The Month of Mary and the Popes
The pious practice of honouring Mary during the month of May has been especially recommended by the Popes. Pius XII made frequent reference to it and in his great Encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy (Mediator Dei) characterized it as one of “other exercises of piety which although not strictly belonging to the Sacred Liturgy, are nevertheless of special import and dignity, and may be considered in a certain way to be an addition to the liturgical cult: they have been approved and praised over and over again by the Apostolic See and by the Bishops” (no. 182). Paul VI wrote a short encyclical in 1965 using the Month of Mary devotion as a means of obtaining prayers for peace. He urged the faithful to make use of this practice which is “gladdening and consoling” and by which the Blessed Virgin Mary is honoured and the Christian people are enriched with spiritual gifts” (no. 2). In May of 2002 Pope John Paul II said, “Today we begin the month dedicated to Our Lady a favourite of popular devotion. In accord with a long-standing tradition of devotion, parishes and families continue to make the month of May a ‘Marian’ month, celebrating it with many devout liturgical, catechetical and pastoral initiatives!”
Pope Francis has decreed that the ancient devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Mother of the Church, be inserted into the Roman Calendar. The liturgical celebration, B. Mariæ Virginis, Ecclesiæ Matris, will be celebrated annually as a Memorial on the day after Pentecost. In a decree released on Saturday by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Robert Sarah, its Prefect, said the Pope’s decision took account of the tradition surrounding the devotion to Mary as Mother of the Church. He said the Holy Father wishes to promote this devotion in order to “encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety”.
‘Mother of the Church’ in tradition
The decree reflects on the history of Marian theology in the Church’s liturgical tradition and the writings of the Church Fathers. It says Saint Augustine and Pope Saint Leo the Great both reflected on the Virgin Mary’s importance in the mystery of Christ.
“In fact the former [St. Augustine] says that Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church, while the latter [St. Leo the Great] says that the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church.”
The decree says these reflections are a result of the “divine motherhood of Mary and from her intimate union in the work of the Redeemer”.
Scripture, the decree says, depicts Mary at the foot of the Cross (cf. Jn 19:25). There she became the Mother of the Church when she “accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal.”
In 1964, the decree says, Pope Paul VI “declared the Blessed Virgin Mary as ‘Mother of the Church, that is to say of all Christian people, the faithful as well as the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother’ and established that ‘the Mother of God should be further honoured and invoked by the entire Christian people by this tenderest of titles’”.
Votive Mass now made a fixed celebration
Then, in the Holy Year of Reconciliation in 1975, the Church inserted into the Roman Missal a votive Mass in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. With the present decree, Pope Francis inserts that celebration into the universal Church’s liturgy as a Memorial on a fixed date. The Congregation for Divine Worship has published the official liturgical texts in Latin. Translations, the decree states, are to be prepared and approved by local Bishops’ Conferences before being confirmed by the Congregation.