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Mary and the Liturgical Year

Updated: May 29, 2020

The following article is an excerpt from the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion.

-Asst. Ed.

Introduction: First Principles and Goals

Mary’s dignity as the Theotókos (“God-bearer” or “Mother of God” ) is the source of all her other privileges and titles. It is precisely her exalted role in the mystery of the Incarnation which accounts likewise for Mary’s unique, ongoing role in the history of salvation. Having cooperated with God’s grace from the very beginning of her life, and sharing intimately in Christ’s suffering and redemptive death, Mary now enjoys in heaven the fullness of all that the children of the Church can hope to enjoy in eternity. Indeed, in view of Mary’s relationship to the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity (1), she possesses a state of glory far exceeding the rest of the human race. Any Catholic treatment of Mary in reference to the liturgy of the Church must necessarily take into account Mary’s unique, complementary mediation in relation to her Son, Jesus Christ. Far from posing an obstacle to ecumenical dialogue, a clear articulation of Mary’s status in the Church and her role in the lives of individual Christians is indispensable for that movement towards unity in truth which Christ himself made the central petition of his priestly prayer (2).

This chapter explores the theological foundations of the Church’s liturgical cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her prominent place on the general Roman calendar. It first summarizes Mary’s role in the life of the Church, not only in her cooperation with the divine economy in the mystery of the Incarnation, but also in the ongoing history of salvation. It also considers Mary’s identity with the Church. The next section examines the relationship between liturgy and doctrine, clarifying the dependence of the Church’s public worship on her depositum fidei, or body of teaching. What the Church in her official prayer says about Mary and to Mary reflects her belief not only in Mary’s privileges and the nature of her mediation, but also in various other mysteries of the faith. Finally, the chapter presents feasts and observances of the Blessed Virgin Mary as they gradually appeared on the Roman calendar. The approach taken here is diachronic, beginning with the importation of Marian feasts from the East and continuing through to the third typical edition of the Roman Missal issued in 2002 by the authority of Pope John Paul II (3). As the liturgical and political influence of the Roman See spread throughout the West, a distinction eventually emerged between the local calendar of the Diocese of Rome and the general calendar of what became the Roman Rite. The chapter concludes with a consideration of Mary in the two dominant seasonal cycles of the Proper of Time, namely, Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, and Lent-Easter-Pentecost. The final Marian anthems customarily assigned to various liturgical periods set the tone of the particular season, and afford a lens through which to glimpse the Church’s understanding of Mary’s place in the rotation of liturgical seasons.

Mary in the Life of the Church

Mariologists mention three dimensions or “moments” of mediation: Mary’s own cooperation in the redemption of the human race, her distribution of the graces won by the redemption, and her complementary intercession on behalf of the Church (4). It is beyond the scope of this essay to rehearse in minute detail the threefold mode of Marian mediation which others have presented to full advantage elsewhere. This piece seeks rather to demonstrate how the Church’s authentic devotion to the Mother of God finds expression in the sacred liturgy. It therefore treats Mary’s place in the liturgical year, both in the temporal and sanctoral cycles. First, however, it briefly summarizes Mary’s collaboration in the redemption of the human race, in order the better to show how the Church regards Mary as model, intercessor, and image of the heavenly communion to which all Christians are called. Taking into account the development of the Church’s veneration of Mary over two millennia, this chapter examines Mary’s presence in the Mass and then on the calendar.

Mary and the Incarnation

In considering the figure and role of Mary in the sacred liturgy, it is necessary first to take into account the place which she occupies in the history of salvation. Various branches of theology which, since the Reformation, have come into more distinct relief, such as Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology, all reflect, and in turn contribute to, a profound understanding of Mary’s figure and role in the Church’s liturgy.

To begin with, Mary played a pivotal role in the mystery of the Incarnation. As mentioned earlier, all the privileges granted to Mary by God, and the titles which the Church uses in reference to Mary, are hers in view of her role in the Incarnation. It was Mary, after all, who gave to the immortal Word of the Father his human nature. This fact alone gives rise to several important implications for the sacraments, all of which are rooted in the Incarnation, but especially for the Eucharist. Since, in the Eucharist, bread and wine are converted substantially into Christ’s body and blood, soul, and divinity, the faithful who approach Holy Communion receive Christ himself, whole and entire, under the sacred species (5). The Church’s faith in the reality of Christ’s presence is neatly summed up in two brief phrases: the eucharistic salutation Ave verum corpus natum ex Maria Virgine! and the axiom caro Christi, caro Mariae.

The Bread of Life, then, to borrow a phrase from Pope John Paul II, exudes “the taste and aroma of the Virgin Mother” (6). Communion with the eucharistic Christ, consequently, entails also communion with Mary, “the Woman of the Eucharist” (7). In the reception of the Eucharist, the faithful participate in both sacramental and ecclesial communion with Mary. Indeed, as theologian James T. O’Connor points out, “No Eucharist is ever celebrated except in union with the Blessed ever-Virgin Mary and all the saints” (8).

Mary and the History of Salvation

Mary’s role in the history of salvation is by no means limited to the Incarnation. In the infancy narratives of Matthew (9) and Luke (10), Mary conceives and bears Christ without loss of her virginity. She likewise nurtures and cares for Jesus throughout his childhood, sharing his home until he embarks on his public ministry. Luke depicts Mary as a woman of prayer and contemplative reflection. After the visit of the shepherds to the newborn Christ in the crib, for example, “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (11). Again, after the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, “his mother kept all these things in her heart” (12). Pope Benedict XVI remarks on Our Lady’s prayerful penetration of these mysteries as they unfolded and as she later contemplated them:

Mary’s memory is first of all a retention of the events in remembrance, but it is more than that: It is an interior conversation with all that has happened. Thanks to this conversation, she penetrates into the interior dimension, she sees the events in their inter-connectedness, and she learns to understand them (13).

Mary’s prayerfulness emerges likewise in the Acts of the Apostles, where she is mentioned among the earliest members of the nascent Church, committed to prayer in the cenacle between the Ascension of the Lord and the descent of the Paraclete: “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (14).

Not only does Mary provide for the material needs of Christ in his infancy. She also presents him in the Temple to his heavenly Father in a ritual act of oblation. Luke records the prophetic words addressed to Mary on this occasion by the holy man Simeon:

Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel

(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also)

that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed (15).

In the Temple, Mary is associated liturgically with Christ’s oblation to the Father. At Calvary, Christ will associate Mary with his offering on the Cross. The infancy narratives anticipate various dimensions of the Paschal Mystery. The three days which Christ spent in the Temple in Luke 3:41, for example, parallel the three days he would spend in the tomb after his Passion and death. Similarly, Mary’s offering of the Infant Jesus to God in the Temple, as recounted in Luke 2:22-38, foreshadows ritually the offering she later would make as she stood at the foot of the Cross in John 19:25-27.

In the Fourth Gospel, Mary interacts with Christ at key moments of his messianic mission. At the inauguration of his public life, on the occasion of the marriage feast at Cana in John 2:1-12, Mary, the New Eve, tells Christ, the New Adam, that the wine for the wedding has failed. She thereby prompts Jesus to give the first of his “signs” of the new messianic age. Inaugurating a new creation in grace, Christ changes the six jars of water, symbol of the days of creation (nature), into wine (grace). Far from playing a peripheral role, Mary at Cana stands as the image of the Church, the new People of God, the Bride of Christ who himself is both Lamb and High Priest of the New Covenant. Mary pleads with Christ for those gathered at the wedding, observing that “They have no wine” (16). The result is a new wine surpassing in excellence the former supply that had failed.

Mary’s presence at the inauguration of the New Covenant is far from passive. As St. Irenaeus of Lyons (+202) points out, “the Virgin Mary untied the knot of sin bound up by the virgin Eve” (17). Just as the first woman, Eve, tempted the first man, Adam, to disobey the Lord and grasp at equality with God (18), so the second Eve and new Woman, Mary, urges the second Adam, Christ the new Man, to provide the new wine of divine grace upon a situation in need of divine mercy. Without in any way detracting from Christ’s role as the Messiah and Mediator of the New Covenant, Mary is closely associated with his mission. Mary’s message to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (19), are the last words of Mary recorded in Scripture. They complement and advance his authoritative role as the Messiah.

Just as she was present and active at the inauguration of Christ’s mission as Messiah, so Mary participated in the climax of Christ’s redemptive suffering and death on the Cross. Mary accompanied Christ to Calvary, where she shared his sufferings. John records that, as Christ was hanging in crucifixion, Mary stood at the foot of the Cross. Mary’s position, which she shared with the wife of Clopas, the Magdalene, and the beloved disciple, again reflects her solidarity with Jesus and his redemptive mission. This solidarity stands in glaring contrast to the behavior of those followers who had denied or disowned Jesus, and who had abandoned him to his Passion and death. On Calvary, Mary shares in the sufferings of her Son. She stands in union with his self-offering to the Father.

From the Cross, Christ entrusts the beloved disciple to the maternal care of Mary:

“Woman, behold, your son!” and in turn entrusts his Mother to the beloved disciple: “Behold, your mother!” In the act of entrusting the beloved disciple to Mary, Christ gives her to every faithful and beloved disciple. Hence the Church’s recognition of Mary’s maternal relationship to Christ’s faithful followers.

As one of the Twelve, John represents not only the disciples of Christ in general, but also in particular those entrusted with the task of coordinating and celebrating the Paschal Mystery in the sacred liturgy. In the Directory on the Life and Ministry of Priests, The Congregation for the Clergy draws out for each priest the implications of his identity with John and his rapport with the Blessed Virgin:

Like John at the foot of the Cross, every priest has been entrusted, in a special way, with Mary as Mother (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

Priests, who are among the favored disciples of Jesus, crucified and risen, should welcome Mary as their own Mother in their own life, bestowing her with constant attention and prayer. The Blessed Virgin then becomes the Mother who leads them to Christ, who makes them sincerely love the Church, who intercedes for them and who guides them toward the Kingdom of heaven.

Every priest knows that Mary, as Mother, is the most distinguished modeler of his priesthood, since it is she who moulds the priestly soul, protects it from dangers, from routine and discouragement, and maternally safeguards it, so he may grow in wisdom, age and grace, before God and men (cf. Lk 2:40) (20).

In the celebration of the sacred liturgy, the work of our salvation continues to be accomplished (21). Mary therefore exercises her role as Mother of Christ’s beloved disciples even within the liturgy, as the Church invokes her aid and aspires to join Mary in the glory of heaven singing the everlasting praises of God.


Mary and the Church

Among the earliest Christian insights into the figure of Mary is her identity with the People of God. More recently, Jesuit theologian and Scripture scholar Ignace de la Potterie has demonstrated in remarkably clear detail how Mary stands both as a figure of Israel or Sion, and as the archetype of the Church (22). Mary bridges the Old and the New Covenants (23). Her canticle of praise, known in the West by its Latin incipit Magnificat and chanted every evening at Vespers, resonates the exaltation of Israel/the Church by divine grace. Likewise, the Woman of Revelation 12, although understood originally as a personification of Ecclesia or the Church, came to be identified with Mary. Consequently, the figure of this Woman would be incorporated into readings and antiphons for various Marian feasts and occasions.

As a sign of the Church, persecuted yet innocent, driven into exile yet protected and raised on high by God, Mary enjoys a singular position among the daughters of Eve. Her earthly life, marked not only by the joy springing from her intimacy with Christ, but also by her share in the sorrow and pain of his Passion and death, now has given way to the glory of heavenly queenship. This queenship does not suggest, even remotely, any parity with God, but depends utterly on the divine pleasure and indeed proclaims in eternity the supreme majesty of the Godhead. Both as model and Mother of the Church, Mary offers her Son and herself to the eternal Father. Inasmuch as Mary personifies the Church at prayer, she necessarily participates in the heavenly liturgy of which the earthly parallel constitutes but a pale reflection (24).

This identification of the Church with Mary, like Mary’s role in salvation history, sets before the priest an image to inspire him in the faithful celebration of the sacred mysteries, so that all who participate may grow in holiness and enjoy even on earth some foretaste of heavenly glory:

Masterpiece of the priestly Sacrifice of Christ, the Blessed Virgin represents the Church in the purest way, “with neither stain nor blemish,” completely “holy and immaculate” (Eph 5:27). This contemplation of the Blessed Virgin places before the priest the ideal to which the ministry in his community should lead, so that this be a “wholly glorious Church” (ibid.) through the priestly gift of his very life (25).

The Relationship between Liturgy and Doctrine

At this point, let us consider briefly the nature of liturgy, so that we may more fully grasp Mary’s place within this “source and summit” (26) of the Church’s life and mission. In the prayers, readings, and chants of sacred liturgy, the Church expresses her belief in Mary’s privileges and prerogatives, as well as her response to the gifts of grace. Mary’s divine maternity, her freedom from all stain of sin, her perpetual virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ, her complete union with God’s will, her participation in the sufferings of her Son, and her mediation on behalf of the human race all find expression in the Church’s official prayer. The liturgy not only reflects and affirms faith in these mysteries; it integrates them into the annual, weekly, and even daily rounds of the Church’s worship.

The Nature of the Sacred Liturgy: the Prayer of Christ and of the Church

The sacred liturgy is the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ the High Priest and sole Mediator of the New Covenant (27). This priestly office is carried out by the whole Christ, that is, by the entire Mystical Body of Christ, Head and members together:

The priestly life begun with the supplication and sacrifice of his mortal Body should continue without intermission down the ages in his Mystical Body which is the Church. … In obedience, therefore, to her Founder’s behest, the Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ, mainly by means of the sacred liturgy (28).

This definition of the sacred liturgy resonates in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium in fact echoes the very words of Pius XII:

The liturgy, then, is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. It involves the presentation of man’s sanctification under the guise of signs perceptible by the senses and its accomplishment in ways appropriate to each of these signs. In it full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members (29).

Jesus Christ wills that his Church participate intimately in the exercise of his high-priestly office. According to Sacrosanctum Concilium, “Christ, indeed, always associates the Church with himself in this great work in which God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is his beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through him offers worship to the eternal Father” (30). When the Church prays, therefore, it is Christ praying in unison with his Body and Bride the Church. “From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree” (31).

It is Christ who associates with himself all the members of his Mystical Body, his

pilgrim people, his Church in this privileged public prayer, which constitutes “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows” (32). Foremost among the members of Christ’s Mystical Body ranks the Blessed Virgin Mary. At each stage of his saving mission, Christ associated Mary with himself and with the work of redemption. Without in any way diminishing Christ’s role as Redeemer, Mary played, and continues to play, a unique role in the economy of salvation. Hence her place is of high honor in the Church’s liturgical prayer.

The Role of Liturgy in the Development of Doctrine

At this point it is useful to recall the connection between the Church’s deposit of faith and her liturgical worship. In the first papal encyclical on the sacred liturgy, Mediator Dei, Pius XII clarified this relationship by correcting a popular misreading of Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390-post 455). Prosper’s dictum Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief) (33) had been exposed to potential misinterpretation by the more pithy axiom lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of prayer, the rule of belief), which in some circles had been taken to suggest that the prayer of the Church determines the Church’s faith. Pius XII confronts this fallacy in unambiguous terms:

We refer to the error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the sacred liturgy is a kind of proving-ground for the truths to be held of faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and sanctity through the sacred rites of liturgy, and to reject it otherwise. Hence the epigram: “Lex orandi, lex credendi“—the law for prayer is the law for faith.

But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins. … The entire liturgy … has the Catholic faith for its content, inasmuch as it bears witness to the faith of the Church. …

Hence the well-known and venerable maxim: “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi“—let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief. The sacred liturgy, consequently, does not decide or determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic faith. More properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the Supreme Teaching Authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine. But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute terms, it is perfectly correct to say: “Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi”—let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer (34).

Liturgical celebration, then, must cohere with, and bear authentic witness to, the Church’s faith.

It is true, nonetheless, that the sacred liturgy has exercised considerable influence on the clarification of points of doctrine. This is particularly evident in the case of the Church’s teachings about Mary. The feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the Assumption, for example, were celebrated in the liturgy long before they were solemnly defined and decreed, respectively, in 1854 and 1950. Both Pius IX, in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus (December 8, 1854), and Pius XII, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus(November 1, 1950), appealed to the liturgical tradition in framing their declarations (35). Because the sacred liturgy in this way stands as a privileged witness to the depositum fidei, it serves as a reliable touchstone of orthodoxy.

Pope Pius XI, in establishing the feast of Christ the King by means of the Encyclical Quas primas(December 11, 1925), stressed the power of the liturgy to impress upon the awareness of the faithful the truths of faith and to elicit from Christians signs of intense devotion to the divine mysteries:

The Church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life (36).

The Pope then makes specific reference to the role played by the feasts of the saints and especially of the Mother of God in the building up of the Church:

History in fact tells us that in the course of ages these festivals have been instituted one after another according as the needs or the advantage of the people of Christ seemed to demand: as when they needed strength to face a common danger, when they were attacked by insidious heresies, when they needed to be urged to the pious consideration of some mystery of faith or of some divine blessing. Thus in the earliest days of the Christian era, when the people of Christ were suffering cruel persecution, the cult of the martyrs was begun in order, says St. Augustine, “that the feasts of the martyrs might incite men to martyrdom.” The liturgical honors paid to confessors, virgins and widows produced wonderful results in an increased zest for virtue, necessary even in times of peace. But more fruitful still were the feasts instituted in honor of the Blessed Virgin. As a result of these men grew not only in their devotion to the Mother of God as an ever-present advocate, but also in their love of her as a mother bequeathed to them by their Redeemer. Not least among the blessings which have resulted from the public and legitimate honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the saints is the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy. We may well admire in this the admirable wisdom of the Providence of God, who, ever bringing good out of evil, has from time to time suffered the faith and piety of men to grow weak, and allowed Catholic truth to be attacked by false doctrines, but always with the result that truth has afterwards shone out with greater splendor, and that men’s faith, aroused from its lethargy, has shown itself more vigorous than before (37).

The Marian solemnities, feasts, and memorials examined below demonstrate the profound relationship between the rule of faith and the Church’s liturgical prayer. They reflect the Church’s recognition of both Scripture and Tradition as the twofold channels of Divine Revelation (38). Since we have examined earlier the figure of Mary in the New Testament, we now turn to that figure as it emerged in the Church’s Tradition.

a. Mary in Tradition

Details of the conception and birth of Mary, of her girlhood and espousal to St. Joseph, and of her final years all appear in non-canonical sources that seek to satisfy the curiosity of believers and to heighten regard for the Blessed Virgin. Foremost among these sources, the Protoevangelium of James, compiled in the middle of the second century of the Christian era, has left its mark on the portrayal of Mary in art and iconography, as well as the celebration of certain feasts, such as the Presentation of Mary in the Temple (November 21), Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of Our Lady (July 26), and the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph (formerly January 23) (39). Over the course of the centuries, ongoing theological consideration of Mary’s privileges and prerogatives has led to the observance of these honors in the sacred liturgy. This tradition of liturgical observance in turn has played a role in formalizing the Church’s teaching about Mary’s Immaculate Conception in the womb of her mother, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the virginal birth of Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Assumption of Mary, her queenship in heaven, and her continuing mediation with Christ on behalf of the Church (40).

Never has the Church claimed Mary’s motherhood of the Church or her mediation to be exercised independently of her Son. On the contrary, the Second Vatican Council, in fidelity to the Church’s constant tradition, insisted that Mary’s maternal mediation rests entirely upon the disposition of the divine economy, or plan of salvation:

In the words of the apostle there is but one mediator: “for there is but one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as redemption for all” (1 Tim 2:5-6). But Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men originates not in any inner necessity but in the disposition of God. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it, It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ but on the contrary fosters it (41).

Over the past two millennia, interest in and devotion to the Mother of God have waxed and waned. A brief mention of the high points of Marian devotion is worthwhile. By confirming the orthodoxy of the title Theotókos, a title, it should be noted, that was used in prayer formulae at least since the early third century, the Council of Ephesus (431) gave rise to an increased awareness of the importance of Mary in the Church’s life and liturgy. In Rome, Pope Sixtus III (reigned 432-440) reconstructed the older Liberian basilica on the Esquiline Hill, and dedicated it to Mary under the title Mother of God. After the iconoclast controversy (730-843) and the vindication of the veneration of sacred images, the Mother of God again rose to prominence in Christian art and devotion. Under the influence of such zealous pastors and teachers as St. Anselm (+1109) and St. Bernard of Clairvaux (+1153), no less than through the charismatic efforts of St. Dominic (+1221) and St. Francis of Assisi (+1226), Marian piety flourished throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, resulting in what has been called the “age of Mary.” At that time, numerous churches throughout Western Christendom were dedicated under the title of Our Lady. Religious orders, often placed under the principal patronage of Mary, vied with one another in promoting their various devotions to the Mother of God (the Rosary, scapular, Stations of the Cross, little office of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

The exuberance of the Catholic reform inspired by the Council of Trent brought Marian devotion to the ends of the known world, planting it firmly in mission lands. The preservation of the Christian religion despite divisions between Catholicism and Protestantism on the one hand and the constant threat of invasion by Turkish forces on the other, exercised a dominant claim of the attention of the popes in the emerging modern era. Various Marian feasts appeared on the calendar in thanksgiving for deliverance from imminent disaster.

The period between 1850 and 1954 witnessed another “age of Mary.” The papal definition and promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 reinforced the identity of the glorious Virgin with the Church, even under siege from the hostile forces of the “Enlightenment.” Marian devotion became a vivid hallmark of Catholic piety and culture in the nineteenth century and throughout the first half of the twentieth.

Just under a century after the declaration of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius XII confirmed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, leaving unresolved, however, the debate whether Mary actually died or was spared this consequence of sin by virtue of the redemption won by Christ and in view of Mary’s providential role in the history of salvation (42). Marian apparitions reported in Paris (1830), Lourdes (1858), and Fatima (1917) won ecclesiastical recognition, and each in due course was accorded a commemoration on the liturgical calendar.

After the definition and declaration of Our Lady’s Assumption in 1950, some expectation was raised that the Holy See would solemnize the Marian titles of Mediatrix of all Graces, Advocate, and Helper. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), however, did not dedicate a separate document to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Instead, the Council Fathers chose to treat Mary within its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, dedicating the eighth chapter entirely to her. Lumen Gentium specifically acknowledges Mary’s mediation:

By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything from nor adds anything to the dignity of Christ and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator. …

The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary, which it constantly experiences and recommends to the heartfelt attention of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more closely adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer (43).

The Council reoriented Marian scholarship and piety, encouraging new research into and contemplation of the Blessed Virgin as she figures in Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, and early medieval theology. Nevertheless, the years immediately following Vatican II witnessed a decline in Mariological studies and Marian piety. Pope Paul VI (reigned 1963-1978) sought to revive devotion to Mary, particularly by the encyclical on the month of May, Mense Maio (April 30, 1965) (44), and by the apostolic exhortation for the right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Marialis cultus (February 2, 1974) (45), but with limited success (46).

During a well-known interview given in as the newly appointed prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger acknowledged the decline in interest in Mary:

By inserting the mystery of Mary into the mystery of the Church, Vatican II made an important decision which should have given a new impetus to theological research. Instead, in the early post-conciliar period, there has been a sudden decline in this respect—almost a collapse, even though there are now signs of a new vitality (47).

The pontificate of John Paul II (1978-2005), on the other hand, did much to reawaken popular devotion to Mary and to restore the figure of Mary in theological studies and higher scholarship. By fostering interest in the treasury of patristic and medieval texts, by presenting fresh theological insights, and by vigorously promoting of devotions like the Rosary and the scapular, John Paul II imbued Marian theology and piety with a new élan (48).

Historian Eamon Duffy attributes the recovery of Mary’s identity with the Church as one of the finest instincts of Vatican II:

Where post-medieval Mariology often emphasized Mary’s difference from every other Christian, her purity contrasting with our filth, her powerful intercession contrasting with our helplessness, the Council, following the mainstream of patristic and early medieval exegisis, emphasized her role as type and model for the Church, and each of its members. Thus her excellences and privileges, like her Assumption into heaven, were not alienating measures of her distance from us, but pledges of the dignity which awaits us all, and which, in grace, is already taking shape within us (49).

Duffy contrasts the way in which the Fourth Gospel casts Mary in such sharp relief that she emerges, at Cana and at Calvary, in utter distinction from all others around her, with Luke’s treatment of Our Lady as one with whom the ordinary Christian can more readily identify:

The Mary of Luke is less easy to misunderstand, and Catholic exegesis had constantly seen her ‘fiat’at the Annunciation, for all its momentous uniqueness, as the model of every believer’s response to the call of God. In this perspective Mary is still a light to guide, but her light is a measure not of our darkness, but of the glory promised to all the saints (50).

b. Mary and the Church at Prayer

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium echoes the ancient Christian insight that the Blessed Virgin Mary is identified in a unique and mysterious way with the Church:

By reason of the gift and role of her divine motherhood, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with her unique graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united to the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ (Expositio in Lucam, 2.7, PL 15, 1555). For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called Mother and Virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of Virgin and Mother. Through her faith and obedience she gave birth on earth to the very Son of the Father, not through the knowledge of man but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, in the manner of a New Eve who placed her faith, not in the serpent of old but in God’s messenger without wavering in doubt. The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29), that is, the faithful, in whose generation and formation she cooperates with a mother’s love (51).

Citing the Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine of Hippo (+430), the eighth chapter of Lumen Gentium explicitly recognizes Mary’s motherhood of the Church:

… being of the race of Adam, she is at the same time also united to all those who are to be saved; indeed, “she is clearly the mother of the members of Christ … since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head” [St. Augustine, De s. virginitate, 6, PL 40:399]. Wherefore she is hailed as preeminent and as a wholly unique member of the Church, and as its type and outstanding model in faith and charity. … The Catholic Church taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and devotion as a most beloved Mother (52).

The sacred liturgy itself reflects Mary’s motherhood of the Mystical Body. A collect suggested for the votive Mass of the Most Holy Name of Mary, for example, refers directly to Christ’s will that his Mother exercise the same role for his Church:

Deus, cuius Filius in ara crucis exspirans beatissimam Virginem Mariam Matrem voluit esse nostram, quam suam elegerat, concede propitius, ut, qui sub eius praesidium secure confugimus, materno invocato nomine confortemur. Per Dominum (53)

O God, whose Son, as he was dying on the altar of the Cross, willed that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he had chosen as his own Mother, be also our Mother, graciously grant that we who take refuge with confidence under her protection may be comforted by having invoked her by the name of Mother.

In terms of the kind of cult which the Church accords Mary, Vatican II reaffirmed the immemorial distinction between the adoration offered to God alone (latria) and the veneration owed to the saints (dulia). As a creature, Mary is not entitled to latria; yet in view of her divine maternity and that unstained holiness, which alone of all humans is hers, Mary is paid a kind of super-veneration (hyperdulia) (54). Cautioning against false exaggerations in the presentation of Our Lady, the Council nevertheless encouraged the age-old tradition of venerating Mary above the angels and saints:

The sacred synod … admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and that the practices and exercises of devotion towards her, recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course of centuries be highly esteemed, and that those decrees, which were given in the early days regarding the cult images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints, be religiously observed. … Let the faithful remember moreover that true devotion consists neither in sterile nor transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love towards our Mother and to the imitation of her virtues (55).

Finally, alluding to the rich liturgical and devotional cult of Mary in East, Lumen Gentium summarizes the whole Church’s attitude of filial reverence for the Mother of God:

The entire body of the faithful pours forth urgent supplications to the Mother of God and of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity (56).

Upon the approval and promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Paul VI officially accorded Mary the title Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesiae) (57).

Mary and the Liturgy

This section explores how Mary figures in the liturgy of the Roman Rite. The calendar, developed organically over the centuries under a wide variety of influences, indicates the many ways in which the Blessed Virgin accompanies the faithful through the liturgical year. The ordinary of the Mass mentions Mary in key places: at the beginning of Mass when the Confiteor asks Mary and the saints to pray for those who have confessed their unworthiness and who prepare to enter the Liturgy of the Word; during the Creed, which serves as the response of the faithful to the Word of God just proclaimed in the readings and elaborated in the homily; and, most dramatically, in the Eucharistic Prayer, where the celebrant calls upon the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary as he offers the most august sacrifice of the Lord’s body and blood.

Of all the eucharistic prayers currently available in the Roman Rite, none approaches the Roman Canon in its reverential treatment of Mary. Here Mary appears in counterpoint with St. John the Baptist. Each heads a list of saints: Mary before the Narrative of Institution, John after the conversion of the elements into the Lord’s body and blood. As in the well-known icons of the Deesis (Christ in Majesty), the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist flank the eucharistic Lord. Reading through the Roman Canon, the celebrant gives utterance to a verbal icon, as it were. In the Communicantes, Mary leads a throng of twenty-four saints, plus St. Joseph (58). The list comprises mainly saints who exercised some hierarchical rank in the Church: twelve apostles (including Paul), six bishops (five of whom were bishops of Rome), a deacon, and five laymen associated with generous donations to the Church. In the Nobis quoque, the Baptist, for his part, leads a throng of fourteen saints predominantly associated with the Holy Spirit (Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas) and prophetic witness (especially the virgin martyrs). The Roman Canon, though, sets the Blessed Virgin apart from all the other saints by introducing her name with the phrase in primis. This indicates priority not simply in sequential order, but in actual rank, for “the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Lord Jesus Christ” (59) enjoys a status unrivalled by the angels and saints. This clear example of hyperdulia made its way into the Roman Canon sometime in the fifth century, likely in response to the controversy resolved at Ephesus in 431 (60).

The proper, common, and votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary all focus on distinct privileges, specific virtues, or dimensions of Our Lady’s intercession reflected in the many titles conferred on her by the Church (61). This is particularly true of the generous selection of Marian Mass formularies provided by the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary and its accompanying lectionary issued in 1987 by the Congregation for Divine Worship at the behest of John Paul II (62). The final blessings before the dismissal include one to be used on Marian occasions (63). Even the prayers before and after Mass include separate prayers addressed to Our Lady (64).

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs the performance of gestures and signs to reflect the hyperdulia offered to Mary by the People of God (65). The readings of the lectionary reveal to the faithful the image of Mary in the types or foreshadowings of the old covenant and Mary’s fulfillment of them as their antitype in the new. The Church joins Mary in proclaiming the greatness of the Lord in psalms and canticles, and in the Gospel follows with close attention Mary’s participation in the life and mission of her Son, Jesus Christ. The faithful invoke Mary’s intercession during the celebration of the sacraments and such ritual Masses as religious profession and Christian funerals. Finally, in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church daily echoes Mary’s own canticle of praise, the Magnificat, and salutes her in a final anthem before retiring from the day’s activities.

Mary and the Liturgical Year

Over the course of the liturgical year, from the first Sunday of Advent to the solemnity of Christ the King, the Church celebrates the mysteries of Jesus Christ. The liturgical year follows the rotation of two cycles: the proper of time, or the temporal cycle, and the proper of the saints, known as the sanctoral cycle. Mary figures conspicuously in both cycles. In the temporal cycle, the liturgy presents the life and mission of Christ: his coming in the Incarnation, his Passion, death, and Resurrection, his Ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and, finally, the anticipation of his second coming as Judge and King of all nations. The liturgy invites the Church to consider Mary’s involvement in each of these mysteries celebrated during the temporal cycle. In the sanctoral cycle, the liturgy presents the Paschal Mystery of Christ as lived out in the lives and deaths of the saints.

As mentioned earlier, Mary surpasses in holiness all the saints, hence she is rightly invoked as Queen of All Saints. The solemnities, feasts, and commemorations of Mary on the calendar constantly remind us of Mary’s faithful imitation of her Son and her union with him now in heaven, where she prays to him for the Church and for all humanity. For the sake of convenience, this section employs the generic term “feast” to refer to any public observance of a Mass or office dedicated in honor of Our Lady.

This avoids the technical distinctions used in specifying the rank or grade of a given observance in the hierarchy of feasts. Only occasionally shall reference be made to a particular grade of feast, and this occurs only in treating the elevation or demotion of a given feast.


The earliest commemoration of Mary in the liturgy occurred in connection with celebration of such mysteries of the Lord mentioned in Scripture as Christmas (late fourth century), Epiphany, and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Mary’s intimate participation in these mysteries assured her a prominent place in their liturgical commemorations. No separate feast dedicated exclusively to Our Lady emerged until the fifth century, after the Council of Ephesus (431). Nevertheless, devotion to the Mother of God had found expression as early as the second and third centuries. At least a century before the establishment of the feast of Christmas in the 380s, there circulated in Alexandria a Greek prayer now familiar to Westerners in its Latin version:

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genetrix; nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus; sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O ever-Virgin glorious and blessed (66).

Three important features of this brief invocation bear comment. The prayer addresses Mary by the title Mother of God (Theotókos) more than a century before this title will have been confirmed by the Council of Ephesus (67). It likewise acknowledges Mary’s perpetual virginity. Finally, it invokes Mary to deliver us from all dangers. The verb reflects great confidence in Our Lady’s power, since Christians use the same imperative, “deliver,” in addressing God the Father in the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer continues to be used in the Greek Orthodox office or Book of Hours and, since the revision of the Roman-Rite Liturgy of the Hours in the 1970s, may serve as one of the Marian antiphons concluding the daily office of either Vespers or Compline.

Feasts and Seasons (68)

Marian Feasts: Eastern Roots

The liturgical cult of Mary began in Jerusalem, where August 15 marked the particular feast day of the Theotókos. According to a legend in circulation as early as the mid-second century, the Blessed Virgin en route to Bethlehem, where she would be delivered of the infant Christ, had paused for a rest. In the early fifth century, a woman named Ikelia built an oratory to identify this resting place. This chapel saw the first liturgical celebration of the Mother of God. The name of the feast, Kathisma, means the sitting- or resting-place. Around 450, the venue of the celebration shifted to Jerusalem, specifically Gethsemane, a spot then supposed to be Mary’s final resting place on earth. Here, in a basilica which enshrined her reputed tomb, the feast became known as the Anapausis (“falling asleep”) or Dormition of the Mother of God. At the end of the sixth century, Emperor Maurice (reigned 582-602) extended this feast throughout the empire (69). By the seventh century, it had reached Rome, where it was known first as the Dormition or Pausatio. In the eighth century, the Sacramentary of Pope Hadrian referred to it as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Adsumptio sanctae Mariae) (70). The earliest Jerusalem feast of Our Lady, then, comprised elements of Mary’s motherhood and her dormition, with a resting-place as the common denominator.

At the beginning of the sixth century, a church north of the ruined Temple of Jerusalem became associated with Mary’s nativity. This is likely the source of the feast of her birth observed on September 8.

A third church dedicated to Mary arose in the middle of the sixth century. Built on what had once been the Temple square, the Nea or New St. Mary’s afforded the faithful the opportunity to commemorate the presentation of the child Mary in the Temple mentioned in the fourth chapter of the Protoevangelium of James. The anniversary of its dedication on November 21, 543, gave rise to the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin in the Temple.

The Marian feasts established in Jerusalem spread throughout the East. In connection with Christmas, a separate commemoration of Mary’s divine motherhood served to pay due reverence to the Mother shortly after the birth of the Son. In East Syria, such a feast, called the Congratulation of the Mother of God, fell on the day after Christmas (December 26). Again in direct, even literal, reference to the birth of Christ, two further feasts emerged. The Annunciation, on March 25 (nine months before Christmas), commemorated the message of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary and Our Lady’s consent to become the Mother of the Word incarnate. On February 2, forty days after the Lord’s nativity, the liturgy marked his presentation in the Temple. The feast originally was called Hypapante or the “Meeting” between Christ and Simeon (71).

Mary and the Roman Calendar

a. Natale s. Mariae: January 1

The first Marian feast of the Roman liturgy, observed on January 1, first came in the seventh century (72). Originally called Natale S. Mariae (73), it served as the Roman counterpart of the Eastern feasts extending congratulations to the Blessed Virgin on the occasion of Christ’s birth. Owing, however, to the feast’s occurrence on the octave day of Christmas, the Marian character of that day eventually gave way to a focus rather on the circumcision of the Lord. As the feasts of the Annunciation (March 25) and the Hypapante(February 2) gradually made their way onto the Roman calendar by the seventh century, they retained a distinctly and indeed increasingly Marian character, even in nomenclature, until the liturgical reform of Paul VI in 1970 (74). Exclusively Marian feasts, like the Nativity of Mary (September 8) and the Assumption (August 15), grew in prominence and overshadowed the original Roman feast of Mary on January 1. By the mid-seventh century, however, a pre-Christmas commemoration found its way onto the Roman calendar, as it had done likewise on other Western calendars, thereby compensating for the diminution of the Marian character of January 1 (75). Moreover, two readings on the Ember days following the third Sunday of Advent refer to Mary’s participation in the events leading to the Lord’s birth. The Lucan account of the Annunciation was read on that Wednesday, and the account of Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth occurred on that Friday (76).

b. Mary and Christmas

Mary’s role in the celebration of Christmas in Rome was given sharper focus upon the erection near or in St. Mary Major of an oratory dedicated specifically to the Nativity of the Lord sometime between the pontificate of St. Leo I (440-461) and that of St. Gregory I (590-604). Of the three Masses celebrated by the pope at Christmas, this oratory became the venue for the first, that at midnight. By the twelfth century, the daytime Mass, too, had been transferred to St. Mary Major, again underscoring in topographical terms Our Lady’s part in the birth of Christ.

The earliest extant Roman euchological texts of Christmas present Mary in close association with the Savior’s birth (77). Collects found in both the “Old” Gelasian (78) and Gregorian (79) sacramentaries attest to Mary’s presence in the liturgy of Christmas:

Deus, qui per beatae Mariae sacrae uirginis partum, sine humana concupiscentia procreatum, in filii tui membra uenientis paternis fecisti praeiudiciis non teneri: praesta, quaesumus, ut huius creaturae nouitate suscepta uetustatis antiquae contagiis exuamur: per eundem Dominum (80).

O God, who through the offspring of the holy Virgin St. Mary, begotten without human concupiscence, didst cause the members of thy coming Son not to be bound by the condemnation of their fathers, grant, we implore, that we who have been taken up by the newness of this creation, may put off the harmful influences of our former state. Through the same Lord.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui hunc diem per incarnationem uerbi tui et partum beatae Mariae uirginis consecrasti, da populis tuis in hac caelebritate consortium, ut qui tua gratia sunt redempti, tua sint adoptione securi. Per (81).

Almighty, everlasting God, who didst consecrate this day through the Incarnation of thy Word and the childbirth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant to thy peoples a share in this festival, that those redeemed by thy grace may be saved by thine adoption. Through.

c. The “Four Feasts” of Mary

In the late seventh century, Pope Sergius I (reigned 687-701), a native of Syria, decreed that a procession from the church of St. Hadrian (formerly the senate) in the Roman forum to St. Mary Major should mark each of what came to be known for centuries as the four Marian feasts of the Roman calendar: the Annunciation (March 25), the Dormition or, as it was later known, the Assumption (August 15), the Nativity of Mary (September 8), and Hypapante (February 2) (82). Litanies accompanied these processions to Rome’s most impressive Marian basilica. Divided roughly among the four seasons of the year, they served, until the fourteenth century, as the Roman feasts in honor of the Virgin Mary. By then, the papacy, often in response to the devotion of religious orders or as a votive commemoration of either petition or thanksgiving, began to embellish the Roman calendar with new Marian observances.

d. Medieval Marian Feasts


The next Marian feasts introduced to Rome came, like the first great four, from the East. In 1389, Pope Urban VI (reigned 1378-1389) placed the feast of the Visitation on the general Roman calendar. It is essentially a votive feast recalling the protection of the Mother of God. Originally observed in Constantinople on July 2 as the Deposition at the Blachernae of the Holy Mantle (or Veil) of the Theotókos, the feast commemorated the miraculous intervention of the Mother of God at her principal church (named the Blachernae) in the Byzantine capital. The Gospel of the day, drawn from St. Luke’s account of the visit of Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth (83), reflects the loving concern of Mary for those close to her. It likewise suggests the joy that derives from peace and harmony.

In 1263, the Franciscans, who served as preachers and missionaries in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the East, adopted it under the title of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. More than a century later, Urban VI extended it to the rest of the Church with a view toward achieving, through Our Lady’s intercession, ecclesial unity in the wake of the Western Schism. Over the course of the fifteenth century, local churches and religious orders eventually adopted it. In 1441, the Council of Basel, convoked to put an end to the Western Schism, commissioned a Mass formulary for the feast and encouraged its adoption. Toward the end of the fifteenth century, Sixtus IV (reigned 1471-1484) arranged for the feast to be given a new formulary. The votive character of the feast came into renewed focus in the nineteenth century. In thanksgiving for the victory of the papal troops over the forces of the Italian Risorgimento on July 2, 1849, Pius IX raised the feast to a higher dignity (double-of-the-second-class in the reckoning of the period).

Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin began as the Byzantine feast of the Conception of St. Anne, observed on December 9. By the mid-eleventh century, the feast came to England where it was celebrated on December 8. By the early twelfth century, it received a new title: the Conception of Mary. From England it spread to Normandy and, over the course of the twelfth century, to other parts of Europe. Upon its advent at the University of Paris, through the agency of students from Normandy, the feast met opposition from some theological circles. St. Bernard, for example, opposed it as a novelty of dubious doctrinal quality and urged the canons of Lyons against its adoption (84).

Promoted first by English Benedictines, particularly under the influence of Eadmer of Canterbury (+1124) (85), precentor, historian, and biographer of St. Anselm, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady gained much ground with the later support of the Franciscans. Adopting the feast in 1263, the Friars Minor championed its cause. In reply to objections raised against the doctrine, Franciscan theologian Bl. John Duns Scotus (+1308), for example, taught that the merits of Christ’s Paschal Mystery had been applied in anticipation to the Blessed Virgin from the first moment of her conception. The feast came with the Minors to the papal court in Avignon. Finally in 1477, Sixtus IV, himself a Franciscan, placed it on the Roman calendar by the constitution Cum praeexcelsa. In honor of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Sixtus likewise built within the Vatican complex the famous chapel that bears his name. The decoration of the ceiling, commissioned by Sixtus’ nephew Julius II and executed by Michelangelo, illustrates the preparation of the world for the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In 1708, Clement XI made the feast of Our Lady’s Conception obligatory for the Roman Rite.

Zealously advocated by the Franciscans, both the doctrine and the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception faced opposition from various quarters, most notably from the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), whose most illustrious theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274), had argued against the doctrine. In view of this longstanding dispute, the name of the feast was simply the Conception of the Virgin Mary. After Pius IX had defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, however, the typically Franciscan phrase ‘immaculate conception’ reasserted itself in the title and euchology (prayer formulae) of the feast. By the Brief Quod iampridem (September 25, 1863), Pius IX solemnly promulgated a Mass formulary (known by the incipit of its Introit Gaudens gaudebo) drawn chiefly from one composed 400 years earlier by a papal chamberlain, Leonardo Nogaroli, at the behest of Pope Sixtus IV (86). The language, particularly that of the collect, refers unambiguously to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady:

Deus qui per immaculatam Virginis Conceptionem dignum Filio tuo habitaculum praeparasti: quaesumus; ut, qui ex morte eiusdem Filii tui praevisa, eam ab omni labe praeservasti, nos quoque mundos eius intercessione ad te pervenire concedas. Per eundem Dominum (87).

O God who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin didst make her a worthy dwelling place for thy Son, grant, we implore, that as thou didst, by his foreseen death, preserve her from all stain of sin, so by her intercession, we too may come to thee cleansed [of sin]. Through the same Lord.

e. Later Medieval Feasts of Our Lady

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

The church in Jerusalem, as noted earlier, had conflated the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, recorded in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James, with the more historically reliable Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary the New, near the entrance of the Temple (543). Both events, in any case, highlight Mary’s dedication to God. From Jerusalem, the combined feast soon spread throughout the East. In 1372, Pope Gregory XI introduced the feast to the papal court at Avignon in response to a petition from an enterprising French knight, Philippe de Mézières, who sued for cooperation between England and France, and sought union with the Greeks, in order to launch a new crusade (88).

Dedication of Our Lady of the Snows

A thirteenth-century legend surrounding the foundation of the Roman basilica of St. Mary Major gave rise in the fourteenth century to the extension of its anniversary of dedication (August 5) to other churches in Rome. According to this legend, a miraculous snowfall in the heat of the Roman August indicated to the patrons and the pope of the day the precise dimensions of the basilica. In 1568, a Dominican pope, St. Pius V, extended the feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major to the rest of the Church. In so doing, he displaced the feast of no less a figure than St. Dominic, the very founder of the pope’s order! Pius V further displayed his devotion to this renowned church of the Mother of God by choosing it as the site of his own tomb. A “snowfall” of flower petals is released each year in the Borghese chapel of the basilica during the intonation of the Gloria. In addition to a relief in marble depicting the original snowfall of the legend, this chapel contains an image of Mary holding the Christ child. Titled Salus populi Romani (Health and salvation of the people of Rome), this highly venerated image of Mary enjoyed pride of place in Roman processions in antiquity and the Middle Ages.

f. Marian Feasts of the Modern Era

Holy Name of Mary

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed a further increase in Marian feasts on the general Roman calendar. This multiplication of feasts in honor of Our Lady reflects a vivid faith in Mary’s intercession on behalf of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, in the world. These feasts underscore Mary’s ongoing role in the life of the Church as evidenced in the preservation of the Church from various catastrophes and perils. In 1683, Bl. Innocent XI adopted an earlier Spanish feast of the Holy Name of Mary to commemorate the liberation of Vienna on September 12, 1683, by the Polish king, John Sobieski. Although dropped from the Roman calendar by Paul VI in 1970 and relegated to the status of a votive Mass, the Holy Name of Mary reappeared as a memorial in the third typical edition of the Roman Missal in 2002 under John Paul II.

Our Lady of Ransom

The Mercedarians, founded in the thirteenth century to liberate Christians enslaved by the Moors, inaugurated the feast of Our Lady of Ransom (September 24) in the early 1600s. By 1696, Pope Innocent XII placed it on the calendar of the Roman Rite. Expunged from the general Roman calendar in 1970, the feast still occurs on local calendars. In England, for example, the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom conducts an annual pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham on or near the feast, which at Walsingham is observed as a solemnity (89).

Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary

In thanksgiving for the victory of the Christian forces over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, St. Pius V inaugurated a votive feast in honor of Our Lady of Victory to be observed on the first Sunday of October. His successor, Gregory XIII, conflated it with an earlier Dominican observance of the Rosary, giving it the title of the Rosary of Our Lady and assigning it for celebration in the City of Rome. In 1716, Clement XI extended it to the general Roman calendar in gratitude for another military victory over the Turks at Peterwardein. In his reform of the calendar, St. Pius X fixed the feast permanently on October 7, the date of the battle of Lepanto. The Roman Missal of 1970 rendered the title of the feast as Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

In 1726, Pope Benedict XIII assigned the fourteenth-century Carmelite feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16) to the Roman calendar. Closely associated with the sacramental popularly known as the “brown scapular,” bequeathed by the Blessed Virgin herself to St. Simon Stock, general of the order of Carmelites, this feast has remained on the general Roman calendar since the eighteenth. The Roman Missal 1970 assigned it the rank of an optional memorial.

Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Servites (Servants of Mary) obtained permission to observe a feast of the Seven Dolors or Sorrows of the Virgin Mary on the Sunday following the more solemn feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross (September 14). In gratitude for his safe return from captivity in France to Rome in 1814, and for the preservation of the Church during both the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, Pope Pius VII extended the feast to the general Roman calendar. In 1913, Pius X assigned September 15 as the feast, thereby juxtaposing it more dramatically with the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.

With the approval of Benedict XIII in 1724, Friday of the fifth week of Lent, that is, the Friday before Good Friday, likewise had served as another feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, particularly in those places which observed Passiontide with outdoor processions featuring the Blessed Virgin’s perspective of the Passion of Christ. On both feasts of Our Lady’s sorrows, namely that on September 14 and the other on the Friday after the fifth Sunday of Lent, the medieval poem Stabat Materserved as a sequence, highlighting the emotional reaction of participants in these liturgies. Both the feast of the Holy Cross and the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday underscore the objective, theological dimensions of Christ’s accomplishment of the Paschal Mystery. This is particularly evident in the Passion account of John read each year on Good Friday. The comments of pastoral liturgist Pius Parsch on the contrast of the feast of the Seven Sorrows with the older, more sober Lenten ferial which it had displaced, applies equally to its contrast with both the Triumph of the Cross and Good Friday itself:

Very different is the spirit characterizing the feast of the Seven Sorrows. Here sentiment and emotion is [sic] strong. We see Christ’s agony through the heart of his mother. She is our guide, she teaches us how to suffer and sympathize with her Son. Where the ancient liturgy stops, the newer form begins; the old gives theology and history, the new stimulates our hearts and feelings. Thus one complements the other (90).

Addressing the September feast of Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows in reference to the Triumph of the Cross, Parsch elaborates in even greater detail:

In contrast to yesterday’s feast with its emphasis on Christ’s kingship, today’s concentrates on the human side of his sufferings. Its liturgy stems from an entirely different spiritual mentality; the feast of the Exaltation showed and praised the Cross as the sign of objective redemption; it unfurled, as it were, the crux gemmata [bejeweled cross]. Today’s feast sees the human, the suffering Christ, it emphasizes Mary’s role as a co-sufferer. These two feasts in honor of Christ’s Cross, following so closely upon one another, clearly show two trends of Catholic spirituality, that of ancient times and that of the Middle Ages, trends which are often designated as objective and subjective spirituality. The former sees the Passion as the beata passio (blessed suffering), the latter as the passio amara(bitter suffering and co-suffering) (91).

It must be granted, in general, that the modern Marian feasts introduced to the calendar of the Roman Rite express a rather demonstratively emotional devotion, and reflect a concern for the needs of personal piety. As this trend continues into the twenty-first century, it may be useful to consider it as a means of harmonizing, if not altogether integrating, both devotional and liturgical piety.

g. Twentieth-Century Feasts of Mary

Our Lady of Lourdes

In 1858, just four years after the papal definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Bernadette Soubirous, a native of Lourdes, France, reported a series of apparitions of a woman who identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. After decades of careful investigation into the reliability of Bernadette and into the accounts of healings unexplained by science, ecclesiastical authorities recognized the authenticity of the apparitions. In 1890, Leo XIII granted the Diocese of Tarbes permission to observe February 11, the date of the first of the visions, as the feast of the Apparition of the Immaculate Virgin at Lourdes. In response both to the widespread fame of the shrine at Lourdes and to the demands of popular Marian piety directed in particular toward the Immaculate Conception, St. Pius X extended the feast to the general Roman calendar in 1907. The Missal of 1970 records the title of the feast simply as Our Lady of Lourdes. Although it functions as a reminder of the truth of the Immaculate Conception, the feast also recalls the intercession of Mary and, since the pontificate of John Paul II, serves as the World Day of Prayer for the Sick.

Since 1751, with the permission of Benedict XIV, Portugal had observed a feast of Our Lady’s Maternity on regional calendars. In 1931, in order to mark the fifteen-hundredth anniversary of the Council of Ephesus, Pius XI placed the Maternity of Mary on the general Roman calendar. Pius assigned the feast to October 11, in honor of what then was presumed to have been the conclusion of the Council of Ephesus.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which from the seventeenth century flourished particularly in opposition to Jansenism, inspired a parallel devotion to the Heart of Mary. St. John Eudes (+1680) effectively promoted devotion to both Holy Hearts. By 1646, he had secured approval for a Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By 1807, the Augustinians were celebrating the Most Pure Heart of Mary on the Sunday within the Octave of Our Lady’s Assumption. In 1855, Bl. Pius IX granted it a proper Mass formulary (Omnis gloria). Some local churches, though, observed it on July 9, while others kept it on the Sunday, or, after 1920, the Saturday, after the Sacred Heart. In 1880, Pope Leo XIII placed the feast on the local Roman calendar. Pope Pius XII, in view of the coincidence of his episcopal ordination with the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima (May 13, 1917), exercised a personal devotion to the Immaculate Heart. To commemorate his consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart in 1942, he extended the feast to the general Roman calendar in 1944, giving it a new formulary (Adeamus cum fiducia) and assigning it to August 22, the octave day of the Assumption. The 1970 Roman Missal assigns it, instead, to the Saturday after the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 2002, John Paul II raised it to the rank of an obligatory memorial.

The medieval church developed the concept of kingship rooted in Scripture and common to many peoples. In order to be a queen, a woman must be the daughter, the mother, or the consort of a king. The Psalms and other inspired texts refer to God as King of heaven and earth: Hence the title “The Lord,” or “Our Lord.” Mary’s queenship is utterly dependent upon the kingship of the Triune God, for she is the daughter of God the Father, the Mother of God the Son, and the Bride of the Holy Spirit. Since the early Middle Ages, the Church has hailed Mary in both devotional and liturgical texts as the Queen of heaven and earth, the Queen of all the angels and saints, Our Lady, and so forth. Andrew of Crete (+c.740) is among the earliest theologians to comment on Mary as both queen and mediatrix (92). Images of the Blessed Virgin crowned as queen proliferated during the Middle Ages and continue to enjoy popularity even today. The apsidal mosaic of St. Mary Major, Rome, for example, depicts Christ crowning Mary queen of heaven. Countless popular prayers and hymns, as well as three of the Marian anthems chanted after Compline (Ave Regina caelorum, Regina caeli, Salve Regina) all address Mary as Queen. In 1954, on the occasion of the centenary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pius XII inaugurated the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen, assigning it to the last day of May, the month which popular piety dedicates to Mary. Since 1970, the Roman Rite celebrates Mary’s queenship on August 22, the octave day, as it were, of the Assumption, and marks the Immaculate Heart, as mentioned earlier, on the Saturday following the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Religious orders and local churches continued to celebrate a variety of Marian Masses and offices, as well as to observe Marian feasts inaugurated in some cases as early as the Middle Ages. The Graduale Romanum of 1908 supplies chants for the following feasts: Translation of the Holy House of Loreto (December 10); the Expectation of the Childbirth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 18); the Espousals of Our Lady and St. Joseph (January 23); Our Lady of Good Counsel (April 26); Our Lady Help of Christians (May 24); Most Pure Heart of Mary (third Sunday after Pentecost); Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Sunday before June 24); Motherhood of Mary (second Sunday of October); Purity of Mary (third Sunday of October); Patronage of Mary (second Sunday of November); and Manifestation of the Miraculous Medal (November 27) (93).

The primary goal of Pope St. Pius X’s pontificate (1903-1914), summarized in his motto Instaurare omnia in Christo “to restore all things in Christ” led him to give liturgical renewal pride of place in his legislation. As popes of the twentieth century sought to reform the calendar of the Roman Rite, they underscored the prominence of Sunday as the Day of the Lord. Hence, in 1913, Pius X began to displace Marian observances that occurred on Sundays. Despite these efforts at reform, followed in turn by those of Pius XII and John XXIII (94), several Marian feasts still remained as moveable feasts, if only on local calendars, in the Missal of 1962 issued by John XXIII.

The Johannine Missal of 1962 provided sixteen proper formularies for the following feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be celebrated in various places, that is, to be celebrated on local calendars and those of religious orders and societies (in order of occurrence over the liturgical year): Our Lady of Good Counsel (April 26); Mother of Fair Love (May 8); Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (likewise May 8); Our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces (also May 8); Our Lady Help of Christians (May 24); Queen of Apostles (Saturday after the Ascension); Our Mother of Grace (June 9); Our Lady of Perpetual Help (June 27); Mother of Mercy (Saturday before the fourth Sunday of July); Refuge of Sinners (August 12); Our Lady of Consolation (Saturday after the feast of St. Augustine, August 28); Mother of the Divine Pastor (September 4); Mother of Divine Providence (Saturday before the third Sunday of November); and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (November 27).

h. Roman Missal 1970

By means of his revision of the Roman Missal in 1970, Pope Paul VI reduced to thirteen the number of Marian feasts on the general Roman calendar. This new, simplified calendar of the Roman Rite arranged liturgical observances according to the following scheme, in descending order of importance: solemnities, feasts, and memorials (either obligatory or optional). Naturally the Blessed Virgin figures prominently in such solemnities of the Lord as Annunciation of the Lord, Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Family (now the Sunday within the octave of Christmas) and feasts of the Lord such as the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. The 1970 Missal provides three Marian solemnities (Mother of God on January 1 (95); Assumption on August 15; Immaculate Conception on December 8), two feasts (Visitation on May 31, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8), four obligatory memorials (Queenship on August 22, Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15 complete with sequence Stabat Mater, Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on November 21), and four optional memorials (Our Lady of Lourdes on February 11, Immaculate Heart [Saturday after the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus], Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16, and the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major on August 5).

i. Roman Missal 2002

The third typical edition of the Roman Missal (96), supervised by Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez and promulgated by John Paul II in 2002, restored one Marian feast to the general Roman calendar, namely, the optional memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary on September 12. Having recovered from an attempt on his life in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first of five apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, John Paul II added a new feast, that of Our Lady of Fatima, as an optional memorial on May 13. Since the promulgation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a focus of the Fatima devotions, now enjoys an increase in rank as an obligatory memorial. Hence the tradition of votive feasts marking Mary’s intervention in the life of the Church continues even into the twenty-first century.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Church in the Americas observes the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. The apparitions of Mary associated with the figure of St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill in sixteenth-century Mexico (1531) gave rise to widespread devotion to Our Lady under this title, particularly among the peoples indigenous to the region. Countless pilgrims to the shrine in Mexico even today visit the tilma, or cloak, of Juan Diego, which displays an image of the Blessed Virgin. On May 25, 1754, Pope Benedict XIV proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe the patron saint of New Spain (Spanish Central and North America) and approved the Mass and office in her honor. Leo XIII approved a new formulary in 1891. The patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe has expanded over the centuries. Pius X declared her patroness of Latin America in 1910. Pius XI pronounced her patroness of the Philippines in 1935. On January 22, 1999, John Paul II, by means of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, decreed Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the Americas (97); hence the Church in the Americas celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe as a feast. In 2002, John Paul II placed Our Lady of Guadalupe on the general Roman calendar, with the rank of optional memorial (98).

The Seasonal Cycles of the Liturgical Year

In addition to the various feasts which commemorate Mary’s role in the life of Christ, the history of salvation, the earthly pilgrimage of the Church, or the communion of saints, the Blessed Virgin figures in both liturgical cycles which drive the Church’s year. The minor cycle of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany reflects on a smaller scale the major, indeed central, cycle of Lent-Easter-Pentecost. Both cycles provide the model of Christian participation in the Lord’s own mysteries: interior preparation—celebration—public proclamation. This cycle corresponds to the sacramental process of: catechesis and ascesis-sacraments of initiation-apostolic public witness. Those only just entering the Church experience the process in the Rites of Christian Initiation in this way. For fully initiated Catholics, however, the liturgical seasons of Christmas and Easter afford, on a semi-annual basis, the model of spiritual and sacramental renewal: a period of asceticism (prayer, fasting, almsgiving all fortified by a good confession), followed by the renewal of baptismal promises and holy Communion; this in turn leads to prophetic witness by the grace of the Holy Spirit already bestowed in confirmation. Such a model applies to the process of sacramental renewal on a weekly or even daily basis. In any case, Mary accompanies the faithful in the liturgy, guiding them to Christ in the Eucharist, and urging obedience to his command to bring his Gospel and the fruits of sacramental participation to others.

Mary enjoys unique prominence in the liturgical cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. In Advent, Our Lady’s spirit of tranquil meditation prepares us for the coming of her Son. At Christmas, Mary gives birth to Christ in the mystery of the Incarnation. She brings him to birth likewise in every individual and community who welcomes her. At Epiphany, Mary presents Christ to us and exhorts us to faith and proclamation: “Do whatever he tells you.” In the history of doctrinal development, it is worth noting that the Council of Ephesus preceded Chalcedon by twenty years. Even in matters of doctrine, then, Mary plays the dawn to Christ the rising Sun of Justice (99).

Similarly in the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle, Mary accompanies the Church on her pilgrimage through the desert of Lent. She offers Christ and herself to the Father on Calvary; she rejoices in the Resurrection of her Son and Lord from the dead; finally, she prays with and for the Church in anticipation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In the cycle of ascetic preparation, celebration of the mysteries, and proclamation of the Good News, Mary aids the Church by both her example and her intercession.

a. Advent-Christmas-Epiphany

The Advent season draws attention to the comings of Christ. The liturgy recalls his first coming in the humility of the Incarnation, so that the Church might prepare worthily and well for his second coming in glory as Judge of the living and the dead. Hence the Church looks to Mary, who welcomed him in blessed hope. The character of the first part of Advent is distinctly eschatological. The liturgy, in its prayers, readings, and antiphons, anticipates Christ’s coming as Judge at the Last Day. Both the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, and, in the Americas, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, remind us of Mary’s unique role in the history of salvation and the life of the Church. Like the dawn before the sunrise, Mary prepares the world and the Church for the coming of Christ. Moreover, during the immediate preparation for the Nativity of the Lord, from December 17-24, Mary emerges in even more distinct relief through the scriptural lessons and especially in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. Here, as in the Roman Canon, Mary appears in tandem with that other great figure of Advent, John the Baptist and Precursor of the Lord:

The Virgin Mother bore him in her womb with love beyond all telling.

John the Baptist was his herald

and made him known when at last he came (100).

A few notes are in order regarding the structure of Advent and its dynamics over the history of its development in the Roman Rite. Although Rome adopted a six-week Advent in the second half of the sixth century, St. Gregory I reduced it to four weeks. On the Roman calendar until 1970, the Ember days, falling after the third Sunday of Advent, recalled the Blessed Virgin in a particularly striking way. On Ember Wednesday of Advent, the text of the first reading featured the prophecy of Isaiah 7:10-15 Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel (“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (101). Then followed the Lucan account of the annunciation of Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin: Missus est angelus (Lk 1:26-38) (102). On Ember Friday in Advent, the first reading was drawn from Isaiah 11:1-5, Egredietur flos de radice Iesse (A flower shall come forth from the root of Jesse) (103). The Marian significance of this passage is obvious to all admirers of the Jesse tree, depicted in the Middle Ages often through the medium of stained-glass windows or elaborate illustrations in manuscript prayer books and bibles. The Gospel pericope of the day recounted the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-47) (104).

The Ember days called the faithful to fast and pray in anticipation of the ordinations that would take place on that Saturday. The accounts of Mary’s faithful reception of the Word incarnate (Annunciation), and her generosity in bringing that Word to others (Visitation), would have exhorted the ordinands to embrace with worthy joy their respective vocations.

The season of Advent shares the quiet and prayerful expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through the “O Antiphons,” recited during Vespers in conjunction with the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat), and used as well at Mass for the Gospel acclamation of the day, the liturgy invokes Christ by various messianic and divine titles (Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Sun, King of Nations, Emmanuel). A custom originating in the early Middle Ages and transmitted through religious orders and congregations assigned an additional O Antiphon, O Virgo virginum (“O Virgin of virgins) to salute Mary (105). This title, too, implies the eschatological coming of Christ who makes fruitful the barren and who crowns with everlasting splendor the pure of heart.

The Alma Redemptoris mater serves as the Marian anthem customarily chanted after Compline (or solemn Vespers) from the First Sunday of Advent until the end of the Christmas season (February 2, Candlemas Day):

Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia caeli

porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti,

surgere qui curat, populo; tu, quae genuisti,

natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem,

Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore

sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere (106).

The anthem invokes Our Lady not only as Mother of the Redeemer, but also as pervia caeli porta (Open Gate of Heaven) and stella maris (Star of the Sea). Going “to Jesus through Mary,” the Church merely follows the example of Christ himself, who chose to come to us through his Mother Mary (107). The title Star of the Sea plays on the meaning of the Hebrew name Miriam as interpreted by Western theologians. As the star of the sea, Mary guides the faithful over the waves and through the storms of this life to the final port of heaven. The virginal birth of Christ as the fruit of Mary’s obedience causes wonderment in nature itself, for the creature will give birth to the creative Word through whom all things came into being. Mary is both Virgin and Mother. Indeed the anthem stresses the perpetual virginity of Mary, virgo prius ac posterius (“virgin beforehand and afterwards), echoing St. Jerome’s defense of this immemorial doctrine.

Finally, the anthem denotes the power of Mary’s intercession and assistance inasmuch as it petitions Mary to have pity on sinners. In the litanies approved for use in both the sacred liturgy and personal devotions, the invocation Miserere nobis is reserved for the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The anthem reflects the great confidence which the Church places in Mary’s mediation for a people fallen yet striving to rise from their sinful condition.

The season of Christmas encompasses the birth of Christ, the solemnity of the Holy Family on the Sunday within the octave of Christmas, the solemnity of Mary Mother of God on January 1, and the Epiphany. It is worth mentioning that Mary figures in two stages or moments of Christ’s epiphany: the manifestation of his divinity to the Gentiles, and the revelation of his divine sonship to the disciples at Cana. Matthew records that the Magi, at the end of their journey from the East, entered the house and “saw the child with Mary his Mother, and they fell down and worshipped him” (108). Early frescoes in the catacombs of St. Priscilla on the via Salaria depict Mary seated and in the act of presenting the Christ child to three figures dressed in Persian caps and offering gifts to the infant.

Mary does not appear in any of the scriptural accounts of Christ’s manifestation to the House of Israel on the banks of the Jordan. Instead, John the Baptist exercises his role as the precursor and baptizer of the Lord. Mary prepared a home for Christ; John prepared the people of Israel for him. Now, on the threshold of Christ’s public ministry, the Father and the Holy Spirit in a theophany present Jesus to Israel as the beloved Son sent to redeem the people from their sins.

Mary reappears at Cana, where Christ gives the first of his signs at her prompting. He thereby brings to a close the cycle of the three epiphanies: first to the Gentiles, then to the Israelites, and finally to the disciples. The appropriate response to the epiphany of divine glory is faith: “the disciples believed in him” (109). Christ then carries out his public ministry, and brings his messianic mission to its culmination in the Paschal Mystery.

b. Lent-Easter-Pentecost

The season of Lent prepares the Church for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery during the sacred Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. In Lent, members of the Church examine their conscience and engage in some form of asceticism in order to participate fruitfully in the Eucharist. The connection of the Lenten season with Mary is not always obvious. The Stations of the Cross, like the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, do offer the faithful some insight into the Passion of Christ from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady figures in the fourth, twelfth, and thirteenth stations: Jesus meets his sorrowful Mother, Jesus dies on the Cross, Jesus is taken down from the Cross and placed in the arms of his Mother.

In many places, the custom still obtains of chanting a strophe of the hymn Stabat Mater when moving from one station to the next. This however, pertains to the realm of popular piety, rather than to the sphere of liturgy. It is significant that MR 2002 offers no common Masses of the Blessed Virgin during Lent, whereas it does for Advent, Christmas, Easter, and throughout the year (per annum).

For those Catholics privileged to stay in Rome itself during Lent, Mary’s role in the Lenten liturgy is only slightly more discernible in the assignment of the stational churches. During the early Middle Ages, the pope and his court would celebrate the Eucharist at specific churches designated according to their place in the seven regions or districts of the city. In the pontificate of Bl. John XXIII (1958-1963), the Diocese of Rome revived the custom of observing the stational churches during Lent and the octave of Easter (110). On Wednesday of the first week (formerly Ember Wednesday) of Lent, and again on Wednesday of Holy Week, St. Mary Major hosts the liturgy of the day. On the second Sunday of Lent, S. Maria in Domnica serves as the stational church. S. Maria in Trastevere is the venue of the liturgy on Thursday of the second week of Lent, and S. Maria in via Lata on Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent. The original pilgrims’ handbook issued for those participating in the Roman stations contains a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and another to Our Lady, preceded by this notice:

The booklet contains the visit to the Most Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the first act of anyone visiting the church is directed to the divine Redeemer in the holy Eucharist and to his Mother. Then follow the litanies of the saints with the stational prayers (111).

Citing the Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law (1917), the compiler of the booklet Placido Lugano explains the continuity of the revived stations:

The modern discipline is but the continuation of the ancient. “It is a good and useful thing to invoke in supplication the servants of God, reigning together with Christ, and to venerate their relics and images: but before everything else let all the faithful honor with filial devotion the most Blessed Virgin Mary” (can. 1276). And the stational visit brings the tribute of honor and the incense of filial love to the Mother of God in the golden basilicas of her glorification and the aroma of veneration to the relics of the martyrs and saints who give increased and lasting value to our Roman churches (112).

Although scarcely in evidence throughout the liturgical texts of Lent, Mary emerges in the liturgy of Good Friday in the Passion according to John. Here, as mentioned earlier, the Church marks Mary’s association with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and her motherhood of all Christ’s disciples.

From the end of the Christmas season until Holy Week, Ave Regina caelorum stands as the final Marian anthem of the day:

Ave, Regina caelorum,

ave domina angelorum,

salve, radix, salve porta,

ex qua mundo lux est orta.

Gaude, Virgo gloriosa,

super omnes speciosa;

vale, o valde decora,

et pro nobis Christum exora.

Although the Roman Missal of 1962 retains the ancient liturgical preparation for Lent known as Pre-Lent, including the Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, the Missal of 1970 omits Pre-Lent altogether. In any case, the Church at this season invokes the Blessed Virgin under the title of Queen of the heavens, mistress of angels, root, and gate through which light arose upon the world. This could imply, as did the Alma, that Mary is the dawn or gate of day, through which shines Christ the Sun (113).

Traditionally sung from February 2 to Wednesday of Holy Week, this anthem makes no allusion to the sufferings of Christ; indeed the second stanza actually bids Our Lady rejoice, and remarks on her unsurpassed beauty, comments scarcely suited to a somber occasion or season. Nevertheless, the Ave Regina caelorum alone of all the final Marian anthems begins with a descent of the musical scale. Perhaps this accounts for its selection as the anthem commonly sung during Lent and Passiontide.

Finally, on bidding the Virgin farewell, the anthem begs her graciously to pray for us. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the twelfth century it was assigned as the antiphon to be sung at None (the midafternoon hour, or 3 p.m.) on the feast of the Assumption (114). The current breviary recommends it as the Marian anthem for both the Assumption and the Queenship of Mary (115).

Although the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Resurrection do not mention the Blessed Virgin Mary, a tradition dating at least to the fifth century maintains that the risen Christ appeared to his Mother. According to the Latin poet Sedulius, Christ appeared first to the Virgin Mary before any of the other witnesses mentioned by the evangelists or St. Paul (1 Cor 15:6). Indeed, in this account, Mary who at the Annunciation served as the gate through which Jesus entered the world, now received the good news of the Lord’s Resurrection precisely in order to become the herald of his second coming (116). More recently, Pope John Paul II recalled this tradition in several of his Easter messages (117). After citing Sedulius, the Pope considers the value of the tradition:

It seems reasonable to think that Mary, as the image and model of the Church which waits for the Risen One and meets him in the group of disciples during his Easter appearances, had had a personal contact with her risen Son, so that she too could delight in the fullness of paschal joy.

Present at Calvary on Good Friday (cf. Jn 19:25) and in the Upper Room on Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14), the Blessed Virgin, too, was probably a privileged witness of Christ’s Resurrection, completing in this way her participation in all the essential moments of the Paschal Mystery. Welcoming the risen Jesus, Mary is also a sign and anticipation of humanity, which hopes to achieve its fulfillment through the Resurrection of the dead (118).

The noncanonical tradition of Christ’s appearance to his Mother may well be reflected in the choice of the Roman stational church for Easter Day: St. Mary Major.

From Easter until Pentecost the Church chants the Regina caeli as the final Marian anthem:

Regina caeli laetare, alleluia,

Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,

Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia,

Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

With all the exuberance of paschal joy, the Church bids Mary rejoice in the Lord’s Resurrection. The anthem connects the two moments of the birth of Christ and his glorious Resurrection, praising Our Lady for her role in bearing Christ worthily, and asking her to pray for us to God.

The Easter season concludes with Pentecost, an event which underscores Mary’s relationship to the Church as model and Mother. Christian art frequently depicts Mary in the very midst of the apostles, recalling the figure of the Woman of Revelation 12, who is surrounded by twelve stars. After Pentecost, the apostles go forth to bear witness to the Paschal Mystery. Accordingly, those who have received the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation go forth to testify to the truth of the Gospel. For this apostolic task, they plead with the Blessed Virgin to help them by her prayers. From Pentecost until the end of the liturgical year, the Church customarily chants the Salve Regina:

Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae; vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.

Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Evae.

Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle.

Eia ergo, advocate nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte.

Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.

O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria.

The anthem greets Mary not only as queen, mother of mercy, life, sweetness, and hope, but also as “our advocate.” During the time after Pentecost, or per annum, the ministers of the Roman Rite are clad in green, the color of hope. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended as the Paraclete, the consoler of faithful Christians and apostles. How fitting that the Church should salute Mary as advocate in this final anthem sung throughout much of the year. The anthem reminds of Mary’s compassionate disposition toward the members of the Church, and begs her to turn the eyes of her mercy toward us and, after our exile through this valley of tears, to show us the blessed fruit of her womb, the Lord Jesus. Here again, as at Epiphany, Mary presents Christ to others.

As noted earlier, the Church encourages the venerable tradition of observing Our Lady’s Saturday as a bridge from the week to the Lord’s Day (119).


The liturgical year unfolds for the Church the mysteries of Jesus Christ. Because Mary played an intimate part in these mysteries of her Son, the Church commemorates her with admiration and devotion. The liturgy extols the privileges and prerogatives that belong to Mary in view of her role as the Mother of God the Son. Mary always leads the faithful to a greater knowledge and a deeper appreciation of her Son. Of Mary there never can be enough, since she brings us to ever deeper levels of Christ. Each evening, the Church echoes Mary’s canticle of praise, hoping at last to enjoy the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and to all his descendants. In this spirit of joyful anticipation, the Church continues on earth to celebrate the Paschal Mystery. Eucharistic communion with Jesus Christ entails communion likewise with Mary. This alone ought to prompt more research into the inexhaustible riches of the Church’s public act of worship, so that, through Mary, the Church may gaze upon the face of Christ with deeper comprehension and increasing love.


(1) “Redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son and united to him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of the Mother of the Son of God, and therefore she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium [LG], 53. Conciliar documents are cited from Vatican Council II. The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, new revised study ed. (Dublin: Dominican Publications and Newtown AU: E.J. Dwyer, 1992).

(2) “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them as thou hast loved me” (Jn 17:20-23). Biblical citations and references are drawn from The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1966). For an ecumenical dialogue on the Blessed Virgin, see Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. The Seattle Statement of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. The Text with Commentaries and Study Guide, eds. Donald Bolen and Gregory Cameron (London and New York: Continuum, 2006). Other studies of Mary from an ecumenical, interfaith, or broadly cultural perspective include Jaroslav Pelikan and Davide Flusser and Justin Lang, Mary: Images of the Mother of Jesus in Jewish and Christian Perspective (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2005) and Pelikan, Mary through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996).

(3) Missale romanum ex decreto sacrosancti oecumenici concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Pauli pp. VI promulgatum Ioannis Pauli II cura recognitum, editio typica tertia (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2002) [MR 2002].

(4) For studies on Marian mediation and the sacred liturgy, see Arthur Burton Calkins, “Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate in the Contemporary Roman Liturgy” in Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate, Theological Foundations: Towards a Papal Definition? ed. Mark I. Miravalle (Santa Barbara CA: Queenship Publishing, 1995); Miravalle, Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate(Santa Barbara CA: Queenship Publishing, 1993) passim; Juniper B. Carol, “Our Lady’s Coredemption,” Mariology (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955) 2: 386-392; Armand J. Robichaud, “Mary, Dispensatrix of All Graces,” in Carol, Mariology 2: 426-460.

(5) Note the precise terminology of the oath imposed on Berengarius of Tours by the Council of Rome, February 11, 1079: “Ego Berengarius corde credo et ore confiteor, panem et vinum, quae ponuntur in altari, per mysterium sacrae ordinationis et verba nostri Redemptoris substantialiter converti in veram et propriam ac vivificatricem carnem et sanguinem Iesu Christi Domini nostri et post consecrationem esse verum Christi corpus, quod natum est de Virgine et quod pro salute mundi oblatum in cruce pependit, et quod sedet ad dexteram Patris, et verum sanguinem Christi, qui de latere eius effusus est, non tantum per signum et virtutem sacramenti, sed in proprietate naturae et veritate substantiae….” Enchiridion symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, eds Heinrich Denzinger et Adolf Schönmetzer, 36th ed. emended (Barcelona and Freiburg and Rome: Herder, 1976) [DS] 700, p. 230.

(6) “… il sapore e il profumo della Vergine Madre,” John Paul II, Angelus address, solemnity of Corpus Christi, June 5, 1983 in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VI.1 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983), 1447, trans. L’Osservatore Romano, 788:2, cited by Arthur Burton Calkins, “Mary’s Presence in the Mass: The Teaching of Pope John Paul II,” Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal 10.2 (2006) 132-158, at 141.

(7) John Paul II, Encyclical on the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church Ecclesia de Eucharistia(April 17, 2003) 53-58. The Pope devotes an entire chapter, the sixth, titled “At the School of Mary ‘Woman of the Eucharist,’” to the relationship between Mary and the Eucharist, and Mary’s consequent relationship to the Church. In the same encyclical, John Paul II explains how Mary leads Christians to the Eucharist and provides the correct example of contemplating this mystery. Pope Benedict XVI uses the same title of Our Lady in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission Sacramentum caritatis (February 22, 2007), 96, where he likewise calls Mary the Church’s “finest icon” and “a singular model of the Eucharistic life.”

(8) James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005) 83. Cf. LG 50: “when … we celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice we are most closely united to the worship of the heavenly Church; when in the fellowship of communion we honor and remember the glorious Mary ever-Virgin, St. Joseph, the holy apostles and martyrs and all the saints.”

(9) Mt 1:18-23; 2:10-23.

(10) Lk 1:26-56; 2:1-52. For the virginal conception and birth of Christ in John, see Ignace de la Potterie, Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, trans. Bertrand Buby (New York: Alba House, 1993) 67-122, especially 96-122.

(11) Lk 2:19.

(12) Lk 2:51.

(13) Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, trans. Adrian J. Walker (London: Bloomsbury, 2007) 234.

(14) Acts 1:14.

(15) Lk 2:34-35.

(16) Jn 2:3.

(17) “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied through the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve tied through unbelief, the Virgin Mary set free through faith.” The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, selected and with an introduction by Hans Urs von Balthasar, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990) III, 22, 4, p. 61. For the critical edition, see Irénée de Lyon. Contre les hérésies, livre III, tome II, édition critique, texte et traduction, rev. ed., Adelin Rousseau and Louis Doutreleau, 2002 in Sources chrétiennes 211-II: 442-445.

(18) See Phil 2:7.

(19) Jn 2:5.

(20) Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Life and Ministry of Priests (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994) 73-74.

(21) “quoties huius hostiae commemoratio celebratur, opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur.” Super oblata, Missa in cena Domini, 15, MR 2002, p. 303 (Prayer over the offerings, Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday).

(22) De la Potterie, Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, especially xxiii-xl, 157-208, 229-235, 239-266.

(23) See Joseph Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, trans. Salvator Attanasio and Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press) 107: “In her very person as a Jewish girl become the mother of the Messiah, Mary binds together, in a living and indissoluble way, the old and the new People of God, Israel and Christianity, synagogue and church. She is, as it were, the connecting link without which the Faith (as is happening today) runs the risk of losing its balance by either forsaking the New Testament for the Old or dispensing with the Old. Instead, we can live the unity of sacred Scripture in its entirety.”

(24) See Vatican II, Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC] 8: “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle.”

(25) Directory on the Life and Ministry of Priests, p. 74.

(26) See SC 10; Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum ordinis (December 7, 1965) 5; “Institutio generalis” 16, MR 2002, p. 24; English translation: International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL], General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Liturgy Documentary Series 2 (Washington DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003) [GIRM] 16, p. 15.

(27) See the Letter to the Hebrews, especially 4:14 and 9:14. Christ’s unique high-priestly mediation constitutes the theme of the first papal encyclical on the sacred liturgy: Pius XII, Mediator Dei (November 20, 1947), Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 39 (1947) [MD] 521-595.

(28) MD, 2 and 3.

(29) SC, 7.

(30) SC, 7.

(31) SC, 7.

(32) SC, 10.

(33) Prosper of Aquitaine, De gratia Dei seu ‘Indiculus’, 8, DS 238, p. 88.

(34) MD, 46-48.

(35) See Pius IX, Bull Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854, and Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Munificentissimus Deus, November 1, 1950, AAS 42 (1950), 760.

(36) Pius XI, Encyclical on the Feast of Christ the King Quas primas, December 11, 1925 (Vatican translation, Boston: St. Paul) 21. AAS, 17 (1925) 603.

(37) Quas primas, 22, AAS 17 (1925) 603-04.

(38) See Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (November 18, 1965), 7-9, especially this sentence from section 8: “What was handed on by the apostles comprises everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith. In this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”

(39) For an English translation of the Protoevangelium of James and other non-canonical sources, see New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 7: Gospels and Related Writings, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, trans. R.M. Wilson, revised ed. (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991) 421-439. For a more recent translation of the Protoevangelium of James with introduction and notes, see Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Lost Gospel of Mary. The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts (Brewster MA: Paraclete Press, 2007) especially pp. ix-81.

(40) For an excellent treatment of Mary in the tradition of the Church, see Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church. The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco CA: Ignatius Press) and idem, Mary in the Middle Ages. The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Thought of Medieval Latin Theologians, trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco CA: Ignatius Press, 2005).

(41) LG 60.

(42) Note the neutral language regarding the end of the Blessed Virgin’s life in the actual definition: Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Munificentissimus Deus, November 1, 1950 (Boston MA: St. Paul Editions, 1950), 44: “We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” “… pronuntiamus, declaramus et definimus divinitus revelatum dogma esse: Immaculatam Deiparam semper Virginem Mariam, expleto terrestris vitae cursu, fuisse corpore et anima ad caelestem gloriam assumptam.” AAS 42 (1950) 780.

(43) LG 62.

(44) Paul VI, Encyclical Mense Maio, April 30, 1965, AAS 57 (1965) 353-358.

(45) Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus, February 2, 1974, AAS 76 (1974) 113-168.

(46) For a somewhat trenchant analysis of the decline in Marian piety since Vatican II, see Eamon Duffy, “May Thoughts on Mary,” Faith of Our Fathers: Reflections on Catholic Tradition (London UK: Continuum, 2004) 29-38.

(47) Ratzinger with Messori, Ratzinger Report, 104. Note Ratzinger’s appreciation of the role of Marian doctrines in maintaining the Christological content of the depositum fidei: “It is, moreover in direct service to faith in Christ—not, therefore, primarily out of devotion to the Mother—that the Church has proclaimed her Marian dogmas: first that of her perpetual virginity and divine motherhood and then, after a long period of maturation and reflection, those of her Immaculate Conception and bodily Assumption into heavenly glory. These dogmas protect the original faith in Christ as true God and true man: two natures in a single Person. They also secure the indispensable eschatological tension by pointing to Mary’s Assumption as the immortal destiny that awaits us all. And they also protect the faith—threatened today—in God the Creator, who (and this, among other things, is the meaning of the truth of the perpetual virginity of Mary, more than ever not understood today) can freely intervene also in matter. Finally, Mary, as the Council recalls: ‘having entered deeply into the history of salvation, … in a way unites in her person and reechoes the most important mysteries of the Faith’ (Lumen Gentium, no. 65).” Ratzinger Report, 106-107.

(48) See Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church: Documents on the Blessed Virgin Mary, introductions by M. Jean Frisk, ed. Marianne Lorraine Trouve (Boston MA: Pauline Books and Media, 2001) 186-488.

(49) Duffy, 35.

(50) Duffy, 35.

(51) LG 63.

(52) LG 53.

(53) Collecta altera, Missa votiva C: De sanctissimo nomine Mariae, MR 2002, p. 1175 (Alternative Collect, Votive Mass of the Most Holy Name of Mary). Translation mine.

(54) See LG 66.

(55) LG 67.

(56) LG 69.

(57) AAS 56 (1965), p. 1015.

(58) In the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, Bl. John XXIII inserted the name of St. Joseph into the Roman Canon.

(59) Ordo missae 86, MR 2002, p. 572: “Communicantes et memoriam venerantes, in primis gloriosae semper Virginis Mariae, Genetricis Dei et Domini nostri Iesu Christi ….” Emphasis added.

(60) See Vincent Lorne Kennedy, The Saints of the Canon of the Mass, 2nd revised ed., Studi di Antichità Cristiana 14 (Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1963), 98-100, especially 100.

(61) For a study of the common of the Blessed Virgin Mary in MR 2002, see Maurizio Barba, “Il commune della beata Vergine Maria nel nuovo Messale Romano,” Notitiae 38 (2002) 588-601. Note that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM] encourages the use of the common and votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin, especially on Saturday: GIRM 378: “It is especially recommended to celebrate the commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday, because it is to the Mother of the Redeemer in the Liturgy of the Church that in the first place and before all the saints veneration is given [n. 145: Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, no. 54; Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus, February 2, 1974, no. 9; AAS 66 (1974), pp. 122-123;]” 355: “Where … the optional memorials of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of the saints are dear to the faithful, the priest should satisfy their legitimate devotion;” 375: “Votive Masses of the mysteries of the Lord or in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of the angels or of any given saint or of all the saints may be said for the sake of the faithful’s devotion on weekdays in Ordinary Time, even if an optional memorial occurs. It is not, however, allowed to celebrate as Votive Masses, those that refer to mysteries related to events in the life of the Lord or of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the exception of the Immaculate Conception, since their celebration is an integral part of the unfolding of the liturgical year.”

(62) Collectio missarum de beata Maria Virgine, editio typica (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987) and Lectionarium pro missis de beata Maria Virgine (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987).

(63) Benedictiones sollemnes 15: De beata Maria Virgine, MR 2002, pp. 612-613.

(64) See Preparatio ad missam: oratio ad B. Mariam Virginem “O Mater pietatis et misericordiae” MR 2002, p. 1291; Gratiarum actio post missam: orationes ad B. Mariam Virginem “O Maria, Virgo et Mater sanctissima,” “Ave Maria,” MR 2002, p. 1295. The Ave Maria is an addition to the prayers after Mass.

(65) Note GIRM 275a: “A bow of the head is made when the three divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated;” and 275b: “A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made … in the Creed at the words Et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit … and became man).

(66) Manchester UK: John Rylands Library, Papyrus 370, commonly known as Rylands Papyrus 370; dated by papyrologist Edward Lobel, and later historian James Shiel, to the mid-third century. See M.C.H. Roberts and E.G. Turner, eds, Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library, Manchester (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1938) 3:46; F. Mercenier, “L’Antienne mariale grecque la plus ancienne,” Muséon 52 (1939) 229-33; O. Stegmüller, “Sub tuum praesidium: Bemerkungen zur ältesten Ueberlieferung,” Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 74 (1952) 76-82; Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, 69-70; Mathewes-Green, 85-88. The dating refers only to the papyrus on which the prayer is written. It is likely that the prayer itself predates the written record. This translation differs from the traditional English version of the prayer as handed down for generations, inasmuch as it corrects the final invocation of Mary from “ever glorious and blessed Virgin” to “ever-Virgin glorious and blessed.” The version of the prayer in the 1975 edition of the Liturgia horarum places a comma after semper, thereby having it modify the verb libera, hence: “deliver us always, O Virgin glorious and blessed.”

(67) Origen uses the term Theotókos around 250, as does St. Athanasius (ca. 295-373) in the next century.

(68) This section treats the development of the various feasts of Mary as they made their way onto the general Roman calendar. For convenience, it adopts the basic structure of Pierre Jounel, “The Veneration of Mary,” section II, chapter 5 in Martimort, ed., The Church at Prayer: An Introduction to the Liturgy, new edition (Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 1986) 4:130-156, especially 138-147. I am indebted for much of its content to Jounel, as well as to Simeon Daly, “Mary in the Western Liturgy,” Juniper B. Carol, ed., Mariology, 1:248-276, Michael O’Carroll, “Liturgy,” Theotókos, 220-224, and James Dunlop Crichton, Our Lady in the Liturgy (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1997). I have corrected slight errors and updated the information presented in these sources.

(69) The information on the first Marian feasts derives from Bernard Capelle, “La fête de la Vierge à Jérusalem au Ve siécle,” in Travaux liturgiques de doctrine et d’histoire (Louvain: Abbaye Mont-César, 1967) 3:276-455, especially 281-301 for the Assumption; Irenée Henri Dalmais, “Les Apocryphes de la Dormition et l’ancienne liturgie de Jérusalem,” Bible et Terre Sainte, 179 (1976), 13-14; Jounel, “The Veneration of Mary,” Martimort (ed.), The Church at Prayer 4:130-131; Crichton, Our Lady in the Liturgy, 23-26. Crichton attributes the imperial propagation of the feast to Justinian (p. 24) but does not support his claim. Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) p. 73, n.157 cites the standard source: Nicephorus Callistus, Historia ecclesiastica 1. 17, 28 (PG 147:292).

(70) Jean Deshusses, ed., Le Sacramentaire grégorien. Ses principales formes d’après les plus anciens manuscrits, 3rd ed. Spicilegium Friburgense 16 (Fribourg, Switzerland: Éditions universitaires, 1992), vol. 1: Hadrianum ex authentico (ad fidem codicis Cameracensis 164) 147 and 148, p. 262.

(71) For more on Mary in the Byzantine liturgy, see Robert Taft, “‘What shall we call you?’ Marian Liturgical Veneration in the Byzantine Tradition,” Úcta ku preservätej Bohorodicke na krest’anskom Východe. Medzinárodná vedecká konferencia 25.-26. novembra 2005 (Kosice: Centrum spirituality Východ Západ Michala Lacka, Teologická fakulta Trnavskej university, 2005) 121-140; idem, “Maria SS. Madre di Dio,” in G. Marani, ed., Omelie di Natale (Betel—brevi saggi spirituali 4, Rome: Lipa, 1997) 43-57; idem, “Marian Liturgical Veneration: Origins, Meaning, and Contemporary Catholic Renewal,” in Proceedings, Orientale Lumen III Conference June 15-18, 1999, at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC(Fairfax VA, Eastern Churches Publications, 1999) 91-112.

(72) See Bernard Botte, “La première fête mariale de la liturgie romaine,” Ephemerides liturgicae 47 (1933) 425-430.

(73) In the case of the saints, except for St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the dies natalisrefers to their heavenly birthday or entry into heaven. On the controversy surrounding the correct title of this feast, see Simeon Daly, “Mary in the Western Liturgy,” pp. 252-253, n. 23. In addition to the human Nativity of Jesus Christ (December 25), the Church observes the earthly birthdays also of St. John the Baptist (June 24) and of Our Lady (September 8).

(74) With the revision of the Roman calendar in 1970, the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary became the Annunciation of the Lord, while the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary became the Presentation of the Lord. Without excluding the Marian dimensions of these feasts, Paul VI restored their more ancient titles and consequently increased the general awareness of their dominical character.

(75) See Jounel, “The Veneration of Mary,” Martimort, ed., The Church at Prayer, 4:133-34.

(76) See below, B.3.a: Advent-Christmas-Epiphany.

(77) It is to be regretted that the earliest extant collection of Roman Mass formularies, the Veronese collection or so-called Leonine Sacramentary” (Verona: Biblioteca Capitolare 85 [80]) lacks the formularies from January to March. The standard edition is Sacramentum Veronense (Cod. Bibl. Capit. Veron. LXXXV [80]), ed. Leo Cunibert Mohlberg with Leo Eizenhöfer and Pierre Siffrin, Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, series maior: Fontes I (Rome: Herder, 1966). Hence it is impossible to know how Mary figured in the euchology of Christmas or of January 1 in the sixth century or earlier.

(78) The “Old” or “Vatican” Gelasian sacramentary (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana: Vat. Reg. lat. 316) contains a fundamentally Roman liturgical book compiled around 650, but copied with Gallican influences, around 750, near Paris. For a description and history of this sacramentary, see Eric Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, trans. Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville MN: Pueblo/Liturgical Press, 1998) 42-46. The edition of this sacramentary is Liber sacramentorum Romanae aecclesiae ordinis anni circuli (Cod. Vat. Reg. lat. 316/Paris Bibl. Nat. 7193, 41/56) (Sacramentarium Gelasianum), ed. Leo Cunibert Mohlberg (Rome: Herder, 1968) [Va=Vatican Gelasian].

(79) The sacramentary of the papal court sent in the 770s by Pope Hadrian I to Charlemagne. Later supplemented and adapted for presbyteral use in the Frankish realms, it eventually became the chief source of the Roman liturgical books until 1970. For a description and history of the Gregorian sacramentary, see Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books, 51-56. The edition consulted is Deshusses, ed., Le Sacramentaire grégorien. 3rd ed. [Ha=Hadrianum].

(80) Va 10, p. 8 assigns it as the collect of the Christmas Mass at dawn; Ha 56, p. 105 offers it as an alternate prayer. Translation mine.

(81) Va 17, p. 9 assigns it as the collect of the Christmas Mass in the day; Ha 58, p. 105 presents it as an optional prayer. Translation mine.

(82) See Louis Duchesne, ed., Le Liber pontificalis. Text, introduction, et commentaire, 2nd ed. by Cyrille Vogel (Paris: Boccard, 1955-57) 1: 376: “Constituit autem ut diebus Adnuntiationis Domini, Dormitionis et Nativitatis sanctae Dei genetricis semperque virginis Mariae ac sancti Symeonis, quod Ypapanti Greci appellant, letania exeat a sancto Hadriano et ad sanctam Mariam populus occurrat.” See also p. 381, nn. 43-44.

(83) Lk 1:39-56.

(84) St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Epistula 174, in Opera omnia, ed. Jean Leclercq and H. Rochais, 7 (Rome: Editiones Cistercienses, 1974) 388-392.

(85) Eadmer of Canterbury, Tractatus de conceptione s. Mariae, ed. Herbert Thurston and T. Slater (Freiburg: Herder, 1904).

(86) R. Lippe, Missale Romanum Mediolani 1474 II. A Collation with Other Editions Printed before 1570Henry Bradshaw Society Publications 33 (London: Henry Bradshaw Society, 1907) 165-166. For the Mass of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary (Gaudeamus omnes) commissioned in 1441 by the Council of Basel, see p. 208.

(87) Collecta in Conceptione immaculate beatae Mariae Virginis, MR 2002, p. 878. Translation mine.

(88) See W.E. Coleman, Philippe de Mézières’ Campaign for the Feast of Mary’s Presentation, Medieval Latin Texts (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1981), 1-10; Mary Jerome Kishpaugh, The Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple: An Historical and Literary Study (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1941).

(89) See Anne Vail, Shrines of Our Lady in England (Leominster: Gracewing, 2004) 190.

(90) Pius Parsch, The Church’s Year of Grace, 2nd ed., trans. William G. Heidt (Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 1964) 2:285-286.

(91) Parsch, 5:206-207.

(92) See Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, 397-398. The homilies of Andrew of Crete are available in Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus, series graeca (Paris: Montrouge, 1857-1866), 97: 805-882 [homilies 1-4 on the Nativity of the Bessed Virgin Mary], 882-914 homily 5 on the Annunciation of Our Lady]; 1046-1110 [homilies 12-14 on the Dormition].

(93) Graduale romanum sacrosanctae romanae ecclesiae de tempore et de sanctis … restitutum et editum cui addita sunt festa novissima. Editio ratisbonensis juxta Vaticanam (Ratisbonne and Rome and New York and Cincinnati: Pustet, 1908).

(94) John XXIII, Instructio de calendariis particularibus … ad normam et mentem Codicis rubricorum revisendis 33, in AAS 53 (1961) 168-180.

(95) The restored solemnity of Mary Mother of God renders obsolete the October 11 feast of the Maternity of Mary, which recalled the confirmation of this title at Ephesus in 431.

(96) Missale Romanum, 3rd typical edition (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2002) [MR 2002].

(97) See Notitiae 35 (1999) 227-247.

(98) See Notitiae 40 (2004) 194-206. At the same time, John Paul II placed St. Juan Diego on the general Roman calendar, likewise as an optional memorial.

(99) See Mal 4:2.

(100) Preface Advent II, ICEL, The Roman Missal revised by decree of the Second Vatican Council and published by the authority of Pope Paul VI: The Sacramentary (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1985) 377.

(101) Missale Romanum anno 1962 promulgatum, eds Cuthbert Johnson and Anthony Ward, Bibliotheca “Ephemerides Liturgicae” Subsidia Instrumenta Liturgica Quarreriensia Supplementa 2 (Rome: Centro Vincenziano Liturgico—Edizioni Liturgiche, 1994) [MR 1962] 36, p. 6.

(102) MR 1962, 38, pp. 6-7.

(103) MR 1962, 45, p. 7.

(104) MR 1962, 47, p. 8. Cf. Gertrud Schoiller, Iconography of Christian Art, trans. Janet Seligma (Greenwich CT: New York Graphics Society, 1971) 1:14-21.

(105) See Amalarius of Metz (c.775-c.850), Liber de ordine antiphonarii, 13.30, J.M. Hanssens, ed., Amalarii episcopi opera liturgica omnia, vol. 1, Studi e testi 140 (1950) 48-9.

(106) Liturgia horarum iuxta ritum romanum, editio typica (Vatican City: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1977) [LH] I: tempus Adventus, tempus Nativitatis, 540.

(107) St. Louis de Montfort drives this point home in his treatise True Devotion to Mary, trans. Frederick William Faber (New York: Fathers of the Company of Mary, 1941; reprinted Rockford IL: TAN, 1985) p. 3 and passim.

(108) Mt 2:11.

(109) Jn 2:11.

(110) See Placido Lugano, Le sacre stazioni romane per la quaresima e l’ottava di Pasqua: note storiche e preci stazionali (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1960) 7-13.

(111) Lugano, 14; see also 15-18.

(112) “La moderna disciplina non è che la continuazione dell’antica. “È cosa buona e utile invocare supplichevolemente i servi di Dio, regnanti insieme con Cristo, e venerarne le reliquie e le immagini: ma prima di ogni altro tutti fideli onorino con filiale devozione la beatissima Vergine Maria” (can. 1276). E la visita stazionale reca il tribute dell’onore e l’incenso dell’amore filiale all Madre di Dio nelle dorate basiliche della sua glorificazione, e il profumo della venerazione alle reliquie dei Martiri e dei Santi che impreziosiscono per l’immortalità le nostre chiese romane.” Lugano, 12-13.

(113) Joseph Connelly, Hymns of the Roman Liturgy (Westminster MD: Newman, 1957) 45.

(114) Connolly, 45.

(115) See LH 4:1067 and 1081.

(116) Sedulius, Paschale Carmen, 5, 357-364, Sedulii opera omnia, ed Iohannes Huemer (Vienna: Gerold, 1885) Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 10: 140-141.

(117) John Paul II, Wednesday general audience, April 3, 1996, L’Osservatore Romano, English ed. April 10, 1996: Mary “alone remains to keep alive the flame of faith, preparing to receive the joyful and astonishing announcement of the Resurrection”; Wednesday general audience May 21, 1997, L’Osservatore Romano, English ed. May 28, 1997, 11.

(118) John Paul II, Wednesday general audience, May 21, 1997, L’Osservatore Romano, English ed. May 28, 1997, 11.

(119) See p. 17, n. 60.

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