Thursday, September 15, 2011

Our Mother of Sorrows

From the Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo
Maria dei Sette Dolori, Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630)
When I was in Rome in 2010, the Pontifical North American College in Rome during Lent leads a pilgrimage to each of the Stational Churches.  We were able to attend Mass each day, venerate the sacred relics preserved in these Churches and spiritually encounter the saints and faithful who preceded us in these holy places.
The Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo in Monte Celio is one of these Stational Churches.  This particular circular church was inspired by the shrine built by the Emperor Constantine over the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem.  Circular plans were often used for shrines built over the tombs of martyrs, particularly in the Eastern Roman Empire. Although this basilica is not built over a tomb, it depicts in mosaic the different kinds of martyrdom of many early christian saints.  It is dedicated to St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and has a beautiful art piece of Mary, Queen of Martyrs, identifying her seven sorrows.
St. Alphonsus, in speaking of the dolors of Mary describes her as the Queen of Martyrs because her martyrdom was longer and greater than that of all the martyrs.  St. Thomas Aquinas says that "to have the glory of martyrdom, it is sufficient to exercise obedience in its highest degree, that is to say, to be obedient unto death" (2.2,q.124, a.3)  And St. Bernard tells us that the passion of Jesus began with his birth and therefore Mary, in all things like unto her Son, endured her martyrdom throughout her life. 
Let us ask Mary on this feast of her sorrows for the grace to accept peacefully our own sorrows in this life by uniting with the sufferings of Our Lord and her own pierced soul as she faithfully followed her Son to Calvary.

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