Catholics have always honored saints, especially the greatest saint of all—Mary, the Blessed Mother. Her faith and trust in God help us know how to live as God’s children. Mary is an integral part of Catholic life. She is an integral part of Scripture and liturgy. There are countless Marian prayers and devotions. Works of masterpiece art display the many aspects of Mary’s spiritual significance. The name Mary is one of the most popular names given to girls. Cities, streets, schools, hospitals, religious orders, shrines, and churches, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception have been named to honor Mary. She is the patroness of the United States. These are just a few of the reasons why Mary is honored worldwide for her holiness.
Who is Mary?
Hail Mary, Blessed Are You among Women
Over the centuries Christians have bestowed hundreds of names and devotions that help us develop a deeper and more prayerful relationship with Mary, the Mother of God. Undoubtedly, Mary is the most popular saint we honor and praise. As the Mother of God she surpasses all other humans and yet is closely united with us. When we pray the Memorare, we acknowledge our complete and loving trust in the Virgin Mary. With deep devotion and purpose, we say that “never was it known that anyone who turned to the Virgin Mary was left unaided.”
Mary: The Mother of Jesus
Mary heard and answered the call of God. Wherever God would lead her, she would go. The Infancy Narrative (Luke 1: 26-38) depicts Mary as she is visited by the angel Gabriel. The heavenly messenger informs Mary that she will conceive in her womb and bear God’s Son. Mary is perplexed. She asks how can this happen since I have no relations with a man. The angel responds that with God all things are possible. Mary then assents. She says, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done as you say.” Mary said “yes” to God’s plan of salvation in every possible way.
Mary: Mother of the Church
Mary is the Blessed Mother. She is the Mother of the Church. We take Mary, our mother, into our homes and into our hearts. We believe and trust that Mary cares for us, watches over us, and wants us to grow closer to Jesus, her Son. Because of Mary’s unswerving virtue in being faithful to God’s plan of salvation, she is the Mother of the Church. She is holy like a saint. Because she is God’s mother, we consider her first among all holy people. She is the mother of all the faithful.
Mary: Our Mother
John’s Gospel develops a poignant theme at the crucifixion. Jesus entrusts Mary to John’s care (John 19:27-27). Jesus is really telling us much more. He is explaining the special relationship of Mary is a family of faith, including the disciples and all who come to faith are joined together in a new family of believers. We believe and trust that Mary watches over us and cares for us.
Marian Feast Days: What Is Their Significance?
We also remember and honor Mary by celebrating the many feast days named for her. These liturgical feast days occur throughout the liturgical year. As we celebrate our love for Mary, we ask God for the grace to listen to his word and say “yes” to his invitation to bring about his plan for all people.
January 1: Mary, Mother of God
We start the new calendar year by honoring Mary as the Mother of God. We also honor her as our spiritual mother. She brought the Prince of Peace into the world. We ask God in this liturgy that the prayer of Mary is our joy so that we can say “yes” to the divine initiative, born of a humble heart can draw the inspiration of the Holy Spirit upon us.
February 2: The Presentation of the Lord
This feast commemorates the events of in the Gospel (Luke 2:22-40). Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Jesus is recognized by Anna and Simeon, two elderly people of great faith. They are filled with joy. Old age embraces youth.
February 11: Our Lady of Lourdes
This feast day commemorates the first of Mary’s 18 apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous near the town of Lourdes. Many people come to Lourdes each year to pray for healing from all kinds of diseases.
March 25: The Annunciation of the Lord
This ancient feast is observed nine months before Christmas. It marks the day when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and hailed her as “full of grace.” On this day we celebrate the beauty of God’s power in exalting the lowly handmaid of Nazareth.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary (Saturday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost)
Today’s liturgy was instituted by Pope Pius XII in 1942, when he consecrated the world then at war, to the heart of Mary. Mary is the model to fully dedicate our lives to God’s purposes.
May 31: The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
The Gospel reading for this day (Luke 1:46-55) includes the Magnificat—Mary’s prayer of praise to God. It expresses God’s grace that turns society upside down because it favors the poor and lowly and rejects worldly power.
July 16: Our Lady of Mount Carmel
This feast day is associated with the Carmelites, a religious order that began in the late 12th century. Carmel is a holy site connected with the activities of Elijah and Elisha. It was at the holy place that the Carmelites dedicate a chapel to the Virgin Mary.
August 5: The Dedication of the Basilica of St Mary Major
This magnificent church in Rome was dedicated about 431. It is the largest church in the world dedicated to Mary.
August 15: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven
The title of this feast day says it all. On this day we celebrate the love of God which raised Mary, body and soul, into heaven. She is a sign of hope and comfort for all Christians.
August 22: The Queenship of the Virgin Mary
This feast day highlights the royal dignity of Mary. Wherever she goes, she brings justice and great joy. Her dignity conforms to God’s plan of salvation.
September 8: The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary
It is fitting that we honor the birth of Mary during the harvest season. Mary is the model for all who wish to bring forth Christ in their lives. The Gospel reading (Matthew 1:11-17) recounts the genealogy of Jesus. God makes all things new. The walls that separate Jew from Gentile crumble down as do the walls that separate male from female and saint from sinner. God makes all things new.
September 15: Our Lady of Sorrows
On September 14, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Cross. Today’s feast is meant to be a counterpart. It celebrates Mary’s participation in the work and fruit of Christ’s redeeming activity.
October 7: Our Lady of the Rosary
“Mary kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:31). These words describe Mary’s reflection on the mystery of Jesus. Today, many Catholics pray the rosary to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. (See next section: Praying the Rosary.)
November 21: The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
This feast day is based on the ancient legend that Mary’s parents, Ann and Joachim, offered her to God when she was a very young girl. They brought Mary to the Temple to consecrate her to God’s service. Mary herself is called God’s Temple, the place where God came to live.
December 8: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
This liturgy celebrates that Mary was full of grace from the very beginning of her existence. This special grace prepared her to be the Mother of God. Because of the saving work of her Son, Mary was totally preserved from the stain of original sin all personal sin. Neither did Mary commit any sin throughout her entire life. Pope Pius IX proclaimed this infallible dogma in 1854. Mary is the patron saint of the United States. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate is located in Washington, D.C.
December 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe
This feast day reminds believers of the nearness of Mary to the poorest of the poor. The celebration commemorates the apparition of Mary to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian who was among the poorest of his village near what is now Mexico City. The picture of Mary, now venerated in Guadalupe, depicts the Virgin with Aztec features. It is said to have appeared inside Juan’s cloak when he went to the bishop to report what he had seen.
Marian Prayer and Devotion
As Catholics, we honor Mary in our personal prayers and by celebrating Marian feast days. On a personal level, we pray to Mary and the saints and ask for their intercession. We ask for their prayer on our behalf before God. Thus, all personal prayers, even those addressed to Mary or the other saints, are ultimately directed to God.
Praying the Rosary
(Start this section with pick up of Faith first illustration on the mysteries of the rosary and diagram of rosary beads, grade 3 student book, page 288)
The Church has always honored Mary. One way we show that Mary is special to us is by praying the rosary. Here are his suggestions for praying the rosary with greater devotion and purpose.
• The goal of the praying the rosary is contemplation and concentration not repetition.
• The beads must not be seen as some kind of magical object. They are a means of marking the unending path of contemplation and Christian perfection.
• Rosary beads can remind us of our many relationships and of the bond that unites us with Christ.
• The mysteries of the rosary are not a substitute for reading the Bible, but they can help draw the mind to Christ and to other events in his life.
• An essential part of praying the rosary is pausing after meditating on each mystery.
• The rosary is a prayer of and for the family. It draws families together with the Holy Family.
• The crucifix on the rosary reminds us that our life of prayer is centered on Christ—everything begins with him and leads to him.
• The rosary is flexible. It can be recited with special prayer intentions after each mystery. Parts of the rosary can be sung. Different cultures can choose different concluding Marian prayers or hymns.
Here is some historical background. The tradition of praying the rosary began in the third and fourth centuries. It was a handy way to count repetitive prayers. But it was not until the thirteenth century that the rosary took on its current meaning—“a garden of roses.” This name is derived from the ancient custom of nobles honoring their beloved with a garland of roses. During this same age of chivalry, it was common for knights to pledge their honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the 1500s the rosary evolved into its present form. The Our Father is borrowed from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:9-14). The Hail Mary is reported in Luke’s scriptural greeting of the angel Gabriel who announced to Mary that she would bear a child who will be called the Son of the Most High. (Luke 1:26-32), The Creed and Glory Prayer are based on the prayer life of the early church. The popularity of the rosary grew rapidly in 1569 when Pope Pius V standardized the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. This handy method of using beads to keep count of prayers appealed to the educated as well as to those unable to read Scripture and to the rich and well as the poor. For ancient believers and for modern believers, meditating on the important events in the life of Mary and Jesus provides an opportunity to honor Mary and to remember the important events in the life of Jesus and Mary.
The rosary is a prayer that is easy and yet very rich. It deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community. We begin praying the rosary by praying the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father, and three Hail Marys. For each mystery of the rosary we pray the Our Father once, the Hail Mary ten times, and the Glory Prayer once. When we finish the last mystery, we pray the Hail, Holy Queen. There were fifteen mysteries of the rosary until Pope John Paul II added the Mysteries of Light, now there are twenty. The word mystery means “the wonderful things God has done for us.” Typically it takes about 20-30 minutes to pray and meditate on the mysteries of the rosary.
The entire month of May is dedicated to Mary. Devotions include May Crownings that date back to the 16th century. Pope Pius VII originally sanctioned this tradition. May Crownings include prayers, a procession, singing Marian hymns, and placing spring flowers on a statue of Our Lady. Even though the traditions of May Crownings go back centuries, many modern Catholics see spring flowers as reminders of Our Lady. Violets are symbols of Mary’s humility, lilies symbolize her purity, and roses symbolize her beauty. In fact, the rose is considered the queen of flowers. It is no surprise that Mary is sometimes identified as the Mystical Rose or the Queen of the Universe.
Praying the Living Rosary
Some school and parish catechetical sessions pray the Living Rosary from time to time. Each student represents a specific rosary bead. Those who represent the Our Father prayer can announce the specific mystery of the rosary and lead the other students to pray the Our Father out loud. Students who represent the Hail Mary’s lead the recitation of that prayer. The Glory prayer can be recited by another student or by the student who led the Our Father, depending on how many students are present. The student who begins praying the rosary leads the entire class in praying the Apostles’ Creed.
Praying the Hail Mary in Slow Motion
We can enrich our understanding of the Mother of God by praying the Hail Mary in slow motion, verse by verse.
• Hail Mary, full of grace—Mary is gifted by God. She does not achieve holiness on her own, but only with God’s help. She is the Queen of the Universe.
• The Lord is with you —God is always with us and does not abandon us. Her love and perfection help us see the destiny that God has in store for us.
• Blessed are you among women—Mary is specially blessed because out of all women in history she was chosen to bear God’s Son into the world.
• Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus—Mary’s greatness stems from her being the Mother of God whom she bore in her own body during her pregnancy.
• Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners—We urge Mary to ask God to be good to us.
• Now and at the hour of our death—God’s generous love extends to us at the present moment and continues throughout our lives, even at the very moment when we pass from this worldly life to the life beyond this one.
• Amen—So be it!