Liturgical celebrations honor Mary

Monday, May 13, 2019 - Updated: 8:47 am

QUESTION: Just how many feast days does the Blessed Virgin Mary have in the Catholic Church?

ANSWER: The Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar has changed over the centuries. Its most recent publication is contained in the Roman Missal, 2000 Latin Edition. After some complicated translation issues, the English edition came into effect in the United States on the First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27), 2011.

In these directives, one finds both universal and particular liturgical calendars. The universal calendar applies to dioceses throughout the world. The particular calendars add to the universal calendars and apply to individual countries or regions and the dioceses within them.

An additional point to consider is the “types” of liturgical celebrations. They are solemnities, feasts, memorials and optional memorials. Solemnities are counted among the most important liturgical days. Some solemnities have “vigils,” and some have “octaves” that extend for several days. Feasts have neither vigils nor octaves and may replace the Sunday celebration during Ordinary Time.

Memorials are usually of the saints who have universal importance and that are inscribed on the calendar for the whole church. Optional memorials are for celebrations that may have meaning to a local faith community, region or religious family.

Thus, the liturgical celebrations for Mary are these:

Solemnities: Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1), the Assumption (Aug. 15) and the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8). Feasts: The Visitation (May 31), the Nativity (Sept. 8) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12). Memorials: The Immaculate Heart of Mary (a Saturday after Pentecost), the Queenship of Mary (Aug. 27), Our Lady of Sorrows (Sept. 15), Our Lady of the Rosary (Oct. 7) and the Presentation of Mary (Nov. 21). The optional memorials are these: Our Lady of Fatima (May 13), Our Lady of Lourdes (Feb. 11), Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16) and the Holy Name of Mary (Sept. 12).

Commemoration of the Virgin Mary in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church reflects the above factors. In general, the biblical feasts of Mary are in the universal calendar, whereas the celebrations of local apparitions are in the particular calendars. This arrangement is not about Mary, but about local communities and how they relate to her as model and mentor.

Of course, all of this is said of the Roman Catholic tradition. There are many more churches that are equally “Catholic,” but have different liturgical calendars and different traditions of devotion to Mary. For example, many of these Catholic churches do not use the rosary in their Marian devotions, but have ancient hymns and prayers to her. This diversity is seen also in imagery (iconography). In Eastern Catholic churches, it would be very unusual to see an image of Mary without Jesus. There, Mary finds her meaning in her role as the “God-bearer” (theotokos).

The number of Marian feasts can be significant if every option is utilized. But that is the purpose of options, to allow devotion to Mary to speak to people all over the world. At times, that requires an “inculturation” that may not echo that of Western Catholicism.


Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.

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