Rorate Caeli

Adventures in the Lex Orandi #3: Comparing the Old and New Orations for Our Lady of Sorrows

The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is a relatively late addition to the Church’s universal calendar (as far as liturgical history goes): it was celebrated locally in the Middle Ages, growing in popularity in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A feast of the Compassion of Our Lady entered the Roman Missal in 1482. The commemoration has been celebrated on the Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (17th century), the Friday of Passion week (18th century), and September 15 (19th century). However much it may have moved around, this feast, like the devotion on which it is based, was always greatly loved. It was destined to survive even the otherwise ruthless scissors and paste of the Consilium in charge of the postconciliar liturgical reform. Nevertheless, as in nearly every case, the experts could not resist rewriting the orations of the day, and in this case they rewrote them completely.

First, let’s look at the old orations:


O God, at Whose Passion, according to the prophecy of Simeon, a sword of sorrow pierced the most sweet soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary: mercifully grant, that we who with veneration ponder her sorrows may obtain the happy fruit of Thy Passion: Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end, Amen.


We offer unto Thee our prayers and victims, O Lord Jesus Christ, humbly beseeching Thee that, even as in our prayers we recollect the piercing of the most sweet spirit of Thy blessed Mother Mary, so through the merits of Thy death, and the repeated most tender intercession of Thy Mother and her holy companions beneath the Cross, we may share in the reward of the blessed: Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end, Amen.


May the sacrifices of which we have partaken, O Lord Jesus Christ, devoutly celebrating the transfixion of Thy Mother the Virgin obtain for us, of Thy clemency, the effect of every salutary benefit. Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God world without end. Amen.

One notices, first of all, the striking expression “O God, at whose Passion”: a magnificent example of the “communication of idioms” whereby it is possible to say “God suffered, God died” because of the hypostatic union of the human and divine natures in the Son of God made man. All three orations address the Son because we are focusing on the relationship between the Son and the Mother beneath His Cross: the Redeemer and the Co-redemptrix. The Collect mentions Simeon’s prophecy. It speaks of the “most sweet soul” of the Virgin and the privilege of lingering lovingly over her sorrows. The theology here is intensely Marian and Christocentric: the oration pulses with feeling.

Similar themes pervade the Secret (the “prayers and victims” are Christ, His Mother, the others under the Cross, and all of us participating in the Holy Sacrifice). Here the phrase “most sweet spirit” is used to described Our Lady. The language of merit and intercession is strong. It is altogether a fitting prayer for the moment in the liturgy at which it is said: the bread and wine have been set aside, blessed and offered for sacrificial use, and now we are about to join the companions of the Cross that saves the world and rewards the blessed.

The Postcommunion is straight and to the point: the sacrifice is what saves us, when we join ourselves to it, as did Our Lady.

In the Novus Ordo, these prayers were radically changed:


O God, who willed that, when your Son was lifted high on the Cross, his Mother should stand close by and share his suffering, grant that your Church, participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, may merit a share in his Resurrection. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Receive, O merciful God, to the praise of your name the prayers and sacrificial offerings which we bring to you as we venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom you graciously gave to us as a most devoted Mother when she stood by the Cross of Jesus. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.


Having received the Sacrament of eternal redemption, we humbly ask, O Lord, that, honoring how the Blessed Virgin Mary suffered with her Son, we may complete in ourselves for the Church’s sake what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

As is often the case, the theological content per se is not the problem; no one could question their doctrinal orthodoxy. The problem is rather: What was lost? And why did they have to be changed? Does literally every prayer have to address the Father, and never the Son? This is the reason we have religion writers now claiming that Mass is only about worshiping the Father, not the Son (i.e., a sort of poor man’s Arianism). Did the lush Marian devotion embedded in the old prayers have to yield to a prosaic lecturing by means of Scripture verses? If the idea was to write a set of prayers that would offend no Protestant, check off the Paschal Mystery box, and express no intense feeling, then the goal was admirably met.

Most of all, one cannot help asking oneself: How can we tolerate the arrogance of liturgical reformers who believed they were capable of correcting and surpassing every century that preceded them? Who viewed the devotions of the Middle Ages as misguided at best, offensive at worst? Who saw themselves as positively obliged to revamp, nay, rewrite, the entire liturgy of the Roman Church? This is not a “most sweet spirit”; it is a most deadly one, which should be exorcised from the body.