This devotion appears to have originated with the Servites, an order of religious which came into being in the 1200's. The Seven Sorrows are usually depicted by a rendering of Mary with Seven swords sticking out of her heart. Quite gruesome for any day and age, but effective, I suppose, in communicating an image of suffering. The devotion has its own feast day- September 15- but can be prayed at anytime. At first glance, one might think this is strictly a Marian prayer because all the focus is on her sorrow. But in reality, and much like the Rosary, it is very Christ centered. I believe every true Marian devotion points us back to Christ. It can be prayed with or without beads & is typically known as a "chaplet".
The Seven Sorrows are thus:
1) Simeon's prophecy- Luke 2:34-35
2) The flight into Egypt- Matthew 2:13-15
3) Losing Jesus in the Temple- Luke 2:46, 48-49
4) The way of the cross- Luke 23:27-28, 31
5) Mary at the foot of the cross- John 19:25-27
6) Removal of Jesus from the cross- John 19:31-37
7) Burial of Jesus- Luke 23:52-56
There are many ways to pray it, but I found it useful to say the Sign of the Cross & an Our Father before each set of sorrows. A short meditation follows & the Hail Mary is said 7 times. The Glory Be leads us into the next set of sorrows. At the end, 3 final Hail Marys are prayed along with the Glory Be & the Sign of the Cross.
Technicalities aside, I wanted to share W.G. Storey's prayer for the second sorrow as an example of a meditation (from A Book of Marian Prayers- Loyola Press):
"Lady of Compassion, Mother of God,
by the second sword of sorrow that pierced your heart
when you & Joseph were forced to flee Egypt to save your son from cruel Herod's slaughter,
let me stand by your side, the close companion of your sorrow.
By the blood of the Holy Innocents & the tears of their despairing mothers,
look with compassion on the refugees who flee before the Herods of our time.
Lady of Mercy, Mother of the persecuted & exiled,
by your loving prayers may God pull tyrants from their thrones
& lift up the poor & lowly to praise His holy name, now & forever. Amen."
As we are invited to walk with Mary through these Seven Sorrows, we consider what it must have been like for her in those moments as a mother, as a human being, as a part God's plan of redemption. If we dig a little, we might even begin to find parallels in our own lives & discover that Mary can actually comfort us in our anxieties, losses & sorrow as well... While some believe that Mary is dead & gone, I'm of the mind that it whether she is truly alive in Heaven or if she's "asleep" somewhere, we can still gain insight & comfort from the life she lived here on earth.