Mary and the Liturgical Year

Updated: May 30, 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