Mary, Blessed Virgin, Devotion to
MARY, BLESSED VIRGIN, DEVOTION TO
In popular usage, "devotion to Mary" is synonymous with the "cult of Mary." Technically, however, "cult" in reference to Mary means the external recognition of her excellence and of the superior way she is joined to God; and "devotion" adds the notion of an interior readiness for cult. This article uses the words "devotion" and "cult" interchangeably.
Devotion to Mary "proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the mother of god, and by which we are moved to filial love toward our mother and to imitation of her virtues"[Lumen gentium 67; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965) 66]. It comprises "the duties of redeemed mankind toward the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men" (ibid. 59). Three elements enter into devotion to Mary: (1) veneration, or the reverent recognition of the dignity of the holy Virgin Mother of God; (2) invocation, or the calling upon our Lady for her motherly and queenly intercession; and (3) imitation, which may take such forms also as dedication and consecration. In addition to devotion in a generic sense, there are devotions to Mary, i.e., particular practices of piety, both liturgical (feasts, litanies) and nonliturgical (the rosary, the scapular, and private prayers)—the "various forms of piety approved by the Church" (Lumen gentium 66).
The singular cult of Mary is based on her special role in God's plan: by grace she is Mother of God-made-man. Associated in the mysteries of Christ's earthly life, she remains by her presence with the glorified Christ "inseparably joined to the saving work of her Son" [De sacra liturgia 103; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964) 125].
Yet devotion to Mary differs essentially from the cult of adoration ("worship" in American usage) offered to God alone, such as is given to Christ and to the Father and the Holy Spirit. The cult of the Blessed Virgin is called hyperdulia to distinguish it both from latria (adoration) and dulia (veneration of the other saints).
The cult of Mary is the response of the Christian people to the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mystery of Christ and His Church, the reaction of "redeemed mankind toward the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men, particularly of the faithful" [Lumen gentium; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965) 59].
Scripture. The first evidence of response to the dignity of the Mother of Jesus is found in the NT, as part of the pattern of salvation history. Mary is involved in the mysteries of the Savior's life. The Gospels proclaim Mary blessed in her maternity—the Nativity narratives and indirectly Gal 4.4. Elizabeth hails Mary as "Mother of my Lord" (Lk 1.43) meaning "queen-mother of the Messiah-king," likely the oldest Christian greeting of praise to the Mother of Jesus. The Johannine accounts of Cana and Calvary show her role as type of the believing Church, as do also, obliquely, the "difficult sayings" of the public life on keeping God's word (Mk 3.35; Lk 11.28; note the use made of these texts in Lumen gentium 61).
Early Church. Homage to Mary's holiness progressed further in the 2nd century with the conviction of her role as "new Eve" associated with Christ the "new Adam" (SS. Justin, Irenaeus). The art of the catacombs and the early apocrypha also bear witness to the increasing veneration of the Mother of Jesus; and as early as the 2nd century "born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary" was used in baptismal creeds. A Eucharistic anaphora in the Apostolic Tradition (traditionally attributed to Hippolytus of Rome) mentioned Mary. A manuscript fragment in Greek from the 4th century asks the "Mother of God" for protection—an ancient form of our "We fly to thy patronage, oh holy Mother of God" (Latin: Sub tuum praesidium confugimus ), which influenced in turn the medieval Memorare ("Remember, oh most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection …").
St. Epiphanius (d. 403), who calls Mary "mother of the living," mentioned an obscure sect, the Collyridians, that gave divine honors to the Virgin. Developing a line of thought hinted at in Origen (d. 253) a century before,
St. Athanasius (d. 373) proposed the Virgin Mary as an example to dedicated virgins. St. Ambrose (d. 397) devoted a series of writings to Mary, model of Christian virginity.
From the dogmatic definition of the divine motherhood [(theotokos) at Ephesus (431)], the cult of Mary took on assurance and extension. Sixtus III (432–440) rebuilt St. Mary Major in Rome to commemorate the Ephesus event. Churches were dedicated to Our Lady as early as the 4th century. Severian of Gabala (d. after 408) called the praise of Mary a daily custom—she was called on before the apostles and martyrs. St. Nilus (d. 430) said the praise of Mary was found in every land and every language. Leaden seals have come down from the 5th and 6th centuries with the inscription servus Mariae —servant (or slave) of Mary.
Early Liturgical Cult. The first evidences of a liturgical cult are from the East and show the same Christocentric orientation as ephesus. The oldest feast was a "remembrance of Mary," corresponding to the dies natalis (birthday into heaven) of the martyrs. This primitive memoria Mariae celebrated the return to God of the Virgin Mother of the Savior, who is the new Eve. It was probably kept as early as the 5th century, and was part of the Christmas liturgy, perhaps on December 26 at first, then on January 1 (as natale S. Mariae ). The annunciation was recalled in Advent, as is still done on the Advent Wednesday Ember day, but by the mid-6th century was celebrated on March 25. Emperor Maurice (d. 602) made universal in his territory the feast on August 15 of the "falling-asleep of the Mother of the Lord" (dormition, koàmhsij), the later assumption feast. The nativity of mary (Sept. 8) dates from the late 6th century. In the 7th century Oriental monks introduced these feasts to the West; all four were kept in Rome under the Greekborn Pope Sergius I (d. 701). Other feast days followed: the presentation of mary (8th century in the East, 1372 in the West); the "conception of St. Anne" (8th century in the East, eventually developing into the immaculate conception in the Christian West).
In the Roman liturgy Our Lady has had a place in the first prayer of remembrance (communicantes ) before the consecration since the 6th century. This has been called the highest expression of the official Marian devotion of the Church, and is used to good effect in both the introduction and the conclusion to the Marian final chapter of the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965) 58–67].
8th to 15th century. Distinguishing marks of Marian devotion from the 1st through the 7th century were reverent admiration of Mary's holiness as Mother of God (Theotokos). In the next period there was greater concentration on Mary's present role as heavenly queen, spiritual mother, and all-powerful intercessor. Her "suppliant omnipotence" became the dominant object of attention. The Eastern homilists, SS. Sophronius (d. 638), Germanus of Constantinople (d. 733), defender of icons, and Andrew of Crete (d. 740) extolled Mary's power of intercession as they praised her assumption. In Carolingian times Alcuin (d. 804) promoted Saturday as Mary's day. Ambrose Autpert (d. 784) developed the theology of the spiritual motherhood. During the decadence after the Carolingian renaissance, religious life survived around the great abbeys. Marian prayers and sermons survive from Cluny (e.g., Odo of Cluny, d. 942) and Reichenau (a late 10th-century translation from the Greek of nine sermons on the Dormition).
The Marian devotion of the High Middle Ages accorded with general devotion to the saints; it was based on a sense of community between the Church on earth and the Church triumphant, with growing emphasis on the humanity of Jesus, e.g., the holy name of Jesus, the passion, the Real Presence in the Eucharist (see sacred humanity, devotion to the). By this time the West was showing increasing independence of the East, the more so after the break-off of intercommunion between Orthodoxy and Rome in the mid-11th century.
There is a rich 11th-century Marian literature: sermons, prayers (as the salve regina), liturgical Offices (little office of the bvm) and Masses (especially for Saturday), and public proclamations of being "servants or slaves of Mary" (as by Odilo of Cluny, d. 1049, and also by Bl. Marinus, brother of St. Peter Damian). St. Peter Damian (d. 1072) wrote of Our Lady helping the poor souls in purgatory; by the 15th century this took the form in popular piety of the sabbatine privilege of the scapular.
The 12th century showed two doctrinal trends, strongly influencing devotion: (1) attention to Mary's compassion on Calvary and the interpretation of the Savior's words, "Woman, behold your son" (Jn 19.26) as signifying Mary's spiritual motherhood of Christ's brethren typified in the beloved disciple; (2) under the influence of the doctrine of the Assumption, emphasis on Mary's present assistance to all Christian people. St. Bernard (d. 1153) was noted for the Marian piety of his homilies, yet he remained bound to tradition; he called Mary not mother, but Our Lady, and he opposed the feast of the "conception of holy Mary" as an innovation.
In the 13th century doctrine and piety were intimately interwoven in the praise of Mary. Along with the great cathedrals of Marian dedication, Marian devotion was manifest in the lives of SS. Francis (d. 1226) and Dominic (d. 1221) and in the theological masterworks of SS. Bonaventure (d. 1274), Albert the Great (d. 1280), Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), and of Duns Scotus (d. 1308). The familiar prayer, the hail mary, combining the scriptural greetings (Lk 1.28, 42) of the first part to the petition of the second part, attained its current form only in the 15th century, but variants were in use from the 12th century and the Ave's were repeated to form the Psalter of Mary or the rosary. At this same time, independent litanies of Our Lady developed out of lists of Marian titles in the form of a litany—one of which has been preserved in the litany of loreto.
15th Century. The invention of printing in the 15th century put at the service of Marian devotion means of rapid diffusion, for example, the many editions of the Marian sermons, at once tender and terrible, of St. Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444); and early xylography helped spread the confraternities of the rosary.
The artistic representation of the "mantle Virgin" was characteristic of the devotional outlook of the 15th century. Under her protecting mantle, Mary, Mother of Mercy, kept in her care all peoples, nobles and humble folk alike. This picture was rejected by the Reformation, and disappeared in the Renaissance. Pope Sixtus IV gave the feast of the "conception of Mary" limited approval and the favor of indulgences (1477). In the late 14th century the Presentation of Mary (Nov. 21) and the Visitation (July 2, since 1969 transferred to May 31) were introduced in the West. In Christian spirituality meditation on the life of Mary, as on the life of Jesus, was a prominent note. The ideal was a deeper, richer interior life, well-expressed by J. Gerson (d. 1429) in his counsels for a truly Christian attitude to Mary.
The Reformation. Marian devotion became an object of attack for the Reformers not directly, but in inevitable connection with positions on doctrine and cult regarded by them as essential and evangelical. Neither Luther nor Calvin rejected totally the veneration of Mary, but they limited it to imitation of the humble, obedient, Virgin Mother of the Gospels (even as type of the believing Church). The Reformers and early Reformation confessions uniformly rejected calling upon the saints for assistance; such invocation (especially by the titles, queen of heaven and spiritual mother) was regarded as derogatory to the unique mediatorship of Christ, even as blasphemous to God, the one source of grace. The cult of the saints, especially of the Virgin Mary, has remained a point of division between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, reflecting a differing understanding of the traditional and creedal communion of saints.
Trent defended the cult of Our Lady and the other saints—invocation as well as admiration and imitation, for the blessed who reign with Christ can intercede for men on earth. Both Catholic and Protestant positions hardened in the subsequent struggles of the Reformation and Counter Reformation, and the cult of Mary, like the doctrine of the Real Presence, became a favorite subject for controversy. St. Peter Canisius (d. 1597) replied to the Protestant positions in a long work, De Maria virgine incomparabili, which proved a veritable arsenal for Catholic apologists. Iconographically, the triumph of Mary—the Immaculate crushing the serpent's head—often represented victory over Protestantism.
The internal development of devotion continued within the Church. The Sodality of Our Lady was founded under Jesuit guidance in 1563; many Marian sodalities and associations developed from this prototype. High points of sodality history include the "golden bull" of Pope Benedict XIV (Gloriosae Dominae, 1748) and the bicentenary commemorative constitution of Pius XII (Bis saeculari, 1948).
17th and 18th Centuries. The 17th-century flowering of Marian studies, especially in Spain and France, had a corresponding development in devotion. Practices of the "slavery of Mary" grew up, variously rooted in the queenship and in imitation of the child Jesus in his dependence on Mary. The "sanguinary vow" was a pledge to defend to the death the Immaculate Conception, when it was still being debated within the Church. Some of these customs were carried to excess and aroused protest, even condemnation, e.g., certain forms of the "slavery of Mary," complete with chains. A. Widenfeldt lashed out against foolish practices in his storm-provoking Monita salutaria (1672).
In the French school of spirituality founded by Cardinal de bÉrulle, the cult of Mary was intimately joined to the mystery of the Word-made-flesh. J. J. olier developed the role of Mary in the interior life, especially of seminarians for the priesthood. St. John Eudes preached the Immaculate Heart of Mary. From the mystical life came the remarkable testimony of the laywoman Marie Petyt (d. 1677) and her director Michael of St. Augustine Ballaert, OCarm (d. 1684).
This period possessed the sense both of God's majesty (extending to Mary, as so close to God) and of the need for total commitment as is manifest in the practice of consecration to Mary, which is really to Jesus Christ through Mary. The most famous form of consecration is the "holy slavery of Mary" of St. Louis grignion de montfort (d. 1716) even though it did not become generally known until the finding in 1842 of the book since called True Devotion. Popular exaggerations of Mary's intercessory role led to strong reactions, such as that of L. A. muratori. St. alphonsus liguori defended Marian devotion with solid arguments, especially in the widely spread Glories of Mary (1750).
19th Century. In the aftermath of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution the newly founded religious congregations and the restored older orders showed a special concern for Mary's role in the apostolate. Apostolic zeal was recognized as an authentic note of Marian dedication (cf. Lumen gentium 65). This was especially true of the missionary orders, founded in such numbers in this period, e.g., Marists, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Claretians, and Scheut Fathers. Lay efforts were also made, such as that of G. J. chaminade (d. 1850), who worked with lay sodalists some years before he founded the Society of Mary (Marianists). The apostolic pattern has continued in the 20th century with the Legion of Mary (from 1921), reactivated sodalities, etc., and is manifest also in the strong Marian devotion of the new secular institutes.
Another factor in the Marian devotion of the 19th century was the shrines of Lourdes (1858), LaSalette (1846), both in France, Knock (1879) in Ireland, and elsewhere (in the 20th century, e.g., Fatima, 1917), all of which continue to attract pilgrims. The Church has approved these practices particularly because of the good fruits of prayer and penance and the frequenting of the Sacraments by the pilgrims. Many other claims of private revelations, however, have been rejected by the Church and public devotions at such sites forbidden, e.g., Heroldsbach in Germany, Necedah in Wisconsin, and Bayside, New York. There was a general warning on these matters by Cardinal Ottaviani of the Holy Office in 1951 (Osservatore Romano, Feb. 4, 1951).
20th Century. Devotion to Mary in the 20th century was stimulated by many factors. Continuing the practice of Pius IX (who defined the Immaculate Conception) and Leo XIII (who issued encylical letters on the devotion of the rosary), St. Pius X wrote on the spiritual motherhood ["Mary is our sure way to Christ," Ad diem illum, Acta Sanctae Sedis 36 (1903-04) 451]. Benedict XV addressed incessant appeals to the Queen of Peace during World War I. Pius XI commemorated the Ephesus anniversary (Lux veritatis, 1931) and related Our Lady to the jubilee of the Redemption (1933–34). Pius XII showed his great interest in Marian doctrine and cult by the following acts: the definition of the Assumption (1950); the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (1942), which was further explained in the encyclical on the Sacred Heart (Haurietis aquas, 1956); the inclusion in the encyclical on the Mystical Body, mystici corporis, of its Marian epilogue (1943); the proclamation of the Marian Year (1945), and its memorialization by the new feast of the queenship of Mary (May 31, transferred in 1969 to August 22); and the proclamation of the Lourdes centennial (1958). Particularly important for devotion were the directives of Mediator Dei, his encyclical on the sacred liturgy (1947): the liturgy was declared to be the norm of Marian cult, though other approved forms of piety were also encouraged. Devotion to Mary is an indication of our firm hope of salvation; indeed "according to the opinion of the Saints it is a sign of predestination" [Mediator Dei; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 39 (1947) 584–585].
Features distinctive of the 20th-century devotion to Mary included Marian congresses, local, national, international; and great pilgrimages to many Marian shrines, even through times of political unrest and wars.
The renewal of Biblical and patristic studies has focused attention on the Mary-Church analogy, especially after World War II. This has affected Marian devotion, as was obvious from the orientation of Vatican Council II as this appeared in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in the decree on ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio [ Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965) 101, 104–105], and in the constitution on the liturgy [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964) 125]. Vatican II reassessed Marian devotion in the light of scriptural, pastoral, and ecumenical perspectives. The role of Mary in the liturgy was proposed as the norm of devotion to Mary in chapter 8 of Lumen gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the Church from Vatican Council II. Traditional practices of devotion to Mary, e.g., the rosary, scapular, novenas and pilgrimages underwent searching examination and restatement in terms of current needs of Christian life—stronger emphasis on their integral relationship with the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and the Church itself.
In addition to Vatican II, Pius XII called for correct balance in mariology and Marian devotion, in Inter complures, the message to the international Mariological and Marian Congress of Rome [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 46 (1954) 679], and also in Ad caeli reginam, the encyclical on the queenship of Mary [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 46 (1954) 637]. Pope John XXIII sounded the same note. In a discourse to the clergy of Rome, he warned of "particular practices or devotions, which may be excessive in their veneration of Jesus and our mother—who will not be offended by these words of Ours" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 52 (1960) 969]. He cautioned the French National Marian Congress (Lisieux, July 9, 1961) to "look rather to the most traditional Marian devotion, as it has been handed down to us from the beginning in the prayers of successive generations in East and West" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 53 (1961) 506]. Pope Paul VI also urged a sound, biblically and pastorally oriented devotion to Mary that is faithful to tradition [Nous sommes heureux, Osservatore Romano (Sept. 13, 1963), English translation from The Pope Speaks 9 (1964) 164–167] declaring that "It is in the history of salvation, in the Gospel, that you will find Mary…." See also the encyclical Eccle-siam suam (Aug. 6, 1964), Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964) 635; and the commentary on "Mother of the Church," the allocution La ceremonia dell'offerta of Feb. 2, 1965, Osservatore Romano (Feb. 3, 1965). In his 1974 apostolic exhortation, Marialis cultus, Paul VI encouraged the development of a devotion to Mary that was biblical, liturgical, ecumenical and anthropological, as well as integrated into the mysteries of the Trinity, Christ, and the Church. The U.S. Catholic Bishops' letter Behold Your Mother: Woman of Faith (1973) also called for creativity on the part of the American peoples and their pastors in shaping a devotion to Mary suitable to this age. While there was a downtrend in devotion to Mary in the ensuing decades after Vatican II, such devotion remains strong and vibrant wherever the figure of Mary is intrinsically linked to national, ethnic, communal or cultural identity, e.g., Mexico (Our Lady of guadalupe), Poland (the Black Madonna of czestochowa), Ireland (Our Lady of Knock), England (Our Lady of Walsingham), Portugal (Our Lady of fatima), France (Our Lady of lourdes), continent of Africa (Our Lady of Africa), Vietnam (Our Lady of la vang) and India (Our Lady of Vellankani).
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[e. r. carroll/eds.]
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