A stained-glass window at St. Nicholas Church in Freedom, Wis., depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (OSV News photo/Sam Lucero)
Mary our mother and her role in salvation history
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
As we look ahead to just the next few weeks in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, we might be struck by prominence of the veneration of Mary reflected on these days. Over a period of about six weeks there are at least six feasts associated with Mary – some major, some lesser known. These are but a handful of feasts and remembrances by which the Church holds Mary up to us for veneration, ever reminding us that God acted through a woman to bring about our salvation.
The most prominent of these during these weeks is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary observed on August 15, recalling the Church’s assurance that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven upon her earthly death. In some places this feast is remembered as the “falling asleep” of Mary. The widespread observance of this event dates from the fifth century and reflects the Church’s confidence that Mary was rewarded for her faithful assent to God’s will.
On August 22 – the eighth day of the Assumption octave – we observe the Queenship of Mary. There is a naturalness to using a whole week to mark special observances and while the Queenship of Mary may not seem to impact us directly, it speaks of the importance the Church assigns to Mary. Perhaps our greatest familiarity with this title is the fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, the Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven.
Earlier this month, on August 5, there is in the calendar a lesser-known feast associated with Mary. After the Council of Ephesus in 431 where Mary was definitively identified as the Mother of God, Pope Sixtus III erected in Rome the oldest basilica in the West dedicated to Mary – the Basilica of St. Mary Major. This basilica still stands and each time Pope Francis travels outside of Rome he goes to the shrine to pray before an image of Mary both upon his leaving and his return.
When we move into September, we encounter even more Marian feasts. September 8 is observed as the Nativity (birthday) of Mary. This feast also dates from the fifth century and specifically marks the anniversary of the dedication of a basilica in Jerusalem which is, according to tradition, on the location of the home of St. Anne, the mother of Mary. All things tie together: September 8 is precisely nine months after December 8, when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – recalling that Mary alone was conceived without sin.
The optional feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary is observed on September 12 and celebrates exactly what it says: that the very name of Mary is holy! With this we are reminded that it is Mary’s words in the Magnificat that proclaim, “Holy is God’s name.”
The final tribute to Mary in these weeks is celebrated on September 15 as the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The day before, September 14, is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This memorial of Mary reminds us of the centrality of the Cross in our faith and devotion, signifying the very human dimension of this mystery of our faith.
These are but a handful of the opportunities the Church presents us to venerate Mary. Perhaps in another column I can speak of some other feasts of Mary: the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7), the memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (November 21), the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8), the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), and the Solemnity of Mary the Holy Mother of God, (January 1).
Even these are not all. We also honor Mary on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25), the feast of the Visitation (May 31), and the memorials of Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11) and Our Lady of Fatima (May 13). The list does not end here, for not all Marian feasts are listed in the Church calendar in the United States.
If we as Catholics are not attuned to the place of Mary in our salvation history, it is not because the Church does not hold this before us.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the August 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.