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Sorrowful mother



Question: Why does Mary have the title “Our Lady of Sorrows” if she is in heaven?

Anna Johnson, Fairfax, Virginia

Answer: The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on Sept. 15 commemorates Mary’s presence at the foot of the cross and her sorrow at the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The feast is one day following the Solemnity of the Exaltation on the Holy Cross on Sept. 14.

Our Lady of course experienced a deep sorrow on that dreadful Friday. And yet, the sequence hymn composed for that day says, “Stabat Mater dolorosa, juxta crucem, lacrimosa” (the Sorrowful Mother stood weeping near the cross).

That Mary “stood” is significant and is attested by John: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala” (Jn 19:25).

Thus, while Mary’s sorrow is real, her posture of standing indicates that she is not crushed. She is not collapsed and inwardly focused on her own grief. Her standing indicates faith and is an act of support for her son, Jesus. Thus, she models grief that is profound yet not utterly paralyzing or self-absorbing.

That Mary is currently joyful in heaven is certainly believed and celebrated. The title “Our Lady of Sorrows” points essentially to her historical sorrow.

However, Mary has surely, as seen through many apparitions, indicated a deep concern for our condition and spiritual welfare. There are even weeping statues that seem to convey this.

How her beatitude in heaven interacts with her concerns for us is mysterious. She is certainly not bereft of happiness, but her sorrow at the cross is somehow manifest to us in apparitions as she beholds both our earthly sufferings and our waywardness.

Receptivity of sacraments

Question: If one receives a sacrament in a state of mortal sin, is the sacrament validly received? Are there differences in this regard between the sacraments?

Name Withheld

Answer: The sacraments are validly received when one is in mortal sin. However, their fruitfulness and effectiveness is far less.

The Church has long insisted that the sacraments have a reality in themselves apart from our sense of attentiveness, holiness and the like, or the attentiveness and holiness of the minister.

For example, a person who is confirmed while in a state of mortal sin is actually confirmed. However, the full effect of the graces is locked until there is a conversion from sin, and confession is necessary to unlock those graces for him or her.

A priest ordained in mortal sin does actually receive the sacrament and can, in fact, validly celebrate the sacraments. But they are of no spiritual fruit for him unless and until he confesses. The habitual graces that assist him daily to live the Sacrament of Holy Orders would also be locked away until he is converted and confesses.

Clearly, to knowingly and intentionally receive a sacrament in a state of mortal sin is a sacrilege, and thus one incurs further sin by receiving them in this state.

The obvious exceptions to this are the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation, which are meant as a remedy for that very sort of thing. But the other sacraments are to be received in a state of grace; otherwise they bring condemnation rather than blessing, even while validly received.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at He is also the recent author of “Catholic and Curious: Your Questions Answered” (OSV, $18.95). Send questions to

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