Meaning of Friday of Sorrows

What is Friday of Sorrows:

The Friday of Sorrows is an annual Catholic tradition that commemorates the sufferings of the Virgin Mary through the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows. It takes place within the framework of Friday of the Council, the last Friday of Lent, which announces the proximity of Holy Week.

The tradition was born in 1472 and is maintained in many communities as an expression of popular devotion. However, it ceased to be mandatory in 1969 to give primacy to the meaning of Council Friday, the name of the official liturgy of the day, which recalls the council (assembly) where it was decided to put Jesus to death.

Friday of pain

Virgin of Sorrows, Granada. Photography by José Manuel Ferro Ríos.

Together with the council mass, the main tradition of Friday of Sorrows is the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows. This dedication is also called La Dolorosa, Virgen de la Piedad, Virgen de la Amargura or Virgen de las Angustias. The procession is organized by brotherhoods and devotional brotherhoods that ensure the preservation of tradition and its values.

Other traditions of the day are the Altar of Sorrows and the Holy Week pardons. In countries like Spain, in fact, pardon is granted to certain criminals, since Jesus, also imprisoned and condemned, gave himself up for the forgiveness of sins. The pardons are requested by the brotherhoods and fraternities that preach in the prisons during the year. Civil authorities have the power to grant pardons or not.

When is Friday of Sorrows commemorated?

Friday of Sorrows is commemorated on the last Friday of Lent, that is, before Holy Week. It is part of the Friday of Council commemorations. As long as it depends on Holy Week, its date varies from year to year. The next dates of Friday of Sorrows are:

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Year Date
2022 april 08
2023 March 31st
2024 March 22
2025 April 11
2026 April 27
2027 March, 19
2028 april 07
2029 23 of March
2030 April 12th
2031 april 4

The date of Holy Week (and Friday of Sorrows) changes annually because it is calculated based on the spring equinox and the lunar calendar, just like the Jewish Passover.

Our Lady of Sorrows and its meaning

Friday of pain

Virgin of Sorrows. Note that the Virgin wears on her chest a heart with seven swords, which represent her seven sorrows. Photography by JL Maral.

The invocation of Our Lady of Sorrows represents the sufferings that Mary experienced during the life, passion and death of Jesus. The sorrows of the Mother in mourning also express the sufferings of every mother for her children.

Popularly, it is said that Mary’s sorrows were seven. This number in the Bible represents the complete, the finished, the finished.

The seven pains of the Virgin are:

  • first pain: in the presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem, Simeon prophesies the suffering of Mary with the phrase: «And you, woman, a sword will pierce your heart».
  • Second pain: Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt with the Child Jesus, because Herod had ordered him killed.
  • Third pain: Jesus is lost in the Jerusalem Temple for three days, at the age of 12.
  • fourth pain: Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary (in Calle de la Amargura).
  • Fifth pain: crucifixion of Jesus (Mary remains standing, next to the cross).
  • Sixth pain: descent from the cross (Mary receives the lifeless body of her son).
  • Seventh pain: burial of Jesus.
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Friday of pain

Two versions of Our Lady of Sorrows.

In the image of La Dolorosa, María usually appears dressed in a black dress as a sign of mourning. On other occasions, she is seen wearing a red dress and a blue cloak, or a purple suit.

On his chest he can wear a sword, recalling the words of the prophet Simeon. He can also carry a heart pierced by seven swords alluding to the seven pains.

The Altar of Dolores and the offerings

Friday of pain

Altar of Dolores in Actopan, Hidalgo, Mexico (2017). Ruber Yuka’s photo. Detail.

In some countries, like Mexico, it is customary to build an altar dedicated to the sorrows of the Virgin. This tradition comes from Europe, where it was promoted by the Order of the Servants of Mary from the 13th century.

The altar is installed on Dolores Friday and is dismantled after Good Friday. Its function is to accompany the faithful to contemplate Holy Week. The elements of the altar of sorrows are:

  • Image of La Dolorosa: It can be a painting or a sculpture. It represents a suffering or mourning Mary.
  • Sprouted wheat, barley, or alfalfa: They represent the body of Christ.
  • Flavored water: represents the tears of Mary and the persistence of her sweet heart in adversity.
  • Fruits (oranges or apples): The oranges are painted gold as a symbol of bitterness, and they are crossed by purple pennants, which represent the seven sorrows. The apples represent the original sin.
  • Lights: they symbolize the light and presence of Christ.
  • Aromatic herbs: chamomile and other fresh aromatic herbs are used to console the Virgin.
  • Seeds: symbol of agriculture, they are offered to ask for a good harvest.

Friday of Sorrows and Friday of Council

Friday of pain

1884 illustration of the Sanhedrin, a council of experts dealing with the affairs of the Jewish people.

Officially, the Friday of the Council remembers the assembly (also called council from Latin or sanhedrin Greek) in which the Jewish authorities agreed to put Jesus to death. Therefore, this day announces the proximity of Holy Week.

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In the year 1472, Pope Benedict XIII ordered that on that date the invocation of Our Lady of Sorrows, which did not appear in the liturgical calendar, should also be remembered. Since then this day began to be known as Friday of Sorrows.

In the year 1814, Pope Pius VII added September 15 as the Solemnity of Our Lady of Sorrows. However, he did not modify the tradition inaugurated by Benedict XIII, and the dedication began to be commemorated twice a year.

Seeing that the solemnity was duplicated, the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope Paul VI, suppressed the Friday of Sorrows in 1969. This helped to prioritize the meaning of the liturgy of the Friday of the Council, which highlights the role of Jesus.

In the year 2000, the Church published a third edition of the Roman Missal. In attention to the presence of tradition, Pope John Paul II had a mention of the Sorrows of the Virgin included in the liturgy of the Friday of the Council.

Some of the regions where the tradition of Friday of Sorrows is maintained are:

  • Andalusia, Asturias, Canary Islands, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Extremadura, the Basque Country and Murcia, in Spain.
  • Popayan, in Colombia.
  • Colon (Queretaro), in Mexico.
  • Nata de los Caballeros, in Panama.
  • Lima, Arequipa, Tarma and Huacho, in Peru.
  • Mafra, in Portugal.

In the regions (or countries) that fully embraced the Friday Council liturgy, the procession of La Dolorosa was not suppressed, but was moved to Holy Wednesday or Good Friday. For this reason, in these places the last Friday of Lent is better known by its official name: Friday of Council.

You can learn more about the topic at:

  • Lent
  • Holy Week
  • Holy Friday
  • Easter symbols