What is the Sword That Pierced Mary’s Soul?

In Luke 2:35, Saint Simeon prophesied to Mary “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

What is this sword?

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The Greek word is ῥομφαία {rhomphaia} and it means sword or javelin. Here’s the full definition:

ῤομφαία, ῤομφαίας, ἡ, a large sword; properly, a long Thracian javelin (cf. Rich, Dict. of Antiq. under the word Rhompaea); also a kind of long sword usually worn on the right shoulder (Hesychius ῤομφαία. Θρακιον ἀμυντηριον, μάχαιρα, ξίφος ἤ ἀκόντιον μακρόν; (Suidas 3223 c. (cf. ῥεμβω to revolve, vibrate)); cf. Plutarch, Aemil. 18); (A. V. sword): Revelation 1:16; Revelation 2:12, 16; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 19:15, 21; σου δέ αὐτῆς τήν ψυχήν διελεύσεται ῤομφαία, a figure for ‘extreme anguish shall fill (pierce, as it were) thy soul’, Luke 2:35, where cf. Kuinoel. (Josephus, Antiquities 6, 12, 4; 7, 12, 1; in Ev. Nicod. 26 the archangel Michael, keeper of Paradise, is called ἡ φλογινη ῤομφαία. Very often in the Sept. for חֶרֶב; often also in the O. T. Apocrypha.)

Swords are violent weapons that are formed not to hunt animals, but to kill men. In the Jewish mind, the sword is a physical weapon but it is very frequently used as a metaphor for the tongue. The tongue sends out lethal words that strike men down. Even Christ in Revelation is depicted with a sword coming from his mouth to slay His enemies (listen to my podcast on Christ’s mouth-sword here: Revelation 19: Eucharist and Mouth Sword mp3).

Mary’s soul is slain in two ways:

  1. Sword as Tongue: The evil words spoken against Christ during His ministry and up to His death rip open the soul of Mary who perfectly knows that He is the innocent and immaculate Lamb of God who only loves mankind and seeks to save it. Every hostile word toward Christ, thrusts a sword through her soul.
  2. Sword as Piercing of Christ her Son: Ultimately, when her eyes see Christ’s pure flesh pierced with nails and His dead chest pierced with the lance, her own soul is pierced with love for Christ and for those whom He died for: every single human person.

Simeon says that this piercing of Mary is a “sign of contradiction.” I think this refers to Isaiah 7:14 where a sign is given a “a virgin shall bear a son.” This is a sign of “contradiction” because virgins are not mothers.

The manifest love of the Son for his Virgin Mother is at the cross when He proclaims, “Behold your mother.” Her love is also most manifest at the cross. And for each human person, our love should be most manifest at the foot of the cross.

and a sword will pierce through your own soul also,
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.

Notice how the piercing of Mary’s soul reveals the “thoughts of the many hearts.” It’s my personal conviction (not teaching of the Church) that the way a person speaks of the Blessed Virgin as a quiet mother and co-sufferer with Christ reveals their heart.

  • Show me someone who has a very gentle and respectful appreciation for Mary’s suffering, I’ll show you a very holy person “that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
  • Show me someone who denigrates Mary and says, “Yeah, but she ain’t special or anything,” and I’ll show you a bitter and lost person “that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”

Today, place your mind’s eye on Jesus pierced on the cross and ask for the gift to feel part of what His Mother felt as she looked upon Him making the perfect sacrifice for the entire human race.

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