Pope Francis has decreed that “the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church,” should be inscribed in the Roman Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost and be celebrated every year in churches throughout the world.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments announced this in a decree published by the Vatican today, March 3, and signed by the congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Robert Sarah, and its secretary, Archbishop Arthur Roche. The pope, who has emphasized many times the importance of Mary in the church, approved this last Thursday when he received the cardinal in a private audience.
A “memorial” is a lower-ranked feast day. Celebrations of feast days in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church are distinguished according to their importance and named either as solemnities, feasts or memorials.
The Memorial will celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost in churches throughout the world.
The decree, signed by the two Vatican prelates, said “the joyous veneration” given to the Mother of God by the contemporary church “in the light of reflection on the mystery of Christ and on his nature” cannot ignore “the Virgin Mary, who is both the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.”
It traced the history of this veneration down the centuries from the period of the early church as is reflected in the writing of St. Augustine (354-430) and St. Leo the Great, who was pope from 440-461. It recalled that St. Augustine said “Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church” while St. Leo said “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 Vatican prelates in the decree recalled that “as a caring guide to the emerging Church Mary had already begun her mission in the Upper Room, praying with the Apostles while awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit.” Then, in the course of the centuries, “Christian piety has honored Mary with various titles” that are in many ways equivalent” such as “Mother of Disciples, of the Faithful, of Believers,” but also under the title “Mother of the Church” as is found in the texts of spiritual authors and the magisterium of Popes Benedict XIV and Leo XIII.
All this laid the foundation that enabled Blessed Paul VI, at the conclusion of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Council, Nov. 21, 1964, to declare 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.” Paul VI decreed at the same time that “the Mother of God should be further honored and invoked by the entire Christian people by this tenderest of titles.”
The authors of the decree recalled various initiatives by the Holy See and the local churches in the following decades that resulted in the establishment of a votive Mass in honor of “the blessed Mary Mother of the Church” (1975) that was subsequently inserted into the Roman Missal, as well as the publication of invocations and formularies.
The congregation’s decree laid down that “the memorial therefore is to appear in all Calendars and liturgical books for the celebration of Mass and of the Liturgy of the Hours,” and provide the relative liturgical texts for this purpose.