Marian feast days
Marian feast days are specific holy days of the liturgical year recognized by Christians as significant Marian days for the celebration of events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her veneration. The number of Marian feasts celebrated, their names (and at times dates) can vary among Christian denominations.
History and development
The earliest feasts that relate to Mary grew out of the cycle of feasts that celebrated the Nativity of Jesus. Given that according to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:22–40), forty days after the birth of Jesus, along with the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Mary was purified according to Jewish customs, the Feast of the Purification began to be celebrated by the 5th century, and became the Feast of Simeon in Byzantium.
The origin of Marian feasts is lost to history. Although there are references to specific Marian feasts introduced into the liturgies in later centuries, there are indications that Christians celebrated Mary very early on. 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. ... 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...
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 of 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 council was about a feast for the Virgin Mary.
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.
Development of feasts
Over time, the number and nature of feasts (and the associated Titles of Mary) and the venerative 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.
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. 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.
While the Western Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, some Eastern Catholics celebrate it as Dormition of the Mother of God, and may do so on August 28, if they follow the Julian calendar. The Eastern Orthodox also celebrate it as the Dormition of the Mother of God, 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 apart from 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. 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.
Other differences in feasts relate to specific events that occurred in history. For instance, the Feast of Our Lady of Victory (later renamed Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary) was based on the 1571 victory of the Papal States against the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Lepanto, is hence unique to Roman Catholics.
In the Catholic Church
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The most prominent Marian feast days in the General Roman Calendar are:
- January 1 Mary, the Holy Mother of God
- March 25 The Annunciation of the Lord (it may be either moved to the day before Palm Sunday should this date be on Holy Week; or to the Monday after the second Sunday of Easter if this date falls on either Friday or Saturday of Holy Week or during Easter Week)
- May 31 The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- 9 days after Corpus Christi – The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- August 15 The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- August 22 The Queenship of Mary
- September 8 The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- September 15 Our Lady of Sorrows
- October 7 Our Lady of the Rosary
- November 21 The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- December 8 The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Note: Solemnitites and feasts are in bold face. Memorials are in regular face.
Optional Marian memorials in the General Roman Calendar are:
- February 11 Our Lady of Lourdes
- May 13 Our Lady of Fatima
- July 16 Our Lady of Mount Carmel
- August 5 Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major
- September 12 The Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- December 12 Our Lady of Guadalupe
Note: There are many more Marian commemorations celebrated in various localities, but not included in the General Roman Calendar.
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. 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. May devotions exist in the entire Latin church and since that time have been a regular feature of Catholic life.
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. 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.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church
- February 2 Purification of the Most Holy Theotokos
- March 25 Annunciation of the Theotokos
- August 15 Dormition of the Mother of God
- September 8 Nativity of the Theotokos
- October 1 Protection of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
- November 21 The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple
- December 9 Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos
- December 26 Synaxis of the Theotokos
Note: Feasts ranked among the twelve Great Feasts are in bold face. Minor feasts are in regular face.
In the Oriental Orthodox Church
In the Coptic Orthodox rite St. Mary is commemorated on the 21st of each coptic month ( Generally the 30th/31st of each Gregorian month).
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:
- February 2 Purification of the Blessed Virgin
- February 11 Our Lady of Lourdes
- March 25 Annunciation of Our Saviour to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lady Day)
- May 1 Queen of Heaven
- May 31 Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- August 15 Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- September 8 Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- October 15 Our Lady of Walsingham (Catholics feast on September 24, as of 2001)
- December 8 Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The following are Marian festivals celebrated within the Lutheran liturgical calendar:
- February 2 Presentation of the Lord
- March 25 Annunciation of Our Lord
- May 31 The Visitation of the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
- August 15 Mary, Mother of Our Lord
- The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England by Mary Clayton 2003 ISBN 0-521-53115-2 pages 26-37
- Methodius, "Oration Concerning Simeon and Anna On the Day that They Met in the Temple"
- Encyclopedia of Catholicism by Frank K. Flinn, J. Gordon Melton 2007 ISBN 0-8160-5455-X, pp. 443–444
- Jackson, Gregory Lee, Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant: a doctrinal comparison. 1993 ISBN 978-0-615-16635-3 page 254
- Encyclopedia of Protestantism, Volume 3 2003 by Hans Joachim Hillerbrand ISBN 0-415-92472-3 page 1174
- Jackson, Gregory Lee. Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant: a doctrinal comparison. 1993 ISBN 978-0-615-16635-3 page 249
- Pope Pius XII, "Ad Caeli Reginam", October 11, 1954, Libreria Editrice Vaticana
- Time Magazine, Nov 8th, 1954
- EWTN on Battle of Lepanto (1571) 
- Butler's Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler, Peter Doyle 1999 ISBN 0-86012-253-0 page 222
- Memorials of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Vatican changes dates for 2008 feasts of St. Joseph, Annunciation, Singapore Catholic News, 24 August 2006
- Angelus Message 10/2/05
- Schroedel, Jenny The Everything Mary Book, 2006 ISBN 1-59337-713-4 page 84
- Anglican Walsingham shrine
- Catholic Walsingham shrine