depressive thinking on the feast of our lady of sorrows
The first rosary I bought, long before I became a Catholic, was a rosary of the seven sorrows. I bought it accidentally; it just happened to be the one I picked up, without knowing anything about it. It has seven decades of seven—forty-nine beads in total, instead of the fifty of a regular rosary. It takes you through the seven sorrows of Mary: the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the Temple, Mary’s meeting of Jesus as He carries the cross, the crucifixion, the descent from the cross, the burial and anointing of Jesus. Each decade is separated by a medal depicting each sorrow, so the mysteries are built in to the physical structure of the rosary (unlike a regular rosary, where different sets of mysteries are prayed with the same set of beads.) While living in London, I prayed it most days on the train to work—working for the Church of England and sneaking off to Latin Mass at Corpus Christi Maiden Lane on my lunch break. It was fortuitous; Simeon’s prophecy—a sword shall pierce your own heart also—was already the foundation of my relationship with Mary. It was her grief that I connected with, before the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption made sense to me. It was her sorrow that lead me to the eventual joy of reception into the Catholic Church.
Today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. A month after the feast of the Assumption. It stands for a disposition of sorrow mixed with hope—the disposition of the cross, the via dolorosa, the civitas peregrina, the Christian never entirely at home in this world. It’s a reminder that all our little plans and ideas of success and progress are made foolish by the cross. Below are some readings on this theme, which has been particularly resonant for me through one of the most difficult and painful periods of my life.
Elsewhere, I’ve written a review of Peter Brown’s anticipated autobiography Journeys of the Mind: A Life in History for The Tablet and a review of Madeline Cash’s Earth Angel for Cracks in Postmodernity.