"He will crown you with a crown of tribulation"
Jesus is the King of all martyrs, as during His life He suffered more than all the martyrs. Mary indeed suffered the most cruel martyrdom after that of her Son. St. Alphonsus de Ligouri boldly states that Mary suffered more than all the martyrs put together.
Spiritual martyrdom is accepted to be "suffering sufficient to cause death, even though death may not result from it." Thus St. John the Evangelist is called a martyr even though being boiled in oil did not cause his death. He suffered greatly, although it states in the breviary that "he came out more vigorous than he went in." According to St. Thomas Aquinas: "To have the glory of martyrdom it is sufficient to exercize obedience in the highest degree, that is, to be obedient unto death."
Therefore, Mary was a martyr; "not by the sword of the executioner, but by the bitter sorrow of her heart." (St. Bernard) Although not injured in body, her heart was viciously pierced with grief at the suffering and death of her Son. St. Bernard goes much further with his teachings regarding Mary's martyrdom stating, "..it can be said that her whole life was a protracted death. The Passion of Jesus began with his birth."
This flows from the reality that Jesus suffered throughout his whole life. As He was with the Father in Heaven, perfectly happy, perfectly joyful - He emptied Himself, took on our flesh, our weakness. Think dear reader what a suffering this must have been! You are the Great I Am, Ruler and Creator of the Universe, all powerful, all knowing...then Zap! You're a weak, tiny, helpless human being. What a suffering! We cannot even begin to know what this was like. Most assuredly Jesus and Mary also knew great joys in thier earthly lives, but doubless these existed side by side with unfathomable sorrows.
The very meaning of the name Mary is "bitter", or "bitter sea." The words of Jeremiah have been applied to the martyrdom of Our Lady, "Great as the sea is your destruction" (Lam 2:13) The following verses from the Old Testament are likewise applied to Mary: "My life is spent with grief and my years with sighing (Ps 30:11), My grief is with me always (Ps 37:18). The Blessed Virgin Mary related to St. Bridget of Sweden that she knew even before the Incarnation that the Savior was to suffer for mankind. Also after the Ascension of Jesus that in everything she did, working, eating, praying...the memory of the Passion was "as deeply impressed on her mind as if it had just begun." Therefore it would appear she spent her whole life in continual sorrow.
This posting focuses primarily on the duration of Our Mother's suffering, next we shall consider its intensity.
O my Mother, by the grief you experienced in seeing your Son bow down his head and expire on the cross in the midst of so many torments, I beseech you to obtain for me a good death. Amen+
(Source: The Glories of Mary by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri. Ligouri Publications, Ligouri MO. 2000)