Visit no. 4: Saint Mary of Sorrows

Visit no. 4: Saint Mary of Sorrows

We arrived with few expectations for our this next selection, as it was unclear to us on the map where was the new church in relation to the old, historical one, and what’s it all about, anyway? Turned out a wonderful surprise: gorgeous new church building, welcoming and enthusiastic community, and another great experience for us!

Visit date: Saturday, July 22, 2023

Mass: 9:15 am Saturday

Address: 5222 Sideburn Road Fairfax, VA 22032

Website: Saint Mary of Sorrows (

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, Lectionary: 603

On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”

Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
“Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her,
“Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he told her.


by Michael

Terry’s turn to choose the weekly Mary church, and what a choice!

Let’s get straight to it:

  • Our visit day is the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene:
    • and the church has a relic!
  • Terry has studied the Shroud of Turin, and we will visit it sometime soon:
    • and just to the right at the entrance is a replica, and, as we will discuss below, the Shroud is very special to Saint Mary of Sorrows church.
  • Terry feels very close to Saint Mary of Cleophas (more on that later):
    • and the church has a relic!
  • I love history:
    • and the original church survives and has amazing stories behind it.

Our visit became special as soon as we got out of the car. A lovely couple, Gerry (“with a G”) and Joyce, greeted us as they, too, walked up to the church. Noticing that I was taking photos, they asked if we’d been there before. We explained, and Gerry announced that we have much to learn about this church, and that he would show us a guide to all the wonderful elements and stories to the church, starting, he said, with the reason for the darkened entrance: so that we go from darkness to light as we enter the Nave. Very cool!

Gerry and Joyce are long time parishioners and deeply involved in the church. Gerry is a Eucharistic Minister (among roles, I imagine), and Joyce serves on the Liturgy Committee. Father Weston had served at the parish, and Gerry and Joyce know him well. When I asked about the Basilica of the National Shrine, Joyce mentioned that her cousin is an organist there — cool! Terry’s mother was a church organist for years in Montgomery County, so it was fun to hear about those experiences. I asked about the organ here, and they told us it is electronic and is programmed to mimic the sounds of famous organs around the world, such as that of Notre Dame in Paris.

Into the darkened entranceway (through the front doors at the back of the church 🙂– see prior posts on this), Terry noticed the Shroud of Turin print to the right. More on the Shroud in a bit.

We entered the nave, and Gerry and Joyce kindly posed for a photo with Terry. I loved the holy water founts, which are angels holding my baptismal water — those baptized as infants haven’t the vivid memories that I can invoke with each touch of the holy water, that of a John the Baptist-style full immersion in a Pennsylvania stream (see here for my story). While it was outside the Church, the Holy Spirit had guided my spiritual cleansing and rebirth (and Father Dansereau guided my catechesis). I think of it every time I make the cross with holy water, as here at Saint Mary of Sorrows. To the left and right corners by the entrance were these statues, one of the Christ Child, and the first of the new stained glass installations:

Gerry explained how the stained glass to line the nave are under production and are by the same artist who created them for the beautiful new Christ the King Chapel at Christendom College. He explained that the glasses will demonstrate Old Testament typology and its New Testament fulfillment, such as the first pair, which is to be of the unquenched, un-consuming fire of the burning bush from the Book of Exodus as typology of Mary’s eternal virginity. Next will be the typological pair of Eve and Mary. He then pointed down the long church to the glass above the altar, each one of the Seven Sorrows, with the Crucifixion and Death, of course, at the center. He kindly gave us a truly fantastic little pamphlet called “Saint Mary of sorrows Catholic Church: A Collection of Informal Catechesis,” which explains and teaches about the building, its meaning and the learning it presents. You can read it: here from More on the booklet later.

I took some photos around the church, while Terry prayed in preparation for mass. The church faces west, which means that the morning, eastern light shines from the back, and there, 9:05 am, July 22, the sun’s rays, broken by the squared-pattern of the large eastern-facing windows, fell upon the Mary statues to the left and right of the altar, shading and illuminating them, speckling and magnificent:

We settled in, sitting toward the back of the first section of pews to the right, and prepared for Mass. Two priests entered from behind the sanctuary with two altar boys who were dressed in long white robes, which looked great, very monk-like, actually. At the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, we’re used to white frocks over a black robe, so these caught my attention. Given the thought put into every aspect of the church, there must be a reason for it. Next time we go, I’ll ask!

The day’s Gospel reading is of the well-known and fun story of Saint Mary Magdalene thinking Jesus is the gardener, so I was curious where Father would go with it. He gave a straight-forward account, starting with why Mary is called “the Apostle to the Apostles.” Nevertheless, I really liked the homily for its directness and focus on teaching.

As Terry travels extensively, when she is away she quizzes me on the homilies, so I try to remember the main points by attaching each one to a finger, starting with my left pinky (a complex or full homily will go “ten fingers”). It’s an imperfect art, one that I tried out today in order to relate the day’s homily here. As I write this later in the afternoon, my finger count has fallen apart, but I was struck by two things that Father discussed:

  1. Just as Jesus called out, “Mary!”, he calls to us;
  2. Just as Mary ran to the Apostles to announce that she saw the Living Christ, we, too, must go forth and pronounce the Good News.

I really like those little reminders of our personal connections to the Liturgy, and, as with Typology, the larger connections are vast, ever surprising, and invigorating to ponder. Later, Terry discussed the representations in sin of the seven demons (seven!) that had possessed her, and marveled at the numbers and types of sins we face daily. My connection to Mary aligns with the association of her with penance, as I spent the first 59 years of my life in sin outside of the Church. It doesn’t take seven demons to live in sin (I can’t even imagine), but it does take the faith, love and dedication of a Mary of Magdala to live in Christ.

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Mass ended, and Father launched us into a “St. Michael the Archangel” prayer, firmly recited by the congregation. Terry went to look at the Mary and Joseph statues, while I went out back (through the font doors…) to see who I might meet. Neither of us had wandered far enough into the sanctuary wings in order to see the windows dedicated to “Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” We resolve to return for that experience and for the so many other thoughtful teaching elements built into the church.

Outside, I spoke with a kindly man, Michael, who also wore a Church badge. Commenting on the beautiful and large grounds, I asked him if there was a parish school, as well. He sighed and said he wishes there was, as, since there are two other parochial K-8 schools nearby, there’s only a pre-K program. We discussed the importance of a parish school. I mentioned that at St. Thomas More, only about 20% of the school families are members of the parish, so we, too, lack that connecting institutions. Indeed, as a parishioner, I neither feel or see a connection to our parish school. Michael also told me about the previous church building, which is now used for parish gatherings and events — seems to me as good or better than having a school! I love that St. Mary of Sorrows has its own sort of convention center distinct from the church. I hope one day to attend something there and see the community it fosters.

I wandered back inside to find Terry, who was just thrilled by the entire experience. Gerry was near the back of the nave speaking with two gentlemen who had sat in the pew behind us during mass. One of the men said that this was the first time he had been there, too. Turns out, he was with another St. Mary of Sorrows official, as he was preparing for a Knights of Columbus initiation that would take place there. They were all very friendly, and we chatted a bit. Terry, meanwhile, spoke with Gerry about the Shroud of Turin, which fascinates her. Gerry explained that during Lent (she thinks that’s what he said), the church brings out a life-sized cloth and uses it on the altar for the Eucharist. The reason is that the Shroud may well have been the table cloth at the actual Last Supper — the first Mass!

When considering the purposes of the Lord, as the St. Mary of Sorrows church itself invites, no typology or connection is improbably: Moses striking water from a rock, or Ezekial’s vision of water flowing from the temple as Jesus pierced on the Cross, or the Living Water; Isaac carrying the cross; crossing the Red Sea as baptism; or, as I only recently learned, the Road to Emmaus as the Mass (depicts all liturgical elements of the Mass). That Jesus may have been shrouded with a table cloth grabbed in haste from the Upper Room is hardly unlikely. And that it persists with the Lord’s image in the Shroud of Turin would be, frankly, the least amazing of acts, ideas, and commands of the Lord.

Outside, we gazed at the (back w/ the front doors) of the church, trying to pronounce, BEATA MARIA VIRGO PERDOLENS, and admiring the size of the building, for which I took a quick walk around the side to experience its outer breadth. We left feeling happy and satisfied, and looking forward to the second part of the day’s pilgrimage, to visit the original Church of Saint Mary in Fairfax Station, for which I’ll add a supplemental entry and photo gallery.

– Michael

Photo gallery


One response to “Visit no. 4: Saint Mary of Sorrows”

  1. Michael Avatar

    During this visit, we were told that another recent visitor was also on a Marian journey, although she did not have a car, getting around by hired car. When asked about the outer churches, she said that she would ask a friend to take her. Terry and I are glad to help out!

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