Liturgy Matters — How do we honor Mary?

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

Which feasts of Mary are holy days of obligation?

The Catholic Church holds Mary in great esteem as the Blessed Mother of God and more broadly embraces her as our mother. Her “yes” to God is a model of faith for us. We honor her first and foremost in the feasts in the liturgical year ranked in importance: solemnities, feasts and, finally, memorials, obligatory or optional.

There are three solemnities of Mary that are usually holy days of obligation: Mary the Holy Mother of God, Jan. 1; the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aug. 15; and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dec. 8.

When Jan. 1 and Aug. 15 fall on a Saturday or a Monday, the obligation to attend Mass is lifted. This does not apply to the Immaculate Conception since Mary, under this title, is the patroness of the United States. This solemnity remains a holy day even if it occurs on Saturday or Monday. One exception to this occurs when Dec. 8 falls on Sunday as it will in 2013. Since the Sundays of Advent rank higher than solemnities of Mary, the celebration of the Immaculate Conception is transferred to Monday, Dec. 9. When a holy day is transferred to another day, the obligation for Mass is lifted.

In addition to the solemnities of Mary, there are a number of feasts in the liturgical calendar: the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, Sept. 8; Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12 (a Marian feast especially treasured in the Hispanic community); and the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 31. Seven memorials commemorate Mary as well, for example, Our Lady of the Rosary.

When are Marian Hymns appropriate for Mass?

The solemnities, feasts and memorials dedicated to Mary within the liturgical year, are the most appropriate times for singing hymns/songs that focus on Mary. Since one purpose of the opening song is to introduce and set the tone for the feast or season, it is one of the best locations within the Mass for a Marian hymn/song on these days. The hymn/song during the Presentation and Preparation of the Gifts or a closing song may also be times for Marian hymns/songs on these feasts.

The Communion song, however, is not an appropriate place for Marian songs/hymns. The purpose of the song during the distribution of holy Communion is “to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart and to bring out more clearly the “communitarian” character of the procession to receive the Eucharist” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 86).

Interestingly, one of the very best songs to sing during the distribution of holy Communion is Mary’s praise of God in the Magnificat where she sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

In what other ways do we honor Mary?

Within the liturgical year, certain seasons with their respective Scripture readings are more closely associated with Mary, particularly the Advent and Christmas seasons. In the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, a great many Marian devotions are listed: the Angelus, the rosary and litanies, to name a few. Many of these devotions developed when the liturgy seemed inaccessible to the people. In some countries, the months of October and May are times for particular devotional practices honoring Mary. It is important to remember that these celebrations, although very commendable, must always be compatible with the liturgical year and respect the Liturgy of the Day.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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