The “Via Matris Dolorosae” is the “Via Sacra” of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a devotion approved by the Holy See, which expresses the mystery of the Virgin Mother’s participation through faith in the Passion and Death of Jesus, who she accompanied from the manger to the Cross.
According to the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy of 2002, from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, it is a pious exercise which harmonises well with the Lenten season (cfr. n.137).
The meditation on the seven sorrows of Our Lady help us to understand and love even more the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Mother of Sorrows”, explained by the Second Vatican Council as follows:
“She conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls” (Lumen Gentium, 61).
What exactly is the Via Matris?
The “Via Matris Dolorosae”, or simply “Via Matris”, a devotion widely disseminated by the Order of the Servants of Mary, consists in spiritually accompanying Our Lady during seven stations, corresponding to the seven sorrows which the Mother of the Saviour suffered during her life, in the fulfillment of her mission.
We follow Mary as she faithfully receives the prophecy of Simeon, in her flight to Egypt with Jesus and Joseph, the loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem, the meeting with her suffering Son on the way to Calvary, and also at the foot of the Cross; when she receives the Body of Jesus, and finally when she places Him in the sepulchre, awaiting the Resurrection.
Little is known of its origin. Some authors believe it emerged in the twelfth century, with the appearance of some parchments in different languages, on the sorrows and tears of Our Lady.
Nevertheless, it is known that in the long ago year of 1661, in Barcelona, Spain, the Servites instituted a procession on Palm Sunday, during which seven stations were carried, representing the seven sorrows of Our Lady. Before each station a Gospel passage was read or a meditation done.
This procession seems to have been the true starting point of the Via Matris as we know it today.
In the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII approved this pious exercise, which even became a specific expression of Marian piety for the Servite Order and of many devotees in general. As a result, the devotion spread rapidly throughout the world in the twentieth century.
The recitation of the Via Matris was established in many cities of Portugal, Spain and Italy, but also in Chicago, for example, where the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows was filled to capacity, necessitating the repetition of the prayers and meditations many times each day for several days in succession. Something similar took place at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pointe-Navarre in Quebec, where Fr. Jean-Marie Watier was the founder of the shrine and the main promoter of this devotion.