Today, September 15, the Servites celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Patroness of the Order. She is a familiar sight in Servite art: the deeply pensive Mater Dolorosa at the foot of the cross, often with seven swords thrust into her heart. The image strikes some as Medieval, and while the feast did gain popularity in the Middle Ages, the devotion is certainly not archaic or outmoded.
For the Servants of Mary, devotion to the Sorrowful Virgin is reflected in the symbolism of the black habit, which was recognized as a sign of humility of the Virgin and the sufferings she underwent as she took part in the passion of her Son. According to the author of Legenda de Origine Ordinis, St. Peter Martyr befriends the Servites who at that time had no definitive habit. St. Peter has a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in which she shows them the habit they are to wear as a “sign of the humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary and an unmistakable symbol of the pain she suffered in the most bitter Passion of her Son.” St. Philip Benizi, responding to the two Dominican friars who asked him about the Order of Servants of Mary, explained the significance of the black habit of the Servites as representing the widowhood of the Blessed Virgin.
These sources reveal the early importance placed on the mystery of the Sorrowful Virgin. This special attention developed in the following centuries and became a very important element of the spirituality of the Order. In fact, this particular honor toward Our Lady of Sorrows was expressed with devotions like the `Corona’ of the Our Lady of Sorrows, the Via Matris, and the votive Mass of the Seven Sorrows of Mary granted for the friars of the Order in 1668. On the 9th of August 1692, the Sorrowful Virgin was declared Patroness of the Order, and from the 17th to the 19th centuries, there was a gradual development of this devotion among the friars.
The relevance of this devotion today can be found in the epilogue of the Constitutions of the Order which synthesizes the figure of the Mother of God in the mystery of the Redemption: “In our commitment of service, the figure of Mary at the foot of the Cross shall be our model. Since the Son of Man is still being crucified in his brothers and sisters, we, Servants of his mother, wish to be with her at the foot of those countless crosses in order to bring comfort and redemptive cooperation.” In a world that continues to suffer hatred and violence, the Sorrowful Virgin is a model of faith, hope, and endurance in suffering. Anyone who suffers can see in the Sorrowful Mother a woman of prayer: one who accepts the Word of God, helps others, and perseveres through life’s difficult and painful moments.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.