Marian devotions

Marian devotions
Madonna and five angels, Botticelli, c. 1485.

A Marian devotion is a gift (total or partial) of oneself, or one's activities to the Virgin Mary. It is a willingness and desire to dedicate oneself to, or venerate her; either in terms of prayers or in terms of a set of pious acts. Such prayers or acts may be accompanied by specific requests for Mary's intercession to God.[1][2][3][4]

A wide range of Marian devotions exist, ranging from multi-day prayers such as Novenas among Catholics, the veneration of icons in the Eastern Christianity or activities which do not involve any prayers, such as the wearing of scapulars or even maintaining a Mary garden.[5][6]

Devotion to the Virgin Mary does not, however, amount to worship - which is reserved for God; e.g. both Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox view Mary as subordinate to Christ, but uniquely so, in that she is seen as above all other creatures. In 787 the Second Council of Nicaea affirmed a three level hierarchy of latria, hyperdulia and dulia that applies to God, the Virgin Mary and then to the other saints.[7][8][9][10]

Marian devotions are important to the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican traditions, but most Protestant views on Mary do not accept them and argue that they do not have a biblical basis and may distract attention from Christ.[11] There is significant diversity of form and structure in Marian devotions practiced by different groups of Christians. Orthodox Marian devotions are well defined and closely linked to liturgy, while Roman Catholic practices are wide ranging and may include non-dogmatic beliefs such as the association of Marian devotions with predestination.[12]



Given that there is no single church with universal authority within the Anglican Communion, different types of Marian devotions are practiced by various groups of Anglicans with varying degrees of emphasis.[13] Within the Anglican Communion and the Continuing Anglican movement, devotions to the Virgin Mary have more emphasis within High Church and Broad Church parishes than others.

The emphasis placed on Mary and Marian devotions has changed throughout the history of Anglicanism. In the 16th century, following differences with the Roman Catholics, a movement away from Marian themes took place and by 1552 mentions of Mary had been mostly removed from the Book of Common Prayer and all Marian feasts except the Annunciation and the Purification had disappeared. However, in the 17th century, there was a gradual return to Marianism and by 1662 there were 5 Marian feasts.[14]

Stained glass depiction of Madonna and Child, St. John's Anglican Church, Ashfield, NSW, Australia.

British devotion to the Virgin Mary has often found itself expressed in poetry, as well as Marian hymns and Carols, e.g. in the 17th century poems of John Donne and George Herbert, or in the 18th century works of Thomas Ken such as Saint Mary the Virgin.[15][16]

The Anglican devotion for the Virgin Mary was revived during the 19th century Oxford Movement of Anglo-Catholicism and the activities of prominent figures such as John Henry Newman who had strong Marian devotions.[17] British theologians such as Father Frederick Faber (who composed several Hymns to Mary) took an enthusiastic approach to the promotion of Marian devotions towards the end of the 19th century.[18]

In the liturgical renewal of the 20th century, Mary gained new prominence, and in most Anglican prayer books she is mentioned by name in the Eucharistic prayers.[19] The gradual increase in Marian devotions among Anglicans has also been manifested within the higher levels of the clergy in the Anglican Communion. For instance, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who made a 2008 pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes) wrote a book on how to pray with the icons of the Virgin Mary.[20][21][22]

Anglican devotions to Mary include the Anglican Rosary (a variation of the rosary), votive candles, and pilgrimages to Walsingham and Lourdes. Some Anglicans, and Anglo-Catholics also pray the rosary itself.[23][24][25] For centuries, Our Lady of Walsingham has been a centerpiece in the Anglican devotions to the Virgin Mary and its feast is celebrated on October 15, as well as a Catholic feast on September 24.[26][27][28] Also common in Anglican cathedrals, Anglo-Catholic parishes, and certain Anglican shrines are chapels or side altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary called Lady chapels.[29]

Discussions between Roman Catholics and Anglicans within frameworks such as the Anglican—Roman Catholic International Commission and with the 2005 publication of the (non-binding) joint statement: Mary: grace and hope in Christ have started a movement towards a closer understanding of Mary and Marian devotions between Catholics and Anglicans.[22][30]

Eastern Orthodoxy

Our Lady of Kazan has been the subject of devotions both in the Catholic Church and in Eastern Orthodoxy.[31][32]

A deep devotion to the "Aeipartenos" (i.e. Ever Virgin) Mary is one of the key themes of Orthodox liturgy and spirituality. Devotion to the Virgin Mary is "taken for granted" in Eastern Orthodoxy: it permeates the entire life of the Church and historically required no academic development as in the Western Church.[33]

In the Orthodox view, devotion to Mary is considered an important element of Christian spirituality, and indifference to her by other Christian denominations is troubling to the Orthodox.[34] For instance, Orthodox theologian Sergei Bulgakov called denominations that do not venerate the Virgin Mary "another type of Christianity".[9][35]

The Theotokos (i.e. God-bearer, or Mother of God) title for Mary is very important in Eastern Orthodoxy and is seen as an affirmation of the fullness of God's incarnation.

The Orthodox approach to Marian devotions is characterized by three elements:

  • Orthodox understandings of Mary have for centuries been mostly doxological and devotional rather than academic: they have been expressed in Marian hymns, liturgical poetry and the veneration of icons, rather than formal treatises. Marian devotions thus form the nucleolus of Orthodox Mariology.[36]
  • Devotions to Mary are far more ingrained and integrated within Orthodox liturgy than any other Christian traditions, e.g. there are many more hymns to Mary within the Eastern Orthodox yearly cycle of liturgy than in Roman Catholic liturgy.[37] Feasts, icons and hymns are often combined, e.g. the Theotokos Iverskaya "wonder working" icon is used on its own feast day, and the Akathistos is sung.[38]
  • The Orthodox focus on Mary as the Theotokos gives more emphasis to devotions that praise Mary's role in the mystery of Incarnation, rather than other devotions, e.g. those that consider her sorrows at Calvary.[33] Devotions to the Theotokos are often combined with the veneration of icons depicting her with the Child Jesus. For instance, in the Sunday of Orthodoxy the singing of Marian hymns and the veneration of icons reaffirm the identity of Mary as the Theotokos.[39]

The Eastern Orthodox Church considers Mary to have been elevated by God to the highest status, above all other creatures, though still only a human being. The Orthodox hymn Axion Estin speaks of Mary as being "More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim." Although the Orthodox consider Mary sinless, they do not accept the Roman Catholic definition of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.[35]

Mary is mentioned numerous times in all of the Divine Services and the Divine Liturgy. The final petition of each ektenia (litany) ends with an invocation of the Virgin Mary. When a series of troparia are chanted, the final one is often a Theotokion (hymn to the Virgin Mary). There are numerous Marian litanies in the Eastern church and may cover a multitude of themes, some dogmatic, others of moral and patriotic character.

Devotions to icons of the Theotokos (often considered miraculous) are common in Eastern Orthodoxy. Many such icons are considered the protector of a region, e.g. Our Lady of Kazan for Kazan, Theotokos Fyodorovskaya as the protector of the upper Volga region and Theotokos of Tolga as the patroness of Yaroslavl. A number of local (and often ancient) Orthodox Marian devotions also exist around the world, e.g. to the icon of the Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring in present day Istanbul.

One of the most important Marian devotions is the Akathist to the Theotokos, which is chanted every year during Great Lent, and is frequently chanted throughout the year as a private devotion. Some people chant the Akathist as part of their preparation for Holy Communion. A metrical translation of an ancient Orthodox prayer is found in the second verse of the Anglican hymn, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.

Roman Catholicism

Marian devotions are highly prominent within the Roman Catholic tradition, both at papal and popular levels. Pope Paul VI began his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus with this sentence:

From the moment when we were called to the See of Peter, we have constantly striven to enhance devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.[40]

In Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II emphasized the importance of Marian devotions as follows:

Since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary.[41]

At the popular level, for centuries books such as True Devotion to Mary (which influenced Pope John Paul II as a young seminarian) have built a ground swell of Marian devotions among Catholics, to the point that tens of millions of pilgrims visit Marian shrines every year.[42] For instance, the statue of our Our Lady of Zapopan attracts over one million pilgrims on October 12th each year as the statue travels through the streets moving from one Cathedral to another.[43][44]

Marian devotions can take a unifying national dimension, e.g. devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is a national symbol in Mexico and in 1979 Pope John Paul II placed Mexico under her protection.[45] Similarly, national devotions to Our Lady of Šiluva resulted in Lithuania being formally consecrated to Mary by Cardinal Sladkevicius and the Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament, in September 1991.[46]

Marian devotions are also associated with a number of pious beliefs among Catholics which have not been dogmatically approved by the Church, but have been asserted by the saints and theologians. An example is the belief that Marian devotions are a sign of predestination, namely that those who have strong Marian devotions are more likely to go to Heaven.[12] Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century, Saint Bonaventure in the 13th century, and Saint Alphonsus Ligouri in the 19th century affirmed this belief, and 20th century theologian R. Garrigou-Lagrange (who taught Pope John Paul II) supported it with modern theological arguments regarding the "signs of predestination".[12][47][48][49]

Diversity of devotions

Marian devotions among Roman Catholics are numerous and have diverse cultural dimensions. While there are many well known devotions, a very large number of small, local and regional devotions also exist. At the top level Catholic Marian devotions may be categorized into the following non-exclusive groups, based on the characteristics of the devotion:

A series of articles on
Roman Catholic

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General articles
Overview of Mariology
Veneration of the Blessed VirginHistory of Mariology

Expressions of devotion
ArtHymnsMusic • Architecture

Specific articles
Apparitions • SaintsPopesSocieties • Hearts of Jesus & Mary • Consecration to Mary

  • Doctrine-based: Specific popular teachings and pious beliefs among Catholics have resulted in Marian devotions, and generated sensus fidelium even before their approval by the Church. For instance, devotions related to the Immaculata and the Immaculate Heart of Mary were widespread among Catholics by late 17th century before Immaculate Conception was declared a dogma in 1854.[53][54][55] Such devotions can evolve over time, e.g. to the joint devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary.[56][57]
  • Life of Mary: Specific episodes in the Life of the Virgin Mary have resulted in devotions that focus on that aspect of her life. Examples include the Seven Sorrows of Mary that recalls her sufferings from the Prophecy of Simeon to the Crucifixion of Jesus. The Seven Joys of Mary on the other hand start with the Annunciation and end with her coronation in Heaven. Ongoing devotions such as Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary focus on her continued suffering at the present time as a result of insults and blasphemies.[58][59][60]
  • Sacramentals: The Rosary and Rosary meditations continues to be key Marian devotions. Over the centuries, among other sacramentals various devotional scapulars, specially the Brown scapular became very popular among Catholics, to the point that Catholic Encyclopedia stated: "Like the Rosary, the Brown Scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic." [61][62][63] Joint devotions such as Rosary and scapular and associated devotions such as First Saturday Devotions have followed that trend.

There is also interplay between these types of devotion, e.g. the apparitions of Lourdes emphasized the Rosary and those of Fatima reported the Virgin Mary with the rosary and scapular. And regional devotions that may have hardly been heard of on other continents, continue to generate local support such as festivals and celebrations. E.g. the festival of Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga in the Philippines has been celebrated for centuries, and its icon continues to be venerated.[64] Local devotions can generate significant interest, e.g. each year around Pentecost, as part of a local Marian devotion, about a million people attend the Romería de El Rocío in Spain.[65]

Many other forms of devotional expression take place, e.g. there has also been the long established practice of dedicating side altars in Catholic churches to Mary, often called Lady Chapels.[66] The tradition of May devotions to the Virgin Mary involves various ceremonies such as the singing of Marian hymns, readings from scriptures, a sermon, and or presentation by local choirs.[67][68]

Major Roman Catholic devotions to Mary

A street shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary in Montevarchi, Tuscany, Italy.


Life and doctrines:




See also


Key articles on
Fra Angelico 046.jpg

General perspective
Mother of Jesus

Specific views
AnglicanEastern OrthodoxLutheran • Marian veneration • Muslim • Protestant
Roman Catholic

Prayers & devotions

Hymns to MaryHail MaryRosary

Ecumenical views

This box: view · ^ Christ, the Ideal of the Priest by Abbot Columba Marmion 2006 ISBN 0852446578 page 332
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  • ^ Burke, Raymond L.; et al. (2008). Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons ISBN 9781579183554 pages 667-679
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  • ^ Catholic encyclopedia on Popular Devotions
  • ^ The History of the Christian Church by Philip Smith 2009 ISBN 1150722452 page 288
  • ^ Miravalle, Mark. Introduction to Mary'’. 1993 ISBN 9781882972067 pages 92–93
  • ^ a b The Orthodox Church by Serge? Nikolaevich Bulgakov 1997 ISBN 0881410519 page 116
  • ^ Trigilio, John and Brighenti, Kenneth The Catholicism Answer Book 2007 ISBN 1402208065 page 58
  • ^ Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim, 2003. Encyclopedia of Protestantism, Volume 3 ISBN 0415924723 page 1174
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  • ^ Milton, Anthony Catholic and Reformed 2002 ISBN 0521893291 page 5
  • ^ Mary for Time and Eternity by William McLoughlin, Jill Pinnock 2007 ISBN 0852446519 pages 4-7
  • ^ The thousand faces of the Virgin Mary by George Henry Tavard 1996 ISBN 0814659144 pages 153-161
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  • ^ The Blessed Virgin Mary in England by Brother Anthony Josemaria 2008 ISBN 0595500749 pages 173-175
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  • ^ Catholic Walsingham shrine
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  • ^ Vatican web site: Rosarium Virginis Mariae
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