The Passionists - Compassion

Mary in Christian Tradition

The Scriptures: 1st Century

"God sent his only Son, born of a woman . . . " (Gal. 4:4) Except for this reference, no mention is made of Mary in the earliest Christian writings -- the letters of St. Paul. Only the four Gospels, written between 65 and 100 A.D. give any details of her life. They are the prime sources for later Christian devotion to Mary. (Right: Mater Dolorosa, Joos van Cleeve)

Mark's Gospel says simply that Jesus is "the Son of Mary," yet relates nothing about the events of his birth and family life. For Mark, being a disciple who believes in Jesus is more important than any ties of flesh and blood. He recalls Mary as a believer, a disciple of her Son, who does the will of God. (Mk. 3:31-35)

Luke's beautiful narration of the events surrounding the birth of Christ portrays Mary as "the handmaid of the Lord." Drawing, probably, on early Jewish-Christian devotion to the mother of Jesus, his Gospel presents her as one of the faithful remnant of Israel, "the Anawim," "the people of the land" who, despite the hardships they experienced from one conqueror to another, remained faithful to their God. Complete trust in God, no matter what comes, is their strength. Luke's Gospel pictures Mary as a believer who is a model for every ordinary Christian. Life can be transformed when someone says to God, as she did: "Be it done to me according to your word."

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant,
from now on will all ages call me blessed."
(Lk. 1:16-18)

Matthew's Gospel, intent on tracing Jesus' descent from David through Joseph, presents Mary less conspicuously than Luke. This Gospel, however, strongly insists on Mary's unique virginal conception: " . . . before they lived together she was found with child through the Holy Spirit." (Mt. 1:18) Later, this belief in her virginal conception would bring Mary an honored title: the Mother of God.

John's Gospel, the last of the four, speaks twice of Mary. At Cana in Galilee she intercedes with her son for a newly married couple and he changes the water in wine. (Jn 2:1-12) On Calvary she stands beneath the cross at Jesus' death. (Jn 19:25-27) At Cana and on Calvary Jesus calls his mother "Woman," which early Christian tradition saw as an allusion likening her to the first woman, Eve. In God's plan, Mary, by her faith, reversed the failure of Eve and so became the new "mother of all the living." Through the centuries the stories of Cana and Calvary have led Christians to seek Mary's intercession with her Son and to rely on her as a mother with compassion for those in need.

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Mary in the Apocryphal Writings
Stories of Her Early Life: 2nd Century

Popular Christian stories about Christ, Mary and the apostles originating in Syria, Palestine and Egypt from the mid-2nd century, greatly influenced the way ordinary Christians imagined Mary's life. These stories, attempting to supply details omitted in the Gospels, went beyond and sometimes contrary to the indications of the Scriptures. They have inspired art, liturgy and Christian devotion to Mary over the centuries.

"The Gospel of James," one of these stories written about 150 A.D., portrays the childhood of Mary in this way:

"When Mary was one year old, Joachim made a great feast and invited the priests and scribes, and the whole people of Israel assembled.

"And Joachim brought the child to the priests, and they blessed her saying, 'O God of our fathers, bless this child and give her a name renowned for ever among all generations.'

"And all the people said: 'So be it, so be it. Amen . . . '

"And the child became three years old, and Joachim said: 'Call the virgin daughters of the Hebrews and let them accompany the child to the temple of the Lord with lamps burning in their hands.'

"And they went up to the temple of the Lord.

"And the priests received her and kissed her and blessed her, saying: 'The Lord has magnified your name among all generations; in you the Lord will show redemption to the children of Israel.'

"And he sat her on the third step of the altar. And the Lord gave her grace and she danced with her feet and all the house of the Lord loved her.

"And her parents returned home marveling and praising the Lord because their child did not turn back.

"And Mary was in the temple of the Lord to be nurtured like a dove; and she received food from the hand of an angel."

The story proceeds to give details of Mary's marriage to Joseph, who is portrayed as an old widower with his own children. It relates new wonders and signs that accompanied the birth of Jesus in a cave. The account, by presenting Mary as a sheltered virgin absorbed in the service of God in the temple, sought to defend the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth. Unfortunately, it pictures her removed from the ordinary, uneventful village life that Scripture suggests was hers.

By the 5th century, a church honoring Mary's birthplace and home, suggested by this apocryphal story, was built close by the Temple site in Jerusalem. The Church of St. Ann, the mother of Mary, stands on that place today.

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Mary's Death and Assumption into Heaven

Stories from the 5th century (or perhaps earlier) recount Mary's later life, her death and assumption into heaven -- events unreported by the four Gospels.

The legends describe Jesus appearing to Mary in the house on Mount Sion in Jerusalem where she lived after Pentecost. Her Son tells her she is soon to die. From all parts of the world the apostles gather to bid her farewell:

"Stretching out his hands, the Lord received her holy soul. And when her soul departed, the place was filled with a sweet smell and bright light.

"And a voice from heaven proclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women.'

"Peter and John, Paul and Thomas, ran to embrace her feet and receive her holiness; and the twelve apostles laid her holy body on a bier and bore it forth. (Ps. John: The Dormition of Mary, 4th century)

"Instructed by Jesus, Peter and the other apostles took her body to be buried in a new tomb near Gethsemane in the Kidron Valley, where miracles of healing accompanied her burial.

"Three days later, angels took her body to heaven."

By the year 600, a feast called the Dormition of Mary, honoring her death and assumption into heaven, was celebrated in Jerusalem and in the churches of the East. Some centuries later it would pass into the Western churches known as the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

One of the first churches in Christendom dedicated to Mary was built over her tomb near Gethsemane around 400 A.D. Today, a church still marks this site in Jerusalem.

In the 7th century, Theothekno, bishop of Palestine, preached a homily on the feast of Mary's Assumption, August 15:

 

"Rejoice with the Mother of God,
with angels and saints,
and celebrate this great feast:
the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

"On earth she was a fruitful virgin,
in heaven she intercedes for all;
through this blessed woman,
the Spirit's gifts still flow upon us,
and her words teach gentle wisdom.

"At her assent the earth blossomed;
she sought good things for the poor.
Now in heaven her care is undiminished,
near her Son she seeks the good of us all."

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Early Palestinian Shrines Honoring Mary

Early devotion to Mary developed as certain ancient sites in Palestine associated with Jesus and his mother:

  • At Bethlehem, the grotto of Christ's birth was held sacred.
  • At the Mount of Olives outside Jersalem, grottoes recalling his agony in the garden and ascension were frequented by early Jewish Christians. Mary's grave, too, was honored in this area.
  • At Jerusalem, the sites where Jesus died and was buried were remembered.
  • On Mount Sion in Jerusalem, the early church met for worship on the site where the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the disciples at Pentecost.
  • At Nazareth, where the sites of Jesus' early life were remembered.

Jerusalem and much of Palestine were laid waste by Roman armies in 70 A.D. and again after the Jewish revolts of 132-135 A.D. Most of the native population was deported, but a remnant of Palestinian Christians kep alive the memories and traditions of these holy places where Mary was honored along with her son.

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The Christian "Holy Land" of the 4th Century

In 313 A.D., the Emperor Constantine not only legalized Christianity after centuries of persecution, but contributed resources for its development. He built great churches on the sites associated with Christ's birth, death, resurrection and ascension, making Palestine a vital spiritual center of the Christian world.

From 335 A.D. onward, Christian pilgrims from all over the empire -- bishops, priests, lay people -- flocked to the Holy Land. They celebrated fervently the liturgy of the Jerusalem church which turned the ancient sacred sites and other shrines into a visual gospel. Pilgrims wanted to see the manger, the wood of the cross, anything that survived from Jesus' time. Relics (sometimes authentic, sometimes not) were offered for their devotion. Returning home with their memories, with relics and souvenirs, they celebrated the feasts and sacred places they experienced in the Holy Land in their own liturgies, churches and shrines.

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Mary, the Mother of God: 431 A.D.

Controversy also stimulated devotion to Mary in the early church. In 431, the Council of Ephesus repudiated Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, for refusing to honor Mary with the title "Mother of God." The title safeguards Christian belief in the mystery of the Incarnation: Jesus is God and man. The church did not seek to make Mary a goddess, otherwise she could not have given birth to Christ as someone truly human. She could be called Mother of God, however, because Jesus who was born from her was truly Son of God from all eternity.

Popular feeling for Mary ran high in the Christian world after the council, and churches dedicated to her arose in almost every important city. In the city of Constantinople alone, 250 churches and shrines in her honor were built before the 8th century. Pictures, Icons of Mary holding her divine child multiplied, especially in churches of the East, where they became objects of special devotion.

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Europe as a Holy Land: 11th - 15th Centuries

The Muslim conquest of Palestine in the 7th century brought the holy places under non-Christian rule that became increasingly hostile towards Christian pilgrims. When the Turks threatened the ancient Christian shrines with destruction, the Christian nations of Europe sought to reconquer the Holy Land in the Crusades of the 11th century.

During these disturbed times, the shrines and relics of Palestine were re-duplicated or transferred to the countries of Europe. In Spain, France, England, Italy, Germany and the Lowlands, great medieval shrines honoring Mary, like those in the Holy Land, arose in places like Chartres, Montserrat, Walsingham, and Loretto. This "European Holy Land" became the setting for the early medieval Christian's devotion to the Mother of God.

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Medieval Devotion to Mary

The Christian people of the Middle Ages, suffering constantly fron disease, famine and war which they were helpless to do anything about, turned anxiously to Mary for assistance. Simple faith led them to trust her to intercede for them with her Son as she did for the ordinary people at the marriage feast of Cana.

Since she was a compassionate mother who had experienced the sufferings of Calvary, they petitioned her for cures from sickness, for protection and help. Her kindness and power were proclaimed everywhere -- in the sermons they heard, in art and song and prayer.

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Meditating on the Life of Mary

Popular classics like "The Meditations on the Life of Christ," a book dating from the 13th century, nourished medieval devotion to Mary. Widely circulated, it taught Christians to see the lives of Jesus and Mary through a kind of "pilgrimage of the imagination." By meditating on the stories of the Gospel, embellished with additional details and legends, one could experience Christ and his saints and learn from them how one should live.

Stories from the "Meditations," appealing and tender as the following short excerpt from the Nativity of Jesus shows, greatly influenced the way medieval Christians saw Mary and inspired also the works of so many medieval artists.

". . . the emperor wrote a proclamation that the whole world should be registered, and everyone go to his own city. So obeying the command, Joseph started on his way with our Lady, taking with him an ox and an ass, since she was pregnant and the road five miles long from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. They arrived like poor owners of animals.

"Now they could not find an inn when they arrived at Bethlehem, because they were poor and many others were there to register, too.

"Pity our Lady, and see this delicate girl, only 15 years old, as she walks so carefully, tired by the journey and jostled by the crowds. They were sent away by everyone, the childlike mother and the old man, Joseph, her husband.

"When they saw an empty cave that people used when it rained, they entered it for shelter. And Joseph, who was an expert carpenter, probably closed it in some way. . . When Jesus was born, Mary wrapped him in the veil from her head and laid him in a manger. The ox and the ass knelt with their mouths above the manger and breathed on the infant as if they knew the child was poorly clothed and needed to be warmed in that cold season.

The mother knelt also to adore him and to thank God, saying, 'I thank you, Father, thay you gave me your Son and I adore you, eternal God, and you, Son of the living God, my Son.' Joseph also adored him.

"Then Joseph took the ass's saddle and pulled out the stuffing of straw and placed it near the manger so that our Lady might rest on it.

"She sat down and stayed there, her face turned constantly toward the manger, her eyes fixed lovingly on her dear Son."

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The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant reformers of the 16th century attacked the low standards that began to mar European devotion to Mary in late medieval times. They condemned superstitious practices exaggerating Mary's power and position, some of which seemed to place her above Christ himself. Luther or Calvin never rejected veneration of Mary totally. They saw her as a model whose humble faith Christians could imitate. Yet the reformers discouraged Marian pilgrimages and shrines, suppressed her feasts, and forbade prayers for her intercession.

The Catholic Church, while acknowledging abuses in devotion to Mary, upheld the privileges and practices which long-standing Christian tradition accorded her as the Mother of Jesus.

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Catholic Devotion to Mary from the Reformation to Today

Within the Catholic world of Europe and America, devotion to Mary flourished from the 17th century until the time of the Second Vatican Council in the 20th century. Devotion to Mary during this time strongly influenced every aspect of Roman Catholic culture and piety. Among Eastern and Orthodox Christians also, devotion to Mary continued to be strong.

In the Western church, numerous religious communities and societies, such as the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Marists, the Sisters of Notre Dame, the Legion of Mary, were founded under her patronage. They sought to imitate Mary's motherly concern to bring the message of her Son to all peoples through their mission work in schools, hospitals and missions throughout the world.

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The Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council, in its Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), summed up the church's belief about Mary and devotion to her:

"We turn our eyes to Mary who shines forth on the whole community of believers as a model of virtues. Faithfully meditating on her and contemplating her in light of the Word made man, the church enters more intimately into the great mystery of the Incarnation.

"For Mary unites in herself the great teachings of faith, and so she calls believers to her Son and his sacrifice and to the love of the Father.

"Seeking the glory of Christ, the church becomes more like her and progresses in faith, hope and love, seeking and doing the will of God in all things . . .

"Just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, in the image and beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come, so, too, does she shine forth on earth, until the day the Lord comes, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the People of God during its sojourn on earth." (Lumen Gentium 65, 68)

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Feasts of Mary

The Calendar of the Catholic Church, with its feasts, scriptural readings and prayers, is a good guide to Christian belief about Mary and her role in our life. The universal calendar, revised in 1970, celebrates feasts of Mary almost every month.

There are major feasts of Mary and feasts of lesser rank. Many of the feasts originate early on in the churches of the east, which still celebrate them today. Besides these feasts, devoted particularly to Mary, other feasts of our Lord, like the feast of Christmas, the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Presentation give Mary a special place.

The major feasts of Mary point to the most important reasons for honoring Mary, and they explain our relationship to her. They contain the substance of the Church's belief about her.

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The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. (January 1)

This feast, closely connected to the feast of Christmas, is the most important and oldest of the major feasts of Mary. It is based on the source of her privileges: her motherhood. Jesus Christ, God's Son " born of a woman," (Galatians 4,4) came to deliver us from sin and make us children of God. He is also Mary's Son, and she, his mother, helps bring his blessings to the world. She is

"truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer...not merely passively engaged by God, but freely cooperating in the work of our salvation through faith and obedience." (Lumen Gentium,53,56)

Mary was not simply a passive instrument in God's hands; rather she discovered and accepted new dimensions to her motherhood as her life unfolded. Scripture indicates signs of her new unfolding motherhood.

At the marriage feast in Cana in Galilee, where Jesus worked his first miracle, Mary is "the Mother of Jesus" who manifests

" a new kind of motherhood according to the spirit and not just according to the flesh, that is to say Mary's solicitude for human beings, her coming to them in the wide variety of their wants and needs. At Cana in Galilee there is shown only one concrete aspect of human need, apparently a small one and of little importance ("They have no wine"). But it has a symbolic value, this coming to the aid of human beings means, at the same time, bringing those needs within the radius of Christ's messianic mission and salvific power." (Pope John Paul 11, Redemptoris Mater 21)

Mary's care for humanity and its needs would not limited to her earthly life; it lasts "without interruption until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. (Lumen Gentium, 62)

Whether in her own lifetime or from her place in heaven, Mary's solicitude for human beings looks, above all, to making known the messianic power of her Son. At Cana in Galilee she told the servers at table, "Do what he tells you." (John 2,5) In all her care for others, she points out Jesus to them.

Throughout her life, then, Mary was a follower of her Son. At the foot of the cross, her motherhood reached a new maturity when Mary experienced her Son's redeeming love for the world. Her spirit was touched and refined by the mystery of his death and resurrection.

From his cross, Jesus, seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, said to Mary, "Woman, behold your son."(John 19,25-27)

"The words uttered by Jesus signify that the motherhood of her who bore Christ finds a 'new' continuation in the Church and through the Church, symbolized and represented by John. " (Redemptoris Mater, 24)

Before Pentecost, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus, the disciples "continued with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren."(Acts 1,14) "Thus Mary who is present in the mystery of Christ as Mother becomes- by the will of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit- present in the mystery of the Church. In the Church too she continues to be a maternal presence, as is shown by the words spoken from the cross:'Woman, behold your son.' 'Behold, your mother.' "

Readings for the feast

The principal reading for the feast, from St. Luke's gospel, describes the shepherds coming to Bethlehem where they

"found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger." (Luke 2,16-21)

Mother and son are found together. She presents her Son to them. In fact, she will always point to him. As a pilgrim of faith, she "treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart"; at the same time, she invites other pilgrims to treasure and reflect on the mystery of Jesus Christ.

Along with the Byzantine and Syrian churches, which celebrate the feast of the Mother of God (Theotokos) on December 26, the Roman church celebrates this primary feast close to the feast of the Birth of Jesus Christ. For

"only in the mystery of Christ is her mystery made clear." (Redemptoris Mater)

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The Immaculate Conception of Mary (December 8)

Like the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated during Advent, is related to the mystery of Jesus. To fulfill her unique role in the mission of Jesus, Mary was conceived free from original sin through the foreseen merits of her Son.

"To become the Mother of the Savior, Mary, 'was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role' The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as 'full of grace.' In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 490)

Though Mary's Immaculate Conception is her unique privilege, it is a sign that, even before his birth, Christ's saving work affects generations that preceded him. The grace of Christ present when she was conceived is an affirmation that Christ's grace is present in past generations, as well as generations to come.

Readings for the feast

The readings for the feast, then, take us back to the Book of Genesis, which recalls the fall of humanity, as well as the promise of future salvation. ( Genesis 3,9-20) In the Epistle to the Ephesians there is a reminder that " God chose us in (Christ) before the world began." (Ephesians1,3-6) Finally, in the gospel reading, the angel proclaims to Mary that she is "full of grace," gift of a Son not yet born. (Luke 1,26-38)

"In the event of the Immaculate Conception the Church sees projected and anticipated in her most noble member, the saving grace of Easter." (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 1)

"Through the centuries, the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, 'full of grace' through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 490)

The feast of the Conception of Mary appeared in the Roman calendar in 1476. After the dogmatic definition of 1854, it became the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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The Assumption of Mary (August 15)

As the Feast of the Immaculate Conception proclaims the grace of Christ in Mary before he was born, so the Feast of the Assumption points to the fulfillment of that grace, when Mary was taken, body and soul, into heaven to share in the glory of her Son's Resurrection. The Church proclaimed this dogma in 1950:

"'The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fulled conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.' The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians."

Like the mystery of her Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary is significant for all humanity, since she anticipates our resurrection with Christ in glory. She was taken up to heaven as "the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way." (Preface of the Assumption)

Readings for the feast

The readings for the feast dwell on the promise of heaven's glory. The Book of Revelations presents the sign of "the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." (Revelations 11, 19) The reading from I Corinthians promises that all will be raised, who are members of Christ. (1 Corinthians 15, 20-26) The gospel reading is Mary's Magnificat, her song of praise that "God has raised up the lowly to high places." (Luke 1, 39-56)

This feast has its roots in the early Jerusalem church and in the churches of the East.

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Feasts of the Lord in which Mary has a special place

The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple (February 2)

The Feast of the Presentation, an ancient feast also with roots in the early Jerusalem church, celebrates the day when Mary and Joseph brought their infant Child to the Temple of Jerusalem to present him to God according to Jewish custom. Though a feast of Jesus Christ, who is revealed as Messiah to the aged Simeon and Anna, faithful Israelites waiting for the Messiah, it is also is a feast of Mary. Simeon becomes the messenger of a "Second Annunciation" as he tells Mary

"of the actual historical situation in which her Son is to accomplish his mission, namely in misunderstanding and sorrow." (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 16)

In the reading from St.Luke, Simeon says to Mary:

"This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed- and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword- so that the thoughts of many hearts will be laid bare." (Luke 2,22-40)

"While this announcement on the one hand confirms her faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful." (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 16)

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The Annunciation of the Lord (March 25)

The feast , recalling the angel Gabriel's visit to Nazareth to announce to Mary God's invitation that she should be the mother of a Divine Son, is primarily a feast of Jesus Christ. It celebrates God become incarnate, the Word made flesh, as a loving gift to humanity and all creation. Yet Mary had an important role in the mystery of the Incarnation.

Though troubled by the angel's extraordinary words, Mary accepts the invitation in faith.

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1, 38)

Like faithful Abraham, who "believed against hope," Mary accepted the mysterious plan of her Creator and consented to its consequences by the dim light of faith. She is a model for believers who make "a pilgrimage of faith."

The primary reading for this feast is the story of the Annunciation from St.Luke's Gospel (Luke 1,26-38). The feast is celebrated nine months before the feast of Jesus' birth.

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The Visitation (May 31)

The feast of the Visitation celebrates Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth who was with child. At their meeting, John the Baptist, the child in Elizabeth's womb leapt for joy, and Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb." (Luke 1,41) Jesus Christ, in Mary's womb, is recognized as God's blessing.

Mary, too, is praised for her faith.

"Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled." (Luke 1)

A feast of the Incarnation, the Visitation is also a feast of Mary whose responds with her song of praise:

"My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit finds joy in God my savior." (Luke 1,)

The feast of the Visitation celebrated between the feast of the Annunciation and the feast of the birth of John the Baptist. (June 24)

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Other Feasts of Mary

The major feasts of Mary and feasts of our Lord in which she has a special place present the essential teaching of the Church about her.

Mary is also honored in other feasts, some ancient and others of more recent origin.The feasts of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Presentation in the Temple arose from stories and celebrations of the early Jerusalem church. Other feasts of Mary, like the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, celebrate more recent appearances and devotions.

One should remember that the Catholic Church's approval of apparitions, like Lourdes, or of private revelations, like devotion to the Miraculous Medal, is not an infallible confirmation of their historical truth. Rather it is an assertion by the Church, after investigation, that this special place or way of venerating Mary can bring spiritual nourishment to those who are drawn to it. These signs encourage people to prayer, penance and the celebration of sacraments.

"Even when a 'private revelation' has spread to the entire world, as in the case of Our Lady of Lourdes, and has been recognized in the liturgical calendar, the Church does not make mandatory the acceptance either of the original story or of particular forms of piety springing from it. " (Behold Your Mother, NCCB 100)

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The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8)

Three important births are celebrated in the Roman calendar: the birth of Jesus, of Mary, and of John the Baptist. (June 24) Mary's birth has been celebrated from ancient times, though her birthplace or time of birth are not mentioned in scripture. As far back as the 5th century a church was built on the traditional site of her birth in Jerusalem on the site of the pool of Bethsaida, (John 5,1-9) near the Temple and a feast in honor of Mary's birth was celebrated. (see p ) By the 8th century the feast was celebrated in the Church of Rome.

The family record of Jesus Christ from the Gospel of Matthew is the principal reading for this feast. (Matthew 1,1-23)The list of generations finds its completion in Mary. "It was of her that Jesus who is called the Messiah was born." Like a shining star, her birth prepares for the dawn of the Savior. She is the culmination of a long line of people who prepared for the Word to become flesh.

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The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (November 21)

The present memorial of Mary's presentation in the Temple as a child originated in Jerusalem at the church built there in her honor. It celebrates Mary's dedication to God. (see p ) The feast became popular in the western church in religious communities, where members renewed their vows on this day, remembering the one who called herself "the maidservant of the Lord."

Dedication of St. Mary Major (August 5)

This optional memorial celebrates the dedication of the great church of St. Mary Major, built in Rome after the Council of Ephesus in 431. Still one of the main churches of the Eternal City, the church was built to honor Mary as the Mother of God and reflected the growing devotion to her among Christians everywhere. (see p) One of the great Icons of Mary is revered in this ancient Roman Church.

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16)

The feast, an optional celebration, was originally celebrated by the Carmelite order in Europe in the Middle Ages.(see p ) It was first listed in the Roman calendar in 1726

Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7)

Originally this feast was celebrated in thanksgiving for Mary's intercession, after the defeat on October 7,1571 of Turkish naval forces that threatened Europe. Today the feast is a special remembrance of the spiritual power of the Rosary. (see p)

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Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15)

Christians of the Middle Ages and later centuries developed a lively devotion to Mary in her sorrows, which were foretold by the old man, Simeon, when she brought the Child Jesus into the Temple. (Luke 9.23) As the first disciple of her Son, she entered into his paschal mystery; her motherhood matured and took new form as she accepted her part of his cross.

In fact, Mary is a model for Christians who wish to follow the words of Jesus, "Take up your cross each day and follow me." We seek in her faith support for our own. Over the centuries her sorrows are remembered in various feasts and by devotions that influenced some of the great works of Christian art, such as the Pieta and the Stabat Mater.

In the western church, religious orders, especially the Order of Servites, promoted devotion to the Sorrowful Mother.

Traditionally, seven sorrows are ascribed to her:

  1. Mary hears the prophecy of sorrow from Simeon.
  2. Mary flees with the Child into Egypt.
  3. Mary experiences the loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem.
  4. Mary meets her Son on the road to Calvary.
  5. Mary stands beneath the cross of Jesus.
  6. Mary receives the body of Jesus taken down from the cross.
  7. Mary sees her Son's body placed in the tomb.

Today the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated the day after the feast of the Holy Cross.

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The Queenship of Mary (August 22)

In the Old Testament, royal titles are commonly given to God and those specially anointed by God. Titles of royalty were given to Jesus and Mary from earliest times by Christians as signs of the special power they possessed. In prayers and hymns like the Salve Regina and the Regina Coeli, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is called Queen.

Instituted in 1955, this feast follows the feast of the Assumption, as it points to Mary's privileged place in heaven. Mary "was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things." (Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 59)

Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12)

Under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mary is honored as" the patroness of the Americas." The feast originated in the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to Juan Diego, a humble Mexican worker, in 1521.

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Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11)

Pope Pius X included the feast of our Lady of Lourdes in the Roman calendar in 1908, just 50 years after the report of Mary's apparitions at the grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes, in France. There Mary identified herself as the Immaculate Conception.

Immaculate Heart of Mary (Saturday after the Feast of the Sacred Heart)

Closely related to the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the optional memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was instituted in 1942. The feast honors Mary who treasured the mysteries of Jesus and "pondered them in her heart."

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Other feasts and times dedicated to Mary

Besides the feasts of Mary in the Roman calendar, she is honored in the particular calendars of various rites, nations, regions and religious communities.

Since the 18th century, the calendar months of May and October have been devoted to Mary in the Roman Catholic Church. Originating Spain and Italy, where Mary was honored with "May Devotions", litanies, the rosary and other special prayers, the practice, spread worldwide.

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Mary's Death and Assumption into Heaven

Stories from the 5th century (or perhaps earlier) recount Mary's later life, her death and assumption into heaven -- events unreported by the four Gospels.

The legends describe Jesus appearing to Mary in the house on Mount Sion in Jerusalem where she lived after Pentecost. Her Son tells her she is soon to die. From all parts of the world the apostles gather to bid her farewell:

"Stretching out his hands, the Lord received her holy soul. And when her soul departed, the place was filled with a sweet smell and bright light.

"And a voice from heaven proclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women.'

"Peter and John, Paul and Thomas, ran to embrace her feet and receive her holiness; and the twelve apostles laid her holy body on a bier and bore it forth. (Ps. John: The Dormition of Mary, 4th century)

"Instructed by Jesus, Peter and the other apostles took her body to be buried in a new tomb near Gethsemane in the Kidron Valley, where miracles of healing accompanied her burial.

"Three days later, angels took her body to heaven."

By the year 600, a feast called the Dormition of Mary, honoring her death and assumption into heaven, was celebrated in Jerusalem and in the churches of the East. Some centuries later it would pass into the Western churches known as the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

One of the first churches in Christendom dedicated to Mary was built over her tomb near Gethsemane around 400 A.D. Today, a church still marks this site in Jerusalem.

In the 7th century, Theothekno, bishop of Palestine, preached a homily on the feast of Mary's Assumption, August 15:

 

"Rejoice with the Mother of God,
with angels and saints,
and celebrate this great feast:
the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

"On earth she was a fruitful virgin,
in heaven she intercedes for all;
through this blessed woman,
the Spirit's gifts still flow upon us,
and her words teach gentle wisdom.

"At her assent the earth blossomed;
she sought good things for the poor.
Now in heaven her care is undiminished,
near her Son she seeks the good of us all."