The term "devotions" is commonly understood to refer to those external practices of piety by which the faith of an individual finds expression. A Marian devotion in Christianity is directed to the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Such prayers or acts may be accompanied by specific requests for Mary's intercession with God. There are many Marian devotions, ranging from multi-day prayers such as Novenas, the veneration of icons in Eastern Christianity, and activities which do not involve prayers, such as the wearing of scapulars or maintaining a Mary garden.
Devotion to the Virgin Mary does not, however, amount to worship - which is reserved for God; e.g. both Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox view Mary as subordinate to Christ, but uniquely so, in that she is seen as above all other creatures. In 787 the Second Council of Nicaea affirmed a three-level hierarchy of latria, hyperdulia and dulia that applies to God, the Virgin Mary and then to the other saints.
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Marian devotions are important to the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican traditions, but most Protestant views on Mary do not accept them, because such devotions are not recorded or promoted in the Bible. They believe this devotion may distract attention from Christ. There is significant diversity of form and structure in Marian devotions practiced by different groups of Christians. Orthodox Marian devotions are well-defined and closely linked to liturgy, while Roman Catholic practices are wide-ranging and may include non-dogmatic beliefs such as the association of Marian devotions with predestination.
There is no single church with universal authority within the Anglican Communion; different types of Marian devotions are practiced by various groups of Anglicans with varying degrees of emphasis. Within the Anglican Communion and the Continuing Anglican movement, devotions to the Virgin Mary have more emphasis within High Church and Broad Church parishes than others.
The emphasis placed on Mary and Marian devotions changed over the history of Anglicanism. In the 16th century, following the independence of the Church of England from Rome and strife between them, a movement away from Marian themes took place; by 1552 mentions of Mary had been reduced to only two or three times a day in the Book of Common Prayer and the Marian feasts of the Annunciation and the Purification had been retained. However, in the 17th century, there was a gradual return to Marianism and by 1662 there were five Marian feasts.
British devotion to the Virgin Mary has often been expressed in poetry, Marian hymns, and Carols, e.g. in the 17th century poems of John Donne and George Herbert, or in the 18th century works of Thomas Ken such as Saint Mary the Virgin.
Anglican devotion for the Virgin Mary was revived during the 19th century Oxford Movement of Anglo-Catholicism and by the activities of prominent figures such as John Henry Newman who had strong Marian devotions. British theologians such as Father Frederick Faber (who composed several Hymns to Mary) took an enthusiastic approach to the promotion of Marian devotions towards the end of the 19th century.
In the liturgical renewal of the 20th century, Mary gained new prominence, and in most Anglican prayer books she is mentioned by name in the Eucharistic prayers. The gradual increase in Marian devotions among Anglicans has also been manifested within the higher levels of the clergy in the Anglican Communion. For instance Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (who made a 2008 pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes) wrote a book on how to pray with the icons of the Virgin Mary.
Anglican devotions to Mary include the Anglican Rosary (similar to the Catholic rosary), votive candles, and pilgrimages to Walsingham and Lourdes. Some Anglicans, and Anglo-Catholics also pray the rosary itself. For centuries, Our Lady of Walsingham has been a centerpiece in the Anglican devotions to the Virgin Mary and its feast is celebrated on October 15, as well as a Catholic feast on September 24. Also common in Anglican cathedrals, Anglo-Catholic parishes, and certain Anglican shrines are chapels or side altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary called Lady chapels.
Discussions between Roman Catholics and Anglicans within frameworks such as the Anglican—Roman Catholic International Commission, and with the 2005 publication of the (non-binding) joint statement: Mary: grace and hope in Christ, have started a movement towards closer agreement of Mary and Marian devotions between Catholics and Anglicans.
A deep devotion to the "Aeipartenos" (i.e. Ever Virgin) Mary is one of the key themes of Orthodox liturgy and spirituality. Devotion to the Virgin Mary is "taken for granted" in Eastern Orthodoxy: it permeates the entire life of the Church and historically required no academic development as in the Western Church.
In the Orthodox view, devotion to Mary is considered an important element of Christian spirituality, and indifference to her by other Christian denominations is troubling to the Orthodox. For instance, Orthodox theologian Sergei Bulgakov called denominations that do not venerate the Virgin Mary "another type of Christianity".
The Orthodox approach to Marian devotions is characterized by three elements:
- Devotions to Mary are far more ingrained and integrated within Orthodox liturgy than any other Christian traditions, e.g. there are many more hymns to Mary within the Eastern Orthodox yearly cycle of liturgy than in Roman Catholic liturgy. Feasts, icons and hymns are often combined, e.g. the Theotokos Iverskaya "wonder working" icon is used on its own feast day, and the Akathistos is sung.
- The Orthodox focus on Mary as the Theotokos gives more emphasis to devotions that praise Mary's role in the mystery of Incarnation, rather than other devotions, e.g. those that consider her sorrows at Calvary. Devotions to the Theotokos are often combined with the veneration of icons depicting her with the Child Jesus. For instance, in the Sunday of Orthodoxy the singing of Marian hymns and the veneration of icons reaffirm the identity of Mary as the Theotokos.
The Eastern Orthodox Church considers Mary to have been elevated by God to the highest status, above all other creatures, though still only a human being. The Orthodox hymn Axion Estin speaks of Mary as being "More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim." Although most Orthodox consider Mary sinless, they do not accept the Roman Catholic definition of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Mary is mentioned numerous times in all of the Divine Services and the Divine Liturgy. The final petition of each ektenia (litany) ends with an invocation of the Virgin Mary. When a series of troparia are chanted, the final one is often a Theotokion (hymn to the Virgin Mary). There are numerous Marian litanies in the Eastern church and may cover a multitude of themes, some dogmatic, others of moral and patriotic character.
Devotions to icons of the Theotokos (often considered miraculous) are common in Eastern Orthodoxy. Many such icons are considered the protector of a region, e.g. Our Lady of Kazan for Kazan, Theotokos Fyodorovskaya as the protector of the Upper Volga region and Theotokos of Tolga as the patroness of Yaroslavl. A number of local (and often ancient) Orthodox Marian devotions also exist around the world, e.g. to the icon of the Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring in present day Istanbul.
One of the most important Marian devotions is the Akathist to the Theotokos, which is chanted every year during Great Lent, and is frequently chanted throughout the year as a private devotion. Some people chant the Akathist as part of their preparation for Holy Communion. A metrical translation of an ancient Orthodox prayer is found in the second verse of the Anglican hymn, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.
Marian devotions are prominent within the Roman Catholic tradition. Pope Paul VI began his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus saying, "From the moment when we were called to the See of Peter, we have constantly striven to enhance devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary".
In Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II emphasized the importance of Marian devotions as follows: "Since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary".
At the popular level, for centuries books such as True Devotion to Mary have built a ground swell of Marian devotions among Catholics, to the point that tens of millions of pilgrims visit Marian shrines every year. The statue of our Our Lady of Zapopan attracts over one million pilgrims on 12 October each year as the statue travels through the streets moving from one Cathedral to another.
Marian devotions can take a unifying national dimension, e.g. devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is a national symbol in Mexico, and in 1979 Pope John Paul II placed Mexico under her protection. Similarly, national devotions to Our Lady of Šiluva resulted in Lithuania being formally consecrated to Mary by Cardinal Sladkevicius and the Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament, in September 1991.
Marian devotions are also associated with a number of beliefs among Catholics which have not been dogmatically approved by the Church, but have been asserted by saints and theologians. An example is the belief that Marian devotions are a sign of predestination, namely that those who have strong Marian devotions are more likely to go to Heaven. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century, Saint Bonaventure in the 13th century, and Saint Alphonsus Ligouri in the 19th century affirmed this belief, and 20th century theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who taught Pope John Paul II, supported it with modern theological arguments regarding the "signs of predestination".
Types of devotions
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Marian devotions among Roman Catholics are numerous and have diverse cultural dimensions. While there are many well-known devotions, there are many small, local and regional devotions. At the top level Catholic Marian devotions may be categorized into the following non-exclusive groups, based on the characteristics of the devotion:
The Liturgical Calendar
Practically all Marian devotions and pious exercises are in some way related to the liturgical feasts of the General Calendar of the Roman Rite or of the particular calendars of dioceses and religious congregations. Saturdays are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, designated as memorials of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This practice derives from Carolingian times (ninth century). The month of May has been traditionally dedicated to Mary.
The Angelus is a traditional prayer used to commemorate the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary. It is used three times daily: at dawn, mid-day and at dusk. During paschaltide, the Angelus is replaced with the Regina Coeli an antiphon, dating from the tenth or eleventh century. The Rosary, or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary is essentially a contemplative prayer. The Litany of Loretto is the most well-known Marian litany.
Marian piety also includes "devotion" to various scapulars, the most common of which is devotion to the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Among the various medals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most diffuse must be the "Miraculous Medal". Its origins go back to 1830.
- Apparition-based: These include well-known and formally approved Marian apparitions such as Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima or Our Lady of Akita, and a multitude of regional devotions across the continents from Our Lady of Good Health in India to Our Lady of Licheń in Poland. Such devotions have usually resulted in the construction of major Marian churches.
- Doctrine-based: These include the defined doctrines of Mary as Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, Mary conceived without sin, Mary assumed into heaven. The devotions may precede the dogmatic definition of the doctrine. Such devotions can evolve over time, e.g. to the joint devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. and may even receive official approval, while others may be deplored: in 1677, the Holy See condemned the belief that Mary was virginally conceived, which had been a belief surfacing occasionally since the 4th century.
- Life of Mary: Specific episodes in the Life of the Virgin Mary have resulted in devotions that focus on that aspect of her life. Examples include the Seven Sorrows of Mary that recall her sufferings from the Prophecy of Simeon to the Crucifixion of Jesus. The Seven Joys of Mary on the other hand start with the Annunciation and end with her coronation in Heaven. Ongoing devotions such as Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary focus on her continued suffering at the present time as a result of insults and blasphemies.
- Miraculous images: Various icons, images and statues of the Virgin have been associated with reports of miraculous events such as healings and have resulted in local and national devotions, and the construction of Marian shrines. Examples include Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, the Black Madonna of Częstochowa in Poland, Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn in Lithuania, and Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos in Mexico among many others.
There is also interplay between these types of devotion, e.g. the apparitions of Lourdes emphasized the Rosary and those of Fatima reported the Virgin Mary with the rosary and scapular. And regional devotions that may have hardly been heard of on other continents, continue to generate local support such as festivals and celebrations. E.g. the festival of Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga in the Philippines has been celebrated for centuries, and its icon continues to be venerated. Local devotions can generate significant interest, e.g. each year around Pentecost, as part of a local Marian devotion, about a million people attend the Romería de El Rocío in Spain.
Major Roman Catholic devotions to Mary
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- Congregation for Divine Worship § 188.
- Handbook of Prayers by James Socías 2006 ISBN 0-87973-579-1 page 483
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