Seven Joys of Mary

  1. The first of the seven joys of Mary was the Annunciation, which the Franciscans express in these words: “The Immaculate Virgin Mary joyfully conceived Jesus by the Holy Ghost.” Read the account, clear, brief, and uplifting, in the first chapter of Saint Luke, how the Angel Gabriel came from God and told the Virgin Mary that she was to be the Mother of God. Imagine the joy in the heart of Mary to learn from the messenger of the Almighty that she, who was willing to be but a handmaid or servant in the household of the Lord, that she was to be really the Mother of God. What joy and happiness at the greeting of the angel. What joy to know that now within her womb she carried the Son of God.

2. The second great joy of Mary was the Visitation. “The Immaculate Virgin Mary joyfully carried Jesus visiting Elizabeth.” Charity and love inspired this visit. How happily our Blessed Mother must have made her way over the hills to the distant home of her cousin Elizabeth, who also was with child, the future John the Baptist. Womanlike, Mary wanted to tell her cousin and share in the joys of an expectant mother. What an inspiration and joyful example to all the mothers in the world.

3. The third of the seven joys of Mary life was the nativity. “The Immaculate Virgin Mary joyfully brought Jesus into the world.” Everyone who has ever experienced the bliss of Christmas has had just a faint echo of Mary’s joy when she gave birth to Christ. Every mother shares that joy. Mary experienced it in all her innocence and sweetness. She experienced the holy happiness of bringing into the world the Son of God, who was to be the Redeemer and Savior of all men.

4. The fourth joy of Mary was that of the Epiphany, which we might express in these words: “The Immaculate Virgin Mary joyfully exhibited Jesus to the adoration of the Magi.” Every mother is happy when she can show her child to others. Every mother is joyful when friends or acquaintances or even chance visitors comment about her child, praise it, and even bring it gifts. That was the happy experience of Mary when the three Wise Men came thousands of miles to adore and honor her Child, to bring gifts to her Boy.

5. The fifth of the seven joys of Mary, our Blessed Mother, is what she experienced when she finally found Jesus after His three-day loss in the temple. “The Immaculate Virgin Mary joyfully found Jesus in the temple.” To have her child with her is a mother’s joy. But to find a child that is lost is a greater joy because of the contrast to the sorrow of separation. Mary experienced such a bliss when she found Christ in the temple teaching and listening to the doctors, the learned professors of the law.

6. The sixth great joy of the Blessed Mother was the one she experienced upon seeing Jesus after His resurrection. “The Immaculate Virgin Mary joyfully beheld Jesus after His resurrection.” Words fail in expressing the happiness of the Mother of God when she saw her Son risen from the grave, saw Him in the full beauty of manhood, saw the Boy whom she had brought into the world, had reared and trained and taken care of for so many years. Her joy, by way of contrast with the grief of the first Good Friday, was supreme.

7. The seventh of the seven joys of Mary, and the crowing joy, was that Mary had when she was taken up into heaven and crowned Queen of heaven and earth. “The Immaculate Virgin Mary was joyfully received by Jesus into heaven and there crowned Queen of heaven and earth.” No human pen, no human brush can picture or express the joy in Mary’s heart when she was finally reunited with her Son in the bliss of the beatific vision. Neither can we express in words the happiness in her heart when she was crowned, rewarded by her Divine Son who made her the Queen of this world and of the heavenly court.

The feast of the Seven Joys of Mary originated within the Franciscan Order. It possesses the privileges of a feast of the second class, and is celebrated by all the members of the Three Orders of St. Francis.

The feast originated during the first part of the 20th century, as a commemoration of special Franciscan devotion to the Rosary of the Seven Joys. The Rosary, according to legend, dates back to the year 1422. The story is told that a certain young man had been admitted into the Order in that year, and that prior to his reception he had been accustomed to place a wreath of flowers on the statue of the Blessed Virgin as a mark of his filial love and devotion. As a novice he was unable to continue this practice, and became exceedingly discouraged.

The Blessed Mother appeared to him and gave him consolation. “Do not be sad and cast down, my son,” she said sweetly, “because you are no longer able to place a wreath of flowers on my statue.” She then taught him how to weave a crown from the flowers of his prayers and assured him they would always remain fresh and beautiful.

“Recite one Our Father and ten Hail Marys in honor of the joy I experienced when the angel announced to me the Incarnation of the Son of God.” Our Lady added each of the other mysteries. The novice was assured this was the best manner of obtaining innumerable graces for himself, and immediately began the recitation of the prayers in honor of the Seven Joys. The novice master chanced to pass by, saw an angel weaving a marvelous wreath of roses, and after each tenth rose inserting a lily. When the wreath was complete, the Blessed Virgin herself placed it on the youth’s head.

*from Feasts of Our Lady, by Msgr. Arthur Tonne and Marys Book

The Seven Sorrows of Mary

Flipping through a religious calendar, I came upon a list of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. As I mentally pictured Mary’s experiences, I pondered her most blessed and most sorrowful life. I met Mary heart-to-heart: her sorrows and her son’s agony became mine, and the Mother of Sorrows became the mother of my sorrows as well.

Let us enter into the mind and heart of Mary and reflect on the seven major sorrows in her life. Our Sorrowful Mother can teach us much about the sanctity of suffering and be a source of consolation to all who suffer.

The Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15.

First Sorrow: The Prophecy of Simeon

“And you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35).

When Mary’s 40-day period of purification has almost ended, she goes to Jerusalem to fulfill the Mosaic Law and for the required offering to the Lord of every firstborn male. The law of purification does not bind Mary, always a virgin. Nor does Jesus, because of who he is, have to be redeemed. Yet Mary humbly obeys.

After the ceremony, imagine young Mary’s amazement when Simeon takes Jesus from her arms and acknowledges him as the Messiah! Only through divine inspiration can Simeon know this. Simeon blesses them and says to Mary, “And you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35).

Mary shudders and holds Jesus close to her breast, as Joseph gently leads her out of the temple. Although Joseph is deeply shaken, his primary concern is for his wife and son. They return to Nazareth in silence, where Mary ponders these things in her heart.

Second Sorrow: The Flight into Egypt

“The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him’” (Mt 2:13).

Joseph hastily awakens Mary and relates his dream. She feels the sword’s sharpness as Simeon’s prophecy echoes in her heart. There is no time to worry—only time to pack a few essentials—as they prepare to flee to Egypt under cover of darkness.

The lengthy journey across the desert wilderness frightens Mary, but she never voices her fears to Joseph. However, she can’t help but think, Will there be enough food and water? How will we weather the excessive heat? What if the donkey stumbles? What if . . . ? The “what-ifs” could have paralyzed a person of little faith. But Mary continues to trust that God will take care of her little family’s needs.

None of this is recorded, so we can only imagine the hardships that the Holy Family endured while in exile. One thing is certain: nothing can sway Mary’s trust in God. She never questions. She ponders, letting the things she doesn’t understand simply be there in her heart, in complete conformity to the divine plan. Mary is a model of cooperation with grace.

Third Sorrow: Search for the Child in Jerusalem

“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety’” (Lk 2:46, 48).

Terror seizes Mary’s heart when she discovers that her son is missing. On the third day, while walking by the temple, the anxious mother hears the sweet sound of Jesus’ voice. “Joseph, look! There he is among the teachers!” They run to Jesus’ side, and Mary, with mingled joy and sorrow, speaks words of gentle reproach to her son.

Mary and Joseph realize they have a very special son—one who amazes even the teachers in the temple with his intelligence. Sometimes they whisper in Aramaic at night, sharing their innermost thoughts and concerns. Often, young Mary ponders these things in her heart while performing her daily tasks: grinding grain into flour to make bread, milking the goats, and spinning yarn and weaving it into clothing for her family.

Sometimes, in the cool of the evening, she sits on the flat roof of their home, the pain of Simeon’s prophecy and of Jesus’ disappearance merging and lingering—a pain as widespread as the profusion of flowers trickling down the hillsides of Nazareth in that April of Jesus’ 12th year.

Fourth Sorrow: Mary Meets Jesus on His Way to the Cross

“And carrying the cross himself . . .” (Jn 19:17). “A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him” (Lk 23:27).

Mary’s life remains hidden—hidden in God. A widow now, she lives an inconspicuous life, pondering and accepting the mystery of her unique role and that of her son. When news of his miracles reaches her at Nazareth, she rejoices. But the disturbing news of the tension mounting in Jerusalem concerning an upstart named Jesus makes her apprehensive. She knows the sword is poised to pierce her heart more deeply. Yet she goes to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, hoping Jesus will be there.

Mary helps prepare the Passover meal. Quickly she dishes out the bitter herbs and vinegar and carries them to the Upper Room. Here, Mary participates in the first Eucharist. She comprehends all too well the full meaning of his words. We can only guess at the sequence of events. Perhaps one of the holy women finds Mary and tells her that Jesus has been arrested. “I must go to him!” she cries.

Mary pushes her way through the shouting, cursing mob. At last, she sees her son carrying his cross. Mary’s heart breaks in unspeakable sorrow at the outrage committed against his precious body. She is powerless to minister to him, except by her presence. Their eyes meet and speak volumes of love in a frozen moment of anguished silence. “Trust, trust,” Jesus’ heart speaks to hers. His unspoken words echo in her hearing heart. With renewed strength, she walks the Way of her son.

Fifth Sorrow: Standing at the Foot of the Cross

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:25–27).

Finally they reach the hill of execution. The cruel soldiers stretch Jesus’ battered body upon the cross and, with heavy hammer blows, drive the sharp spikes into his hands and feet. Mary’s head pounds with each cruel blow. No one hears the silent scream that shatters her broken heart and echoes in the heart of God.

What now takes place is all according to God’s plan. Her son, the Son of God, has to suffer and die. John, the beloved disciple, puts his arm around Mary, steadying her. “My precious child,” she weeps, “heralded at Bethlehem, now suffering an ignominious and painful death!”

And then, through swollen, purple lips, Jesus speaks. Mary strains to hear his words. He looks tenderly upon his mother and, with great effort, says, “He is your son.” He looks at the disciple and emphasizes, “She is your mother.”

Sixth Sorrow: The Crucifixion and Descent from the Cross

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body” (Jn 19:38).

Saying, “It is finished,” Jesus bows his head and dies. Mary remembers his words at the Passover meal: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (Lk 22:20). The dreaded time is now: he precious blood of her son is poured out for all humankind. The covenant is sealed.

Jesus, her son, the Son of God, is dead. In her heart, Mary dies with him. Two broken hearts—one pierced with a spear, one pierced with sorrow—become one: Jesus and Mary, forever united for the whole human family.

Mary’s sorrow is all the greater because of the greatness of her love.

Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross and placed in her arms. Mary embraces her son with a love beyond words, beyond grief itself. For now, it is the grief of a consummate sorrow. She, who had given birth to divinity, now presses the bloodied and battered remains of his humanity close to her sorrowful and shattered heart. “Let it be done according to thy will, Lord,” she prays.

Seventh Sorrow: Assisting at the Burial of Christ

“The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils” (Lk 23:55–56).

The holy women quietly prepare the spices and ointments, and gather the winding sheet and the grave cloth, according to Jewish custom. Mary, the faithful disciple, insists on helping and returns to the tomb with the women. They go about their task of washing the body with great reverence and wrap it in long strips of linen, taking great care to pack the fragrant spices (including the myrrh and aloes Nicodemus had brought) between the cloth and the body, in order to reduce the stench of death.

Mary hesitates before placing the grave cloth over Jesus’ face. Tenderly, she kisses him one last, lingering time. John steps forward to take her hand and lead her to his home. Behind them, they hear the heavy round stone rolled forward to seal the cave. Mary’s pierced heart remains united to the stilled heart of the one they had pierced—the most Sacred Heart that was formed in her immaculate womb. With one languishing wail, she proclaims what others are just now beginning to believe, what she already knew: “My Lord and my God!”

//Franciscan Media//

Seven Days with Mary – Day 1: Mary’s Unfinished Story

To think of Mary’s story as unfinished gives me comfort. There are moments in my morning quiet time, the smoke of rose incense rising, where I pray to her and I find that sense of peace within.

It starts in my center, like a cloud clearing, and peacefulness radiates. Those moments, I fully trust that everything in my life is well, and I am filled with a light, airy sensation. It’s a welcome respite to receive her comfort, because I live so much of the time hounded by my worries of the future. Do I have enough money to support myself, what if my cancer comes back. When I can connect to her I even, most importantly, let go of my endless anxieties about my two adult children. I fill with gratitude that we are all still here, my children and I, and that we have everything we need, and it’s more than enough.

I’m painfully aware that those moments of pure trust often elude me, even though I keep Mary’s images near. On a chain around my neck, never taking it off, I wear a tiny Blessed Mother medallion (made for infants). She’s also on my skin 24/7 in a Renaissance image by Della Robbia. This “Bliss Madonna” tattoo was inked on my left arm during some of the darkest hours of my life. On my desk, I keep a zoomed-in photograph I took at the Duomo in Florence, Italy. As I write this, her eyes gaze from under her hefty marble crown, and her scepter tilts toward me. What I am admitting is that even in spite of my round-the-clock seeking, I often feel so far from the possibility of a mother’s love. I believe I am, however sad this might be, still struggling with feeling worthy. This unworthiness has hounded me since childhood, and it is only in my 50s that I have been making any significant headway in changing it.

Now, as I reflect, I see that the mornings and the autumns and the years have gone by, and in continuing to pray to her, I’ve been able to let her in more and more, and because of this, I am realizing my worth. I can say that I love myself now with a tenderness that I had not ever known—this is from her. I can say that I am more gentle with others now, the gentlest I have ever been. This is from her.

I want so much to keep deepening my ability to be gentle with myself, with others, with the world. So this, I think, is her unfinished story moving forward. The story of being able, each day like a new brushstroke, to feel more loved and more whole. With her perpetual blessing, I see how far I have come. I have such a long way to go.

Marian Prayer

Mary, I find comfort in your embrace. Enfold me in your mantle where I can find rest. Fill me with your gifts of grace, that I may persevere through all I have before me. With you, I find peace and joy.

Seven Days with Mary – Day 4: Mary’s Omnipresence

I must admit, Holly’s rendering of a cross-cultural Mary touches my heart. In it, I see the shy expression of hundreds of teen girls I’ve taught. The omnipresence of Mary’s love is essential because I can’t rely on yesterday’s beliefs. I need the renewal of her guidance near me everyday.

Like today. One of my students stands outside the classroom. I will call her Jasmine. She’s only fourteen, tells me her birthday is soon; in fact, it’s four months away. But she’s eager to turn fifteen, to shed her childhood as fast as she can. I know it’s actually years before she’ll be able to leave the tumult of the daily dysfunction she endures.

“It’s bad,” she whispers, her eyebrows raised.“I know, honey.” We face one another in the hallway, the classroom door slightly shut, the rest of the kids getting settled for my class. I often take this sort of private time with students. It’s not really private, and it’s not ever enough time. But I practice something my spiritual director taught me: I imagine a thread between my heart and Jasmine’s, connecting us, a bridge.I knew when Jasmine walked through my door in September that something wasn’t right—the bags under her espresso-brown eyes, the gaunt shadows in light brown cheekbones, the endless talk of being hungry, her head put down on the desk, the furtive movements of her eyes keeping secrets.

I knew when Jasmine walked through my door in September that something wasn’t right—the bags under her espresso-brown eyes, the gaunt shadows in light brown cheekbones, the endless talk of being hungry, her head put down on the desk, the furtive movements of her eyes keeping secrets.

Jasmine shakes her head. I can see the Mary in her. The holiness. I think, “Hail Mary, full of grace.” I don’t even have time to complete the whole prayer. What to say to this child? I notice she’s wrapped her hair exceptionally high today, pinned it into an enormous smooth nest standing tall.

I attempt to redirect her sorrow. “You’re like a queen with that bun.”

Her teeth are crooked and her lips are chapped but her smile is luminous. She admits, “I know. I am rockin’ this bun.”

Though Jasmine is barely five feet, I tease her, “You’re like, what, six feet tall with that thing?”

“Yes,” she agrees, pleased. I hold her gaze, her irises dancing with light. I reach toward the handle and pull it and we step through the door together. If I could have one wish, it would be to have all the girls of the world lift their eyes up with hope. All the girls. Each Lily. Each Rose. Each Violet.

Every Jasmine.

Marian Prayer

Mary, help me to take the time for others, not always rushing in and out, but fully experiencing moments that last and sharing memories.

Seven Days with Mary – Day 5: Mary As the New Eve

I’ve never understood Eve. Whenever I think of her apple, my mind is drawn to another woman with an “ordinary” object who led me to Mary. I am hesitating to tell this story because it’s precious to me. Four years ago, through a series of serendipitous events, I found myself spending the month of June at a writer’s retreat in the mountains of Assisi, Italy. On a blistering, hot afternoon, I descended the steps into the cool underground of the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi.

I was unprepared for the intensity of the relics displayed. I became almost disoriented. Clare was lying there, quite tiny. When I turned, I bumped into what I thought was a lantern, but was in fact a glass cube filled with snippets of baby-fine, white curls. This pile of her hair shook me even more than her bones. Beyond that, I encountered Francis’ tunic, the primitive hide roughly stitched. Maternal tenderness ran through me at the sight of his course stocking. Blood crusted the arch—stains of the stigmata.

And that is when I saw Clare’s dress.

The dress was the shade of spring, when the tiniest of buds first appear in pale green mist. It floated high above all the other relics, as if airborne; so utterly, delightfully girly, I actually laughed out loud. I studied it for over an hour, because I didn’t want to break the rules and photograph this sacred object. I needed to make sure the details were captured in my mind forever: the goddess-drape of the long sleeves, the high medieval bodice, the soft cotton, nearly see-through.

The next day, at breakfast with the other artists and writers, one of the women commented that she did not believe that dress could really be Clare’s, especially after all of these centuries. She said that it had to be some sort of reproduction; and besides, a dress that enormous would never have fit those small bones. I was appalled and then saddened, though I did not argue with her. I spent that day in silence under a ripening fig tree, thinking. And I have thought about this quite a bit ever since.

What I learned then is that I am a woman who quietly believes. I don’t need to convince anyone of anything. I just need to keep walking my own path. And on this path, saints like Clare will keep leading me to the Great Mother. I believe that dress was Clare’s. I believe it was her feminine spirit that emanated from within. In the years since I stood before it, the dress has returned to me, lunar-moth like, floating in the dark and bringing coolness to the heat of my 3 a.m. insomnia. It reminds me to turn to Mary, to pray, to let go and let her magic fill the air like a lullaby—to let the Blessed Mother sing.

Marian Prayer

Mary, help me to be a good example to those in my life.

Help me to take the time for others, to be fully alive and present in the moment.

(Prayer from Talking to God: Prayers for Catholic Women)

Seven Days with Mary – Day 6: Mary’s Movement Toward Christ

I’ve mentioned my struggle feeling worthy of God’s love, even in spite of having an incredible life where I love so many, and am loved in return. Recently I had an experience with Mary that, as Holly says, pierced my heart in its beauty and simplicity, and led me right to Christ’s love.

A vital part of my spiritual life is a daily walk in the valley along a river where I observe the incessant shifting of New England seasons. Since I’m often overwhelmed by situations in my life, I find a great deal of solace in the truth of how the river changes. The Farmington River, about the width of a three-lane highway, rushed high that day, moving at a good pace after a weekend of heavy rain. I spotted a single male Mallard duck with a glistening emerald-green head. Usually the ducks are in a group of pairs along the shallow edges. He came around a tight bend, about eight feet from shore, where the current was the fastest, and the surface the glassiest.

He was just riding the river. I burst out laughing because he was such a tiny creature surrounded by all that water, all those trees and sky, and I could tell he felt really good. He had no intention of stopping or changing his mind. Clearly, it was just so fun. There was no need to turn around, or to fly away. He kept gliding along as if—well, as if he were part of the river. Which he was.

I kept watching him until he slid out of sight beyond the farthest turn. And this is what struck me: from the moment I spied that duck, I loved him. It made no sense. I stood on that riverbank, wondering if this is how Mary viewed me. Was I like that duck, just moving along, and she was near even if I didn’t know it? And how could I love a little duck that quickly?

It was then that lyrics returned to me. I had not thought of this song, in all honesty, in decades. We sang it at the 10:00 folk mass when I was child. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me. I would say that the duck qualifies as the “least of my brothers.” Standing all alone in the tranquility of the woods, my connection to nature turned into an understanding of how Mary loves me and, ultimately, how Christ works through us all.

The heart is the heart, joyous and free. It makes no sense that I loved that duck. Love just is. I’m dumbfounded by the mystery of it all. In thinking of his shiny green head now, I wonder if this is how Christ feels sometimes. That we are like the little ducks, riding the river, and we are loved. If only we knew.

Marian Prayer

Mary, you show me the importance of simplicity.

May I not be weighed down by the odds and ends of this world but stay simple and filled with love for all.