Since the Church’s beginning, the Blessed Virgin, as Mother of all
humanity, has always had a special place in the hearts and devotion of
"The Second Vatican Council, in stressing the particular
character of Marian devotion, says: 'Mary has by grace been exalted
above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most
holy Mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ: she is
rightly honoured by a special cult in the Church' (Lumen
gentium, n. 66)", the Holy Father said at the General
Audience of Wednesday, 15 October, as he reflected on the development of
Marian devotion in the history of the Church. Here is a translation of
his catechesis, which was the 66th in the series on the Blessed Mother
and was given in Italian.
1. "When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born
of woman" (Gal 4:4). Marian devotion is based on the wondrous
divine decision, as the Apostle Paul recalls, to link forever the Son of
God's human identity with a woman, Mary of Nazareth.
The mystery of the divine motherhood and of Mary's co-operation in
the work of Redemption has filled believers in every age with an
attitude of praise, both for the Saviour and for her who gave birth to
him in time, thus co-operating in Redemption.
A further reason for grateful love for the Blessed Virgin is offered
by her universal motherhood. By choosing her as Mother of all humanity,
the heavenly Father has wished to reveal the motherly dimension, so to
speak, of his divine tenderness and concern for all people in every era.
On Calvary, with the words: "Behold, your son!",
"Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19:26-27), Jesus gave Mary in
advance to all who would receive the Good News of salvation, and was
thus laying the foundation of their filial affection for her. Following
John, the faithful would prolong Christ's love for his Mother with their
own devotion, by accepting her into their own lives.
Devotion to Blessed Virgin dates from Church's origins
2. The Gospel texts attest to the presence of Marian devotion from
the Church's origins.
The first two chapters of St Luke's Gospel seem to relate the
particular attention to Jesus' Mother on the part of Jewish Christians,
who expressed their appreciation of her and jealously guarded their
memories of her.
Moreover, in the infancy narratives we can discern the initial
expressions of and reasons for Marian devotion, summarized in
Elizabeth's exclamations: "Blessed are you among women.... And
blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was
spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk 1:42, 45).
Traces of a veneration already widespread among the first Christian
community are present in the Magnificat canticle: "All
generations will call me blessed" (Lk 1:48). By putting these words
on Mary's lips, Christians recognized her unique greatness, which would
be proclaimed until the end of time.
In addition, the Gospel accounts (cf. Lk 1:24-35; Mt 1:23 and Jn
1:13), the first formulas of faith and a passage by St Ignatius of
Antioch (cf. Smyrn. 1, 2: SC 10, 155) attest to the first
communities' special admiration for Mary's virginity, closely linked to
the mystery of the Incarnation.
John's Gospel, by noting Mary's presence at the beginning and at the
end of her Son's public life, suggests that the first Christians were
keenly aware of Mary's role in the work of Redemption, in full loving
dependence on Christ.
3. The Second Vatican Council, in stressing the particular character
of Marian devotion, says: "Mary has by grace been exalted above all
angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most holy
Mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ: she is
rightly honoured by a special cult in the Church" (Lumen gentium,
Then, alluding to the third-century Marian prayer, "Sub tuum
praesidium"—"We fly to thy patronage"—it adds that
this characteristic emerges from the very beginning: "From the
earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honoured under the title of Mother
of God in whose protection the faithful take refuge together in prayer
in all their perils and needs" (ibid.).
4. This assertion has been confirmed in iconography and in the
teaching of the Fathers of the Church since the second century.
In Rome, in the catacombs of Priscilla, it is possible to admire the
first depiction of the Madonna and Child, while at the same time, St
Justin and St Irenaeus speak of Mary as the new Eve who by her faith and
obedience makes amends for the disbelief and disobedience of the first
woman. According to the Bishop of Lyons, it was not enough for Adam to
be redeemed in Christ, but "it was right and necessary that Eve be
restored in Mary" (Demonstratio apostolica, 33). In this way
he stresses the importance of woman in the work of salvation and lays
the foundation for the inseparability of Marian devotion from that shown
to Jesus, which will endure down the Christian centuries.
Marian devotion is firmly rooted in Christian faith
5. Marian devotion is first expressed in the invocation of Mary as "Theotókos",
a title which was authoritatively confirmed, after the Nestorian crisis,
by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The same popular reaction to the ambiguous and wavering position of
Nestorius, who went so far as to deny Mary's divine motherhood, and the
subsequent joyful acceptance of the Ephesian Synod's decisions, confirm
how deeply rooted among Christians was devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
However "following the Council of Ephesus, there was a remarkable
growth in the devotion of the People of God towards Mary, in veneration
and love, in invocation and imitation" (Lumen gentium, n.
66). It was expressed especially in the liturgical feasts, among which,
from the beginning of the fifth century, "the day of Mary Theotókos"
acquired particular importance. It was celebrated on 15 August in
Jerusalem and later became the feast of the Dormition or the Assumption.
Under the influence of the ProtoEvangelium of James", the feasts
of the Nativity, the Conception and the Presentation were also
introduced, and notably contributed to highlighting some important
aspects of the mystery of Mary.
6. We can certainly say that Marian devotion has developed down to
our day in wonderful continuity, alternating between flourishing periods
and critical ones that, nonetheless, often had the merit of fostering
its renewal even more.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Marian devotion seems destined to
develop in harmony with a deeper understanding of the mystery of the
Church and in dialogue with contemporary cultures, to be ever more
firmly rooted in the faith and life of God's pilgrim people on earth.