“Mary is the ‘Consolatrix Afflictorum’ – the Consoler of the Afflicted”
– Cardinal Newman
In his beautiful little book of collected writings, meditations and thoughts which is entitled ‘Meditations And Devotions’, St John Henry Cardinal Newman has a short piece entitled Our Lady’s Dolours. Here, he begins by noting that St Paul had written that the Lord had comforted him in his own distress, so that he might be better able to comfort others in theirs. He says this is the secret of true consolation – that we are able to give it to others when we have ourselves already received it.
In other words, it becomes more powerful when we really understand what it is that we are giving.
The Cardinal goes on to note that this is the reason why the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly the ‘Comforter of the Afflicted’ – She is able to console us more than any other, because of the suffering She bore at the foot of the Cross. And it was also at the foot of that Cross that the Lord gave Her to all of us as our Mother and our Consolation.
Speaking on the same subject in his ‘Our Lady Book’, the holy Father Lasance speaks about those images of the Blessed Virgin which we refer to as the Pietà, depicting Her sorrows. He writes –
“That we may learn how hard it is to form any adequate idea of Mary’s sorrow, the Church applies to Her the words of the Prophet Jeremias – ‘To what shall I compare thee, or to what shall I liken thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? To what shall I equal thee, that I may comfort thee, O Virgin daughter of Sion? For great as the sea is thy destruction’ (Lam.2:13).”
What he writes is true. Who has not gazed upon an image of the desolate Virgin in Her sorrows, cradling the dead Body of Her Son, and not felt a piercing stab of empathy in the heart?
Father Lasance notes that this foreknowledge of suffering was always there for the Blessed Virgin, who had been warned of it’s approach by Simeon. But remember, too, that She was intimately acquainted with the Scriptures and the promise of the Saviour to come; but this knowledge meant that She also knew that He was destined to suffer, that it was for this He would come into the world. Father Lasance writes –
“So much at heart, indeed, had She the object of His sufferings, that She was constrained out of love for sinners and obedience to God to devote Him to those sufferings, while all the affection of Her soul inclined Her to save Him from them.”
This, then, was the terrible consequence of that ‘Fiat’ offered at the moment of the Annunciation; that as much as Her Divine Son was destined to suffer terribly, so would She, for She would have to consent to it whole-heartedly. Every suffering born by His Body, She would experience in Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. In short, She spent every moment of the life of Her Son loving Him and waiting for the time of His Passion to arrive, knowing that She must continually love Him and let Him suffer, though to do so drove the Sword of Sorrow through Her Heart.
None except the Lord has suffered as She did.
And for this reason, none can console as She does.