice with such a devotion.

August is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In Catholic art, Mary's heart is often shown crowned with roses (a symbol of purity) and being pierced by a sword, in reference to Simeon's prophecy in Luke 2:35. Luke's Gospel also tells us that Mary kept all of the sayings and actions of Jesus in her heart, pondering them. In this way, she is an example for all Christians who are called to "pray constantly" and to always consider Jesus' words and his example.

September is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. We've already talked about this devotion earlier in the post.

October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary. On October 7, 1571, a decisive naval battle took place just off the coast of Greece. The ships of the Holy League (a coalition of Catholic, European states) defeated the navy of the Ottoman Turks, an Islamic empire which, until this battle, was on the cusp of successfully invading Christian Europe. In the weeks before the battle, Christians across Europe pleaded for Mary's intersession by praying the rosary. When the Christians won, credit was given to those prayers and October 7 was dedicated to Mary under the title "Our Lady of Victory." The name was later changed to "Our Lady of the Rosary."

November is dedicated to the Holy Souls. Catholic Christians are always called to pray for all in the Church: those who are living as well as the souls of the faithful departed. Death does not fragment the Body of Christ; we are eternally united to all Christians who have lived or ever will. So, just as we pray for one another in the trials and rigors of this life, we do no less for those who have gone on before us and who may well be undergoing the final purification (i.e. Purgatory) before entering into God's heavenly presence. November 2nd is the Feast of All Souls - a day set aside to remember (and pray for) the souls of the dead.