Blessed Virgin Mary (Roman Catholic)

Blessed Virgin Mary (Roman Catholic)
Blessed Virgin Mary

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship."[1]
Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Church, Mediatrix, Co-Redemptrix, Our Lady
Born September 8 (Nativity of Mary)
Died August 15 (Assumption of Mary)
Honored in Catholicism
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Major shrine Santa Maria Maggiore, Basilica of Guadalupe (see Shrines to the Virgin Mary)
Feast See Marian feast days
Attributes Blue mantle, crown of 12 stars, pregnant woman, roses, woman with child
Patronage See Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary
This article is about the Roman Catholic venerative views; for doctrines see Roman Catholic Mariology. For a general perspective, see Mary (mother of Jesus). For the religious order BVM, see Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Roman Catholic veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is based on Holy Scripture: In the fullness of time, God sent his son, born of a virgin.[2] The mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God through Mary thus signifies her honour as Mother of God. From the Council of Ephesus in 431, which dogmatized this belief, to Vatican II and Pope John Paul II's Redemptoris Mater encyclical the Virgin Mary has come to be seen, not only as the Mother of God but also as the Mother of the Church.

As the mother of Jesus Christ, Mary has a central role in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic veneration of her as the Blessed Virgin Mary has grown over time both in importance and manifestation, not only in prayer but in art, poetry and music.[3][4][5][6] Popes have encouraged this veneration but from time to time have also taken steps to reform it.[note 1] Overall, there are significantly more titles, feasts and venerative Marian practices among Roman Catholics than any other Christians traditions.[7]

The key role of the Virgin Mary in Roman Catholic beliefs, her veneration, and the growth of Roman Catholic Mariology have not only come about by official statements made in Rome but have often been driven from the ground up, by the Marian writings of the saints and from the masses of believers, and at times via reported Marian apparitions to young and simple children on remote hilltops, which have then influenced the higher levels of the Holy See via sensus fidei. The Holy See continues to approve of Marian apparitions on remote mountains, the latest approval being as recent as May 2008.[8][9] Some apparitions such as Fatima have given rise to Marian Movements and Societies with millions of members, and many other Marian societies exist around the world.[10]


From Christ to Mary in the Roman Catholic tradition

Theological basis for the veneration of Mary

A series of articles on
Roman Catholic

Raphael - Madonna dell Granduca.jpg

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

The Catholic veneration of Mary is based on two aspects: the workings of God who made a virgin the Mother of God,[11] and the biblical view of Mary as the selected maiden of the Lord[12] who is greeted and praised[13]by both Elisabeth[14]Luke 1:28. God's work is further illuminated in the Marian dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, the factual basis of both taking place in apostolic time and are, in the Roman Catholic view, part of the apostolic tradition and divine revelation.[15][16][17]

Mysteries of Christ and Mary

In Roman Catholic teachings, the veneration of Mary is a logical and necessary consequence of Christology: Jesus and Mary are son and mother, redeemer and redeemed.[18][19] This sentiment echoed loudly through Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome on March 25, 1987 as Pope John Paul II delivered his encyclical Redemptoris Mater and said:

At the centre of this mystery, in the midst of this wonderment of faith, stands Mary. As the loving Mother of the Redeemer, she was the first to experience it: "To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator"![20]

In the Roman Catholic tradition Mariology is Christology developed to its full potential.[21][22] Mary and her son Jesus are very close but not identical in Catholic theology. Mary contributes to a fuller understanding of her Son, who Christ is and what He did. A Christology without Mary is erroneous in the Roman Catholic view, because it is not based on the total revelation of the Bible. Traces of this parallel interpretation go back to the early days of Christianity and numerous saints have since focused on it.[18][23]

The development of this approach continued into the 20th century, e.g. in his 1946 publication Compendium Mariologiae, the respected Mariologist Gabriel Roschini explained that Mary not only participated in the birth of the physical Jesus, but, with conception, she entered with him into a spiritual union. The divine salvation plan, being not only material, includes a permanent spiritual unity with Christ.[24] [25][26] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote:

It is necessary to go back to Mary if we want to return to that "truth about Jesus Christ," "truth about the Church" and "truth about man".[19]

when he suggested a redirection of the whole Church towards the program of Pope John Paul II in order to ensure an authentic approach to Christology via a return to the "whole truth about Mary".[19]

From veneration to theology

Marian venerative practices predated both the liturgical developments and theological definitions relating to the Virgin Mary. While the venerative practices date back to the 2nd century, the first theological definitions started only in the 5th century. Thereafter, venerative and devotional practices have often preceded formal theological declarations by the Magisterium.[27][28][29]

The veneration of the Blessed Virgin takes place in various ways. Marian prayers and hymns usually begin with a praise of her, followed by petitions.[30] The number of Marian titles continued to grow as of the 3rd century, and many titles existed by the 5th century, growing especially during the Middle Ages.[31]

Early veneration in Rome

Earliest fresco of the Virgin Mary, Catacomb of Priscilla, 2nd century.[32]

Early veneration of the Blessed Virgin is documented in Roman Catacombs, underground cemeteries, where Christians hid in times of persecution. In the catacombs paintings show the Blessed Virgin holding the Christ Child.[33] More unusual and indicating the burial ground of Saint Peter excavations in the crypt of St Peter's Basilica discovered a very early fresco of Mary together with Saint Peter.[34][35]

The Roman Priscilla catacombs depict the oldest Marian paintings from the middle of the 2nd century[36] Mary is shown with Jesus on her lap, a standing man with tunic left hand a book right hand a star over his head symbol of messiahs. Priscilla also has a depiction of the annunciation.[32]

After the edict of Milan in AD 313, Christians were permitted to worship openly. The veneration of Mary became public as well. In the following decades Cathedrals and churches were built for public worship. The first Marian churches in Rome date from the 5th and 6th centuries, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria Antiqua and Santa Maria Maggiore.[37] However, the very earliest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary dates to the late 4th century in Syria where an inscription dedicating it to the Theotokos was found among the ruins.[38]

This new freedom also permitted literary development of the Marian mysteries. Hippolytus of Rome being early example.[39][40] Saint Ambrose, who lived in Rome before going to Milan as its bishop, venerated Mary as example of Christian life, and is credited with starting a Marian cult of virginity in the 4th century.[41]

Liturgical aspects

The first Christians did not celebrate the liturgy and liturgical feast in the same way as later Christians; the feasts of Easter and Christmas were not known, although the Eucharist was celebrated.[42] Liturgical venerations of the saints are believed to have originated in the 2nd century and in the first three centuries, the emphasis was on the veneration of martyrs, as a continuation of the yearly celebrations of their death, e.g. as noted in the early Christian text on the Martyrdom of Polycarp.[43] However, in the early part of the 3rd century, Hippolytus of Rome recorded the first liturgical reference to the Virgin Mary, as part of the ordination rite of a bishop.[39] Marian feasts appeared in the 4th century, and the feast of the "Memory of Mary, Mother of God" was celebrated on August 15 in Jerusalem by the year 350.[39][44]

Growth of Marian culture

Santa Maria Maggiore, the first Marian church in Rome, originally built between 430 and 440.[45]

From the middle of the 11th century onwards, more and more churches, including many of Europe's greatest cathedrals (e.g. Notre Dame de Paris and Notre-Dame de Bayeux among others), were dedicated to Mary. Marian pilgrimage developed large popular followings and prayers such as the Regina Coeli were composed.[30] At the height of the pilgrimage movement in the 11th and 12th centuries, hundreds of people were traveling almost constantly from one Marian shrine to the next.[46]

In the 12th century, the book Speculum Virginum (mirror of Virgins in Latin) provided one of the earliest justifications of cloistered religious life, as it sought to strengthen the resolve of women who contemplated a dedicated religious life, and encouraged them to follow the example of the life of the Virgin Mary.[47] By the 14th century, Mary had become greatly popular as a compassionate intercessor and protector of humanity and during the great plagues such as the Black Death, her help was sought against the just judgment of God.[48] The Renaissance witnessed a dramatic growth in venerative Marian art.[49]

By the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation had introduced a tide against Marian venerations in Europe.[50] However, at the same time new Marian devotions were starting in South America based on Saint Juan Diego's 1531 reported vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe which added almost 8 million people to the ranks of Catholics.[51][52] The ensuing Marian pilgrimages have continued to date and the Marian Basilica on Tepeyac Hill remains the most visited Catholic shrine in the world.[53] In the 17th and 18th centuries writings by the saints, coupled with papal encouragements, increased the growth of Marian devotions, and gave rise to the definition and declaration of new Marian doctrines.[54]

Marian culture continues to be developed within the Catholic Church. For instance, in 1974, after 4 years of preparation, Pope Paul VI issued the Apostolic Letter Marialis Cultus. In this document, (which was subtitled For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary) Paul VI not only discussed the history of Marian devotions, but overviewed their rationale and provided suggestions for their future direction, emphasising their theological and pastoral value.[55][56]

A multitude of views and perspectives

Throughout the centuries, Catholics have viewed the Virgin Mary from a multitude of perspectives, at times derived from specific Marian attributes ranging from queenship to humility, and at times based on cultural preferences of events taking place at specific points in history.[57][58]

An example of the cultural adaptation of perspective include the view of the Virgin Mary as a mother with humility (rather than a heavenly queen) as the Franciscans began to preach in China, and its similarity to local Chinese motherly and merciful figure of Kuanyin, which was much admired in south China.[59][60][61][62][63][64] Another example is the Saint Juan Diego's account of the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531 as a tanned Aztec princess who spoke in his local Nahuatl language. The clothing of the Virgin of Guadalupe image has been identified as that of an Aztec princess.[65][66][66][67][68][69]

Other views such as the Virgin Mary as a "miracle worker" have existed for centuries and are still held by many Catholics today.[70][71][72] Instances include the Black Madonna of Częstochowa which continues to be venerated today as the Patron of Poland and Our Lady of Lourdes which receives millions of pilgrims per year. However, the Vatican has generally been reluctant to approve of modern miracles, unless they have been subject to extensive analysis and scrunity. [73][74][75][76][77]

Development of Marian doctrines

Throughout the centuries, the growth of Marian devotional and venerative practices has been parallelled by the definition of specific Marian doctrines by the Magisterium.[37]

Apart from the title of Mother of God which holds Mary as Theotokos, two specific doctrines relate to the birth of Jesus and the virginity of Mary. These are distinct doctrines which were defined and declared as dogmas at different times. [78]

Since the 4th century, Roman Catholics have believed in the Virgin birth of Jesus, namely that Jesus was miraculously conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit while Mary remained a virgin. This was decided at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Going beyond the virgin birth of Jesus, the doctrine of Perpetual virginity of Mary holds that before giving birth to Jesus and even thereafter Mary remained a virgin all her life. This dates back to the Council of Constantinople in 533.[78]

Two separate doctrines address the Virgin Mary's conception and death. The doctrine of Immaculate Conception states that Mary was conceived without original sin, namely that she was filled with grace from the very moment of her conception in her mother's womb.[79] The Immaculate Conception was proclaimed a dogma Ex Cathedra by Pope Pius IX in 1854, as the first exercise of papal infallibility.[80] The dogma of the Assumption of Mary states that she was assumed into Heaven body and soul. This was also defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950.[81]

Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution derived from Vatican II in 1964, declared that the Lord had consecrated Mary as "Queen of the universe", reflecting the contemporary expansion of knowledge regarding outer space.[82]

Mary's protection and intercession

The Virgin of Mercy protecting a group of nuns under her mantle. Sano di Pietro, 15th century.

Roman Catholic views of the Virgin Mary place emphasis on her roles as a mediatrix of men to God, refuge and advocate of sinners, protector from dangers and most powerful intercessor with her Son, Jesus, who is God. These views are expressed in prayers and artistic depictions, theology, popular and devotional writings, as well as in the use of Marian Sacramentals and images.[83][84][85][86]

The earliest known prayer to Mary, the Sub tuum praesidium, (Latin for under your protection) begins with the words: "Beneath your compassion, we take refuge."[87][88] The artistic depictions of the Virgin of Mercy portray the role of Mary as the protector of Christians, as she shelters them under her mantle. The Virgin of Mercy depictions sometimes include arrows raining from above, with the Virgin's cloak protecting the people.[89]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (item 971) echoes this protective sentiment, stating that:

From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honoured with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs.[90]

Catholics have continued to seek the protection of Mary as the Mother of Sorrows (who understands and shows compassion) and relied on her intercession as the Queen of Heaven since the Middle Ages.[91] Building on that sentiment, popes have entrusted specific causes to the protection of the Virgin Mary. For instance, pope Benedict XV entrusted the protection of the world through the intercession of Mary Queen of Peace during the first world war .[92]

Miguel Hidalgo's 1810 Guadalupan flag.

For many centuries, Catholics have used Marian Sacramentals. Since the Middle Ages the wearing of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Brown Scapular) by Catholics has been a sign of their seeking her protection.[84] Pope John Paul II wore a Brown Scapular since childhood and as he momentarily gained consciousness when he was shot on 13 May 1981 he asked to keep his scapular during the operation to remove the bullet.[93][94][95]

The depictions of Our Lady of Navigators arose from the prayers and devotions of Portuguese navigators, who saw the Virgin Mary as their protector during storms and other hazards. Prayers to Our Lady of Navigators are well known in South America, specially Brazil, where its February 2 feast is an official holiday.[96][97] The Virgin of the Navigators (a variant of the Virgin of Mercy), depicting ships under her mantle, is the earliest known painting whose subject is the discovery of the Americas.[98][99]

Both Miguel Hidalgo and Emiliano Zapata flew flags of Our Lady of Guadalupe as their protector, and Zapata's men wore the Guadalupan image around their necks and on their sombreros.[100][101] In 1979 ceremony Pope John Paul II placed Mexico under the protection of the Virgin of Guadalupe.[102]

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, also known as the order of Our Lady of Ransom or Order of Captives began in the 13th century in the Kingdom of Aragon (Spain) to ransom impoverished captive Christians (slaves) held in Muslim hands. The order now focuses on the role of the Virgin Mary as the protector of captives and prisoners.[103][104] The Sodality of Our Lady founded in 1563 was also placed under her protection.[105]

The popular Catholic prayer, the Memorare relates protection with the intercession of the Virgin Mary, stating:[106]

"Never was it known that anyone who fled to Thy protection, implored Thy help or sought Thy intercession, was left unaided."

Saint Louis de Montfort taught that God appointed Mary as "the dispenser of grace", and to receive grace from God, one can receive it through the hands of the Blessed Virgin, as a child receives from a mother.[107][108] This concept of Mary as "the mother to us in the order of grace" who can intercede for "the gift of eternal salvation" was restated in the 1960s in Lumen Gentium, one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council.[108][109]

Consecration and entrustment to Mary

Shortly before her death at age 9, Blessed Jacinta Marto of Fátima asked that everyone consecrate themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.[110]

For centuries, Marian devotions among Roman Catholics have included many examples of personal or collective acts of consecration and entrustment to the Virgin Mary; the Latin terms oblatio, servitus, commendatio and dedicatio were used in this context.[111]

Consecration is an act by which a person is dedicated to a sacred service, or an act which separates an object, location or region from a common and profane mode to one for sacred use.[112][113] Consecration to the Virgin Mary has been practiced by Catholics for many centuries, at the personal, societal and papal levels, where individuals, societies, regions and the whole world have been consecrated to her.[114]

The Catholic Church makes it clear that the use of the term "consecration" with regard to Mary is only applied in the "broad and non-technical sense" and is different from "those self-offerings which have God as their object, and which are characterised by totality and perpetuity, which are guaranteed by the Church's intervention and have as their basis the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation."[111] Further, "the faithful should be carefully instructed about the practice of consecration to the Blessed Virgin is, in reality, only analogously a 'consecration to God,' and should be expressed in a correct liturgical manner: to the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit, imploring the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom we entrust ourselves completely, so as to keep our baptismal commitments and live as her children. The act of consecration [to Mary] should take place outside of the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, since it is a devotional act which cannot be assimilated to the Liturgy. It should also be borne in mind that the act of consecration to Mary differs substantially from other forms of liturgical consecration."[111]

Individuals declaring their "entrustment" to Mary make a personal act to show their devotion and dedication to Mary as the Mother of God, who, though holy, is not herself a divine being. Such individuals seek her intercession before God through her son Jesus Christ, for she has no divine power.[112][113] Devotions to Mary are also commonly directed to Mary herself, to the Immaculate Heart, and/or to the Immaculata; true consecration is only to God.[115]

Consecration to the Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics has taken place from three perspectives, namely personal, societal and regional and with three forms: to the Virgin herself as a whole, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to the Immaculata. In Catholic teachings, consecration to Mary does not diminish or substitute the love of God, but enhances it, for all consecration is ultimately made to God.[115] Pope Leo XIII, specially encouraged everyone to make acts of consecration to the Virgin Mary based on the methods of Saint Louis de Montfort (who was beatified by Leo), and granted indulgences for such consecrations.[116] Pope Benedict XV also provided strong support for Marian consecration.[116] Pope John Paul II's motto Totus Tuus (i.e. totally yours) reflected his personal consecration to Mary.[117]

In the 18th century, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort became a tireless advocate of "total consecration to Jesus through Mary."[118] In True Devotion, St. Louis stated, "...the most perfect consecration to Jesus Christ is nothing else than a perfect and entire consecration of ourselves to the Blessed Virgin and this is the devotion I teach; or, in other words, a perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy Baptism."[119]

The 1858 messages of Our Lady of Lourdes in which the Virgin Mary was called the Immaculate Conception built significant sensus fidelium among Catholics at large, and consecrations to the Immaculata began to take form.[120][121][122] Early in the 20th century, the Saint Maximilian Kolbe, called the Apostle of Consecration to Mary, began a vigorous program of promoting consecration to the Immaculata and published Miles Immaculatae which reached a circulation of 750,000 copies a month.[23][123]

In modern times, Pope John Paul II clarified consecration to Mary in his 1987 encyclical, Mother of the Redeemer, in which he stated, "Mary's a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual."[124] John Paul II suggested Christians could best "entrust" themselves to Mary by becoming her spiritual sons and daughters.[125]

Theologian Garrigou-Lagrange designated personal consecration to Mary as the highest level among Marian devotions.[23] His student, Pope John Paul II made Marian devotions and consecrations a hallmark of his papacy, often referring to John 19:26–27, and heavily relying on the spirituality of Saint Louis de Montfort. He also consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.[126][127]

Mary's role in salvation and redemption

One of the components of the Catholic veneration of Mary is the focus on her participation in the processes of salvation and redemption.[128] Entire books have been devoted to the exploration of the Catholic perspectives on Mary's role in salvation and redemption.[129][130][131]

The underlying theological issues have been discussed as far back as St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century and were intertwined with the discussions of the Immaculate Conception. One of the first scholars to offer theological foundations in this area was the Franciscan Duns Scotus who developed the notion that Mary was preserved from sin by the redemptive virtue of Jesus.[132][133][134] Devotions to and the veneration of the Virgin Mary continued to spread, as she came to be seen as the helpful mother of Christians, and by the 15th century these practices had oriented all the Catholic devotions.[135]

As of the 17th century, a common thread in the writings of saints and theologians alike is the role of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary as joint symbols of redemption and coredemption. Saint Veronica Giuliani expressed how Mary's suffering in Calvary united her heart with that of Jesus as she suffered each torment along with him.[136] The joint devotion to the hearts was formalised by Saint Jean Eudes who organised the scriptural and theological foundations and developed its liturgical themes.[137][138] John Eudes wrote that: "The Virgin Mary began to cooperate in the plan of salvation, from the moment she gave her consent to the Incarnation of the Son of God".[107] The venerative aspects of the united nature of the two hearts continued through the centuries and in 1985 Pope John Paul II coined the term Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and in 1986 addressed the international conference on that topic held at Fátima, Portugal.[139][140][141][142]

By the 18th century, the continued growth of Marian veneration had emphasised the role of the Virgin Mary in salvation. In his classic book The Glories of Mary, Saint Alphonsus Liguori explained how God gave Mary to mankind as the "Gate of Heaven", and he quoted Saint Bonaventure, namely "No one can enter Heaven unless by Mary, as though through a door."[143] And he wrote:[144]

Thou art the gate through which all find Jesus; through thee I also hope to find Him."

Saint Louis de Montfort, whose writings later influenced popes, was an ardent supporter of the Virgin Mary's role in salvation.[145][146] The Catholic focus on the role of Mary in salvation and redemption continued into the 20th century, e.g. Pope John Paul II's 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater began with the sentence: "The Mother of the Redeemer has a precise place in the plan of salvation."[20]

Catholic saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary

Stained glass depicting St. Louis de Montfort who explained how an initially Christocentric view of salvation leads to total consecration to the Blessed Virgin.[23]

The Roman Catholic perspective on the Virgin Mary has not simply been shaped by the theological studies by a few scholars, but also by devotional concepts embraced by millions of Catholics who venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary. These devotions have relied on the writings of numerous saints throughout history who have attested to the central role of Mary in God's plan of salvation.[147]

Early saints included Saint Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd century who was perhaps the earliest of the Church Fathers to write systematically about the Virgin Mary, and he set out a forthright account of her role in the economy of salvation.[148][149][150] Saint Ambrose of Milan (339–397) based the veneration of Mary not only on her virginity but also on her extraordinary courage.[151][152][153]

In the Middle Ages, Saint Bernhard of Clairvaux, a Doctor of the Church, was a fervent supporter of Mary. He highlighted her virginity and humility as the basis for her veneration.[154][155] A particularly significant contribution to Mariology came from John Duns Scotus who in the 13th century defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.[156][157] Scotus identified the key theological foundations which led to the declaration of the dogma of Immaculate Conception centuries later.[158]

In the 16th century, Saint Ignatius of Loyola promulgated an ardent love to the Virgin Mary.[159] Ignatius admired images of the Virgin Mary and before his death his death instructed the Jesuits to preserve Madonna della Strada, was later enshrined in the Church of the Gesu in Rome.[160] Filippo Neri, a contemporary of Ignatius, called Mary "mother and advocate" and is credited with the innovation of daily Marian devotions during the month of May.[161] Saint Peter Canisius is credited with adding the Hail Mary to his catechism of 1555.[162][163][164]

In the 18th century, Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote the classic book The Glories of Mary in which he called Mary the "Gate of Heaven".[165][166] Saint Louis de Montfort's book True Devotion to Mary synthesized many of the earlier saints' writings and teachings on Mary. His approach of "total consecration to Jesus Christ through Mary" had a strong impact on Marian devotion both in popular piety and in the spirituality of religious orders.[23] One of his well-known followers was Pope John Paul II who said that reading Montfort's book was a "decisive turning point" in his life.[167][168]

Mary in Roman Catholic liturgy

The Roman Catholic liturgy is one of the most important elements of Marian devotions. Marian feasts are superior to the feast days of the saints. The liturgical texts of the Marian feast days all link Mary to Jesus Christ and keep Marian awareness awake within the Church.

Catholic Marian feast days

The earliest Christian feasts that relate to Mary grew out of the cycle of feasts that celebrated the Nativity of Jesus. By the 7th century a feast dedicated to Mary was celebrated just before Christmas in the Churches of Milan and Ravenna in Italy.[169] Over time, the number of feasts (and the associated Titles of Mary) and the venerative practices that accompany them increased and today Roman Catholics have more Marian feasts, titles and venerative practices than any other Christians.[7] Marian feasts have continued to be developed in the Catholic Church, e.g. the feast of the Queenship of Mary was declared in the 1954 in the papal encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam by pope Pius XII.[170][171]

A Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary procession during October in Bergamo, Italy.

Some Marian feasts relate to specific events, e.g. the Feast of Our Lady of Victory (later renamed Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary) was based on the 1571 victory of the Papal States against the Muslims in the Battle of Lepanto. It is now celebrated on the 7th of October.[172][173] The month of October was then established as the "month of the Rosary" by Pope Leo XIII, who recommended daily Rosary devotions in October.[174][175]

During the month of May, May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary take place in many Catholic regions. These include the singing of Marian anthems, readings from scriptures, a sermon, and or presentation by local choirs.[176][177] The month is also associated with reflection on the Virgin Mary's role as the ideal disciple who sheds light on the Christian way of life, and theologian Karl Rahner stated:[178]

When we are involved in our May Devotions, we are engaged in a Christian understanding of the human situation.

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates three Marian solemnities which are also holy days of obligation during the liturgical year[179] (in liturgical order):

Among the other prominent Marian feast days and memorials in the General Roman Calendar of the Catholic Church are:[179]

Titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A large number of titles to honour Mary or ask for her intercession are used by Roman Catholics.[180] While Mater Dei (i.e. "Mother of God" as confirmed by the First Council of Ephesus, 431) is common in Latin, a large number of other titles have been used by Roman Catholics – far more than any other Christians.[7][181][182]

Titles used to refer to the Virgin Mary throughout history, at times reflect the changing attitudes towards her. Domina (lady), Regina (queen) and Stella Maris (star of the sea) are some of the early titles of Mary, of which Regina is the earliest. Domina and Sella Maris are found in Jerome who perhaps originated the etymology of Mary as Stella Maris in the 5th century. While the early emphasis in Stella Maris was on Mary as the Star that bore Christ, by the 9th century, the attention had focused on Mary herself, as indicated in the hymn Ave Maris Stella. By the 11th century, Mary herself had emerged as the star that acted as a guiding light.[183] By the 13th century, as Mariology was growing, Saint Anthony of Padua had composed Mary Our Queen.[184] Titles continue to be interpreted, e.g. Queen of Heaven was further elaborated in 1954 in the papal encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam by pope Pius XII.[170]

Among the most prominent Roman Catholic Marian titles are:[185]

Marian Music

One of the earliest Marian compositions is the popular Salve Regina in Latin from a Benedictine monk, which exists in several Gregorian versions. The liturgy of the hour includes several offices to be sung. At the close of the Office, one of four Marian antiphons is sung. These songs, Alma Redemptoris Mater Ave Regina caelorum, Regina caeli, and Salve Regina, have been described as "among the most beautiful creations of the late Middle Ages."[186][187]

It is difficult to trace the beginning of non-Gregorian Marian liturgical music.[188] In 1277 Pope Nicholas III prescribed rules for liturgy in Roman churches.[189][190] In the Graduale Romanum, Kyriale IX and X are both for Marian feasts. Over the centuries, Marian master pieces have continued to appear, e.g. Mozart's Coronation Mass.[191] The list of compositions by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina includes numerous Marian masses: Salve Regina, Alma Redemptoris, Assumpta est Maria, Regina coeli, de beata Virgine, Ave Regina coelorum, Descendit Angelus Domini, and O Virgo simul et Mater.[192] Joseph Haydn wrote several Marian compositions including two famous Marian Masses.[193]

Marian prayers, poems and hymns

See also Hymns to Mary and Marian litanies
Roman Catholic Mariology
A series of articles on

Marian Prayers


Alma Redemptoris Mater
As a Child I Loved You
Ave Maris Stella
Ave Regina Caelorum
Fatima Prayers
Flos Carmeli
Hail Mary
Hail Mary of Gold
Immaculata prayer
Immaculate Mary
Mary Our Queen
Regina Coeli
Salve Regina
Stabat Mater
Sub tuum praesidium
Three Hail Marys

Throughout the centuries the veneration of the Virgin Mary has given rise to a number of poems and hymns, as well as prayers. Author Emily Shapcote lists 150 Marian poems and hymns in her book Mary the Perfect Woman.[194] Such prayers and poems go as far back as the 3rd century, but enjoyed a rapid growth during the 11th and 12th centuries. Some of the best poetry written in honor of the Blessed virgin comes from this period of the Middle Ages.[30]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (item 2679) emphasizes the importance of Marian prayers and states:

Mary is the perfect prayer, a figure of the Church.... We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.[195]

The earliest known Marian prayer is the Sub tuum praesidium, or Beneath Thy Protection, a text for which was rediscovered in 1917 on a papyrus in Egypt dated to c. 250.[87][88] The papyrus contains the prayer in Greek and is the earliest known reference to the title Theotokos (confirmed by the Council of Ephesus in 431):[196]

Beneath your compassion, We take refuge, O Mother of God: do not despise our petitions in time of trouble: but rescue us from dangers, only pure, only blessed one.

While the Regina Coelorum goes back to the 4th century, the Regina Coeli was composed towards the end of the 11th century. The first part of the Hail Mary, based on the salutation of angle Gabriel in the Visitation was introduced in the 11tth century, although its current form can be traced to the 16th century.[30]

During the 11th century, as the number of monasteries grew, so did Marian prayers. In this period the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary was introduced and was modeled after the Divine office but was much shorter. It was adopted not only by monks but by pious people who could read. And the growth of the Tertiary orders helped spread its use. During the First Crusade, Pope Urban II ordered it to be said for the success of the Christians.[30] In this period, Hermannus Contractus (Herman the Cripple) at the abbey of Reichenau composed the Alma Redemptoris Mater and hymns to Mary became part of daily life at monasteries such as the Benedictine Abbey of Cluny in France.[197][198]

In the 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux gave sermons (De duodecim stellis), from which an extract has been taken by the Roman Catholic Church and used in the Offices of the Compassion and of the Seven Dolours. Saint Bernard wrote:[197]

Take away Mary, this star of the sea, the sea truly great and wide: what is left but enveloping darkness and the shadow of death and the densest blackness?

Stronger evidences are discernible in the pious meditations on the Ave Maria and the Salve Regina, usually attributed either to St. Anselm of Lucca (d. 1080) or St. Bernard; and also in the large book "De laudibus B. Mariae Virginis" (Douai, 1625) by Richard de Saint-Laurent.

Other famous Marian prayers include the Magnificat, the Angelus and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Marian hymns include O Mary, we Crown Thee With Blossoms Today, Hail Queen of Heaven, the Regina Coeli, and the Ave Maria.[199]

Marian devotions

Rosary and scapular

A Catholic devotion is a willingness and desire for pious dedication and service but is an "external practice" which is not part of the official liturgy of the Catholic Church.[200][201][202] A wide range of Marian devotions are followed by Catholics ranging from simple Rosary recitations to formalized, multi-day Novenas to activities which do not involve any prayers, such the wearing of scapulars or maintaining a Mary garden.[203]

Two well known Marian devotions are the Rosary recitation and the wearing of the Brown Scapular. Following their joint growth in the 18th and 19th centuries, by the early 20th century the Rosary and the devotional Scapular had gained such a strong following among Catholics worldwide that the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1914 stated: "Like the Rosary, the Brown Scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic."[204] In his encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae Pope John Paul II emphasized the importance of the Rosary. The Mariological basis of the Scapular devotion is effectively the same as Marian consecration, as discussed in the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of Pope Paul VI, namely the role of the Virgin Mary as "the mother to us in the order of grace" which allows her to intercede for "the gift of eternal salvation".[109][205]

Roman Catholic tradition includes specific prayers and devotions as Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary for insults that she suffers. The Raccolta Roman Catholic prayer book (approved by a Decree of 1854, and published by the Holy See in 1898) includes a number of such prayers. These prayers do not involve a petition for a living or deceased beneficiary, but aim to repair the sins of others against the Virgin Mary.[206][207][208]

Catholic view of Marian apparitions

The term Marian apparition is usually used in cases where visions of the Virgin Mary are reported, either with or without a conversation. There are, however, cases (e.g. Saint Padre Pio or Sister Maria Pierina De Micheli) where visions of Jesus and Mary and conversations with both are reported. Well-known apparitions include Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Fatima.[209][210][211]

The official position of the Holy See is that while the Holy Office has approved a few apparitions of the Virgin Mary, Roman Catholics at large are not required to believe them. However, many Catholics express belief in Marian apparitions.[212] This has included popes, e.g. four popes, i.e. Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have supported the Our Lady of Fátima messages as supernatural.[citation needed] Pope John Paul II was particularly attached to Fátima and credited Our Lady of Fátima with saving his life after he was shot in Rome on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fátima in May 1981. He donated the bullet that wounded him on that day to the Roman Catholic sanctuary at Fátima Portugal.[209][213][214]

As a historical pattern, Vatican approval seems to have followed general acceptance of a vision by well over a century in most cases. According to Father Salvatore M. Perrella of the Mariunum Pontifical Institute in Rome, of the 295 reported apparitions studied by the Holy See through the centuries only 12 have been approved, the latest being in May 2008.[8][9][215][216]

Veneration through Marian art

Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos is one of four key Marian devotions in Mexico by Catholics and its images are venerated by Catholics from Jalisco to Texas.[217][218]

The tradition of honouring Mary by venerating images of her goes back to 3rd century Christianity.[219] Following the period of iconoclasm, the position of the Church with respect to the veneration of images was formalized at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. A summary of the doctrine is included in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honour rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honour paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God Incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends towards that whose image it is.[220]

No image (in either the Western or the Eastern Church) permeates Christian art as the image of Madonna and Child.[221] The images of the Virgin Mary have become central icons of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity where Mary remains a central artistic topic.[222] The Virgin Mary has been one of the major subjects of Christian Art, Catholic Art and Western Art since Early Christian art and she has been very widely portrayed in iconic "portraits", often known as Madonnas, with the infant Jesus in the Madonna and Child, and in a number of narrative scenes from her life known as the Life of the Virgin, as well as scenes illustrating particular doctrines or beliefs: from masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Murillo and Botticelli to folk art.[223][224]

Some Marian art subjects include:

Marian art enjoys a significant level of diversity, e.g. with distinct styles of statues of the Virgin Mary present on different continents (as depicted in the galleries in Roman Catholic Marian art). These depictions are not restricted to European art, and also appear in South American paintings.[225] The South American tradition of Marian veneration through art dates back to the 16th century, with the Virgin of Copacabana gaining fame in 1582.[226]

Marian movements and societies

Throughout the centuries the devotion to and the veneration of the Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics has both lead to, and been influenced by a number of Roman Catholic Marian Movements and Societies. These societies, form part of the fabric of Roman Catholic Mariology since they contribute to the sensus fidelium, a century-old sense of the faithful, shared by the Magisterium.[10][227][228] As early as the 16th century, the Holy See endorsed the Sodality of Our Lady and Pope Gregory XIII issued a Papal Bull commending it and granting it indulgences and establishing it as the mother sodality, and other sodalities were formed thereafter.[229][230][231]

The 18th and 19th centuries saw a number of missionary Marian organisations such as Company of Mary, the Marianists, Marist Fathers and Marist Brothers. Some of these missionaries, e.g. Saint Peter Chanel and Saint Marcellin Champagnat were martyred as they travelled to new lands.[232][233] The 20th century witnessed the formation of Marian organisations with millions of members, e.g. the Legion of Mary and Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima.[234][235][236][237]

Marian shrines and patronages

The Marian Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil, the largest church in the Americas.[238]

In the Roman Catholic Church a shrine is a church or sacred place which receives many faithful pilgrims for a specific pious reason. The local ordinary must approve the shrine.[239]

Marian shrines account for major veneration centers and pilgrimage sites for Roman Catholics. According to Bishop Francesco Giogia, at the end of the 20th century, the most visited Catholic shrine in the world was that of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. In third place was Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, with the non-Marian shrine of San Giovanni Rotondo in second place.[53] The visual effect of Marian pilgrimages can be dramatic, e.g. on May 13 and October 13 of each year close to one million Catholic pilgrims walk the country road that leads to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima.[240] Around 2 million pilgrim journey up Tepeyac hill on December 12 each year to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.[241] While in 1968 Aparecida had about four million pilgrims,[242] the number has since reached eight million pilgrims per year.[243]

Major Marian shrines include:

There are other doubtful Marian pilgrimage sites such as Međjugorje, which is not considered a shrine by the Holy See, but yet receives a large number of pilgrims every year.[244] The number of pilgrims who visit some of the approved shrines every year can be significant. E.g. Lourdes with a population of around 15,000 people, receives about 5,000,000 pilgrims every year.[245] In 1881 a French priest, Julien Gouyet, led by the visions of Jesus and Mary of the Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (Klemens Brentano, 1852) discovered the House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus in Turkey.[246][247][248]

A number of countries, cities and professions consider the Blessed Virgin their patron saint. For a list, see Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

See also


  • Remigius Bäumer, Leo Scheffczyk (Hrsg.) Marienlexikon Gesamtausgabe, Institutum Marianum Regensburg, 1994, ISBN 3-88096-891-8 (cit. Bäumer)



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