Marian feast days

Marian feast days are specific holy days of the liturgical year celebrated by Christians as significant Marian days for the celebration of events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her veneration.[1] The number of Marian feasts celebrated, their names (and at times dates) can vary among Christian denominations.

History and development

Early history

The earliest feasts that relate to Mary grew out of the cycle of feasts that celebrated the

The origin of Marian feasts is lost to history. Although references to specific Marian feasts where introduced into the liturgies in later centuries, there are indications that Christians celebrated Mary very early on. We have an example from the writings of Methodius, a bishop (died 311) from the 3rd and early 4th century, who wrote:

"And what shall I conceive, what shall I speak worthy of this day? I am struggling to reach the inaccessible, for the remembrance of this holy virgin far transcends all words of mine. Wherefore, since the greatness of the panegyric required completely puts to shame our limited powers, let us betake ourselves to that hymn which is not beyond our faculties, and boasting in our own unalterable defeat, let us join the rejoicing chorus of Christ’s flock, who are keeping holy-day. And do you, my divine and saintly auditors, keep strict silence, in order that through the narrow channel of ears, as into the harbour of the understanding, the vessel freighted with truth may peacefully sail. We keep festival, not according to the vain customs of the Greek mythology; we keep a feast which brings with it no ridiculous or frenzied banqueting of the gods, but which teaches us the wondrous condescension to us men of the awful glory of Him who is God over all....Do thou, therefore, O lover of this festival..." http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf06.xi.viii.html

A separate feast for Mary, connected with the "Nativity of Jesus" cycle of feasts, originated in the 5th century, even perhaps before the First Council of Ephesus took place in 431. It seems certain that the sermon by Proclus before Nestorius (the Archbishop of Constantinople whose Nestorianism rejected the title of Theotokos) which began the controversy that lead to the 431 council was about a feast for the Virgin Mary.[2]

In the 7th and 8th centuries four more Marian feasts were established in the Eastern Church. Byzantine Emperor Maurice selected August 15 as the date of the feast of Dormition and Assumption. The feast of the Nativity of Mary was perhaps started in the first half of the 7th century in the Eastern Church. In the Western Church a feast dedicated to Mary, just before Christmas was celebrated in the Churches of Milan and Ravenna in Italy in the 7th century. The four Roman Marian feasts of Purification, Annunciation, Assumption and Nativity of Mary were gradually and sporadically introduced into England and by the 11th century were being celebrated there.[2]

Development of feasts

Over time, the number and nature of feasts (and the associated Titles of Mary) and the veneraive practices that accompany them have varied a great deal among diverse Christian traditions. Overall, there are significantly more titles, feasts and venerative Marian practices among Roman Catholics than any other Christians traditions.[3]

Some differences in feasts originate from doctrinal issues - the Feast of the Assumption is such an example. Given that there is no agreement among all Christians on the circumstances of the death, Dormition or Assumption of Mary, the feast of assumption is celebrated among some denominations and not others.[4][5] In his early years, Martin Luther used to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, but towards the end of his life he stopped celebrating it.[6]

While the Western Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, some Eastern Catholics celebrate it as Dormition of the Theotokos, and may do so on August 28, if they follow the Julian calendar. The Eastern Orthodox also celebrate it as the Dormition of the Theotokos, one of their 12 Great Feasts. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the Feast of Dormition not on a fixed date, but on the Sunday nearest August 15. Moreover, the practices that go beynd doctrinal differences also vary, e.g. for the Eastern Orthodox the feast is preceded by the 14 day Dormition Fast.

Feasts continue to be developed, e.g. the feast of the Queenship of Mary was declared in the 1954 in the papal encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam by pope Pius XII.[7] The initial ceremony for this feast involved the crowning of the Salus Populi Romani icon of the Virgin Mary in Rome by Pius XII as part of a procession in Rome, and is unique to Roman Catholics.[8]

Other differences in feasts relate to specific events that occurred in history. For instance, the Feast of Our Lady of Victory (late renamed Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary) was based on the 1571 victory of the Papal States against the Muslims in the Battle of Lepanto, is hence unique to Roman Catholics.[9][10] Note that the Protestant Reformation had already started several decades before the Battle of Lepanto.

Feast days in the Catholic Church

During the month of May, May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary take place in many Catholic regions. There is no firm structure as to the content of a May devotion. It includes usually the singing of Marian anthems, readings from the Scriptures, a sermon, and/or a presentation by local choirs. The whole rosary is prayed separately and is usually not a part of a Marian devotion, although Hail Mary's are included. The devotion, was promoted by the Jesuits and spread to Jesuit colleges and to the entire Latin Church and since that time it has been a regular feature of Catholic life.[11] Marian devotions may be held within the family, around a "May Altar" consisting of a table with a Marian picture decorated with many May flowers. The family would then pray together the rosary.[12] May devotions exist in the entire Latin church and since that time have been a regular feature of Catholic life.[13]

Traditionally, the month of October is "rosary month" in the Catholic Church, when the faithful are encouraged to pray the rosary if possible. Since 1571, Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary, is venerated on October 7.[14] Pope Benedict XVI, following all his predecessors, also encourages the rosary during the month of October:

The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, the unique contemplative prayer through which, guided by the Lord's Heavenly Mother, we fix our gaze on the face of the Redeemer in order to be conformed to his joyful, light-filled, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. This ancient prayer is having a providential revival, thanks also to the example and teaching of the beloved Pope John Paul II. I invite you to reread his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae and to put into practice its directions on the personal, family and community levels.[15]


Among the most prominent Marian feast days in the ordinary Roman Catholic Calendar are:[16]

In the General Roman Calendar of 1962, the Visitation is on July 2 (May 31 in the present General Roman Calendar); the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 31 (August 22 in the present General Roman Calendar); the Immaculate Heart of Mary on August 22; the Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Friday in Passion Week (the week prior to Holy Week) and on September 15; and the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary on October 11. The General Roman Calendar of 1954 differs from that of 1962 in not having the feast of the Queenship of Mary, which was instituted in the following year.

Feast days in the Eastern Orthodox Church

Among the most prominent Marian feast days in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic liturgical calendars are:

Note: Feasts ranked among the twelve Great Feasts are in bold face. Minor feasts are in regular face.

Feast days in the Anglican Communion

In calendars throughout the Anglican Communion and Continuing Anglican churches, the following Marian feasts may be observed, although the practice of different provinces / churches varies wildly:[19]

Feast days in Lutheranism

The following are Marian festivals celebrated within the Lutheran liturgical calendar:

See also

References

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