Mary in the Liturgical Year
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By Deacon Keith Fournier
The Second Vatican Council did not offer one particular document on Mary, the Mother of God. Rather, the Council fathers incorporated the meaning and mission of Mary, as well as her special place in God's plan for the Church and the world, into many of the documents which were promulgated by the Council. In a particular way, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) discusses Mary in chapters eight and nine of that document.
The pastoral intent of that Council was to position the mystery of Mary within the broader mystery of God's plan of salvation in Jesus Christ and His Church. At the heart of the worship of the Church is the Liturgy. The Catechism reminds us, "The Church's faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles - whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, according to Prosper of Aquitaine [5th cent.]). The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition" (CCC #1124).
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There is a further phrase which is often added to the Latin phrase mentioned above; lex vivendi (law of life). It means that the way we worship is meant to not only inform what we believe but to transform the way we live. Thus, our love and devotion to Mary is incorporated into the Catholic Liturgical year in many ways in order to help us to grow in the Christian life . In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) we read, "In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ's mysteries, holy Church honors with especial love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son. In her the Church holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of the redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be"(#103).
The different Marian feast days in the Liturgical year involve solemn Holy Days, Feast Days, Days of commemoration and Local Marian commemorations on a Diocesan level. In 1974, Pope Paul VI issued an apostolic exhortation renewing the Marian Feast Days. The Second Vatican Council also reasserted the ancient teaching that whenever we celebrate the Feast Days of the Lord, we are reaffirming the wonderful connection between Mary's assent to the Lord's invitation and the plan of redemption.
Here is a list of some of the Special Days dedicated to Mary in our Catholic Liturgical Calendar:
Holy Days and Feast Days
September 8: The Virgin Mary's Nativity - Feast
December 8: Immaculate Conception - Holy Day
January 1: Holy Mary Mother of God - Holy Day
February 2: The Presentation of Our Lord - Feast
March 25: The Annunciation - Holy Day
March 31: The Visitation of the Virgin Mary - Feast
July 26: St Anna (Canada) - Feast
August 15: Assumption - Holy Day
Every Saturday, assuming the liturgical cycle does not set that day aside for other Feasts or commemorations, is set aside to honor Our lady. Some Special Commemorations include:
November 21: Presentation of Mary in the Temple
July 26: Saint Anna and Saint Joachim
Commemorative days linked with apparitions of the Virgin Mary:
February 11: Our Lady of Lourdes
May 13: Our Lady of Fatima
December 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe
December 27: Apparition to St Catherine Laboure
In one of the most insightful treatments in the Tradition of the unique on the special role of Mary entitled "Mother of the Redeemer" (On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Pilgrim Church) Blessed John Paul II began with these words: "The Mother of the Redeemer has a precise place in the plan of salvation, for "when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:4-6).
"With these words of the Apostle Paul, which the Second Vatican Council takes up at the beginning of its treatment of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I too wish to begin my reflection on the role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and on her active and exemplary presence in the life of the Church. For they are words which celebrate together the love of the Father, the mission of the Son, the gift of the Spirit, the role of the woman from whom the Redeemer was born, and our own divine filiation, in the mystery of the "fullness of time."
"This "fullness" indicates the moment fixed from all eternity when the Father sent his Son "that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). It denotes the blessed moment when the Word that "was with God...became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:1, 14), and made himself our brother. It marks the moment when the Holy Spirit, who had already infused the fullness of grace into Mary of Nazareth, formed in her virginal womb the human nature of Christ.
"This "fullness" marks the moment when, with the entrance of the eternal into time, time itself is redeemed, and being filled with the mystery of Christ becomes definitively "salvation time." Finally, this "fullness" designates the hidden beginning of the Church's journey. In the liturgy the Church salutes Mary of Nazareth as the Church's own beginning, for in the event of the Immaculate Conception the Church sees projected, and anticipated in her most noble member, the saving grace of Easter. And above all, in the Incarnation she encounters Christ and Mary indissolubly joined: he who is the Church's Lord and Head and she who, uttering the first fiat of the New Covenant, prefigures the Church's condition as spouse and mother.
"Strengthened by the presence of Christ (cf. Mt. 28:20) the Church journeys through time, towards the consummation of the ages - and goes to meet the Lord who comes. But on this journey- and I wish to make this point straightaway-she proceeds along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary, who "advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and loyally persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross."
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