The devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows was inspired by Luke 2:35; “so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too”. Simeon was warning Mary of the anguish that will follow the undertaking of the ministry of her son, Jesus. The image of a warrior wielding a sword was common throughout Jewish history. Mary would be used to the famous Roman “short” swords. This was a formidable weapon, particularly in the hands of a trained Roman soldier. However, Luke is not referring to an of the roman short swords, as there were several types. Luke is referring to a weapon that was particularly fearsome. He uses the specific term, ?ομφα?α, rhomphaia, generally meaning a sword or, sometimes, referring to a piercing grief. Some have compared it to the more modern scimitar. Technically, the term referred to a long Thracian sword. Some historians have argued that it was a type of broad sword that cuts both ways. Some have likened it to the Thracian javelin, but the Rhomphaia did not leave the hand of the user. Most weapons experts state that the Rhomphaia was a close battle bladed weapon, used by the Thracians as early as 400 BC. It was feared weapon due its superior cutting power and, usually, worn on the right shoulder. This power prompted the Romans to add extra reinforcing bars to their helmets to protect against the anticipated strike to the head. Rhomphaias were weapons with a straight or slightly curved single-edged blade attached to a pole or handle, which in most cases was considerably shorter than the blade. Most archaeological evidence suggests that rhomphaias were forged with straight or slightly curved blades, presumably to enable their use as both a thrusting and slashing weapon. The blade was constructed of iron and used a triangular cross section to accommodate the single cutting edge with a tang of rectangular cross section. Length varied, but a typical rhomphaia would have a blade of approximately 60–80 cm and a tang of approximately 50 cm. From the length of the tang, it can be presumed that, when attached to the hilt, this portion of the weapon would be of similar length to the blade. Therefore, it seems clear that Luke knew the weapon of the Greco-Roman world. He places this fierce image on the lips of Simeon.
On the other hand, we may be reading words that were original to Simeon. Most historians place the final occupation of the Greek Empire with the Battle of Actium (31 BC). While we cannot determine with any certainty the age of Simeon, it seems clear from the text that he lived in the years before the birth of Jesus. Therefore, it is quite possible that as a boy or young man Simeon saw or encountered the rhomphaia. He knew the fearsome reputation of this weapon, even from memory, and used this image to emphasize the anguish for Mary that will come with the ministry of Jesus.
It is a powerful juxtaposition that Simeon invokes; the soul of the favored one of God with the fearsome image of the rhomphaia. The image of the sword piercing the “heart” of Mary evolved over the centuries. In the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages, the heart was a metaphor for the entire being. Also, tradition holds that he was a physician and the imagery of the heart being a center point of the spiritual and physical aspects of a human may have held more importance and interest for him than the other Gospel writers. The heart, in the Jewish and Greek perspectives, had a wide array of properties and characteristics attributed to it.
Additionally, the apparitions of Mary, particularly the Miraculous Medal, have added to the image of Mary’s Immaculate heart. The heart has been made synonymous with her soul. A sword cannot pierce a soul, it can pierce a heart. It is an image to which we all can relate. We should fully understand that Mary, Our Mother, understands the pain of our sorrows.