Marian Feasts in the Roman Calendar

Author: Michael Hains



The purpose of the revision of the General Roman Calendar ("the Calendar") was to distribute throughout the Church year the whole mystery of Christ, from the Incarnation to the expectation of his return in glory (Marialis Cultus #2 at 14). Marian feasts are celebrated within this framework.

The careful revision of the Calendar was to ensure a harmony and balance between the worship of Christ and the veneration of his Mother. Contrary to some Protestant myths Catholics do not worship the Blessed Virgin Mary, nor do they treat her as a God. Her rightful place is that as the Mother of God, but more importantly she was the first and most perfect of God's disciples in the new testament. Pope Paul VI stated in Marialis Cultus: "This balance can be taken as a norm for preventing any tendency (as has happened at times in certain forms of popular piety) to separate devotion to the Blessed Virgin from its necessary point of reference-Christ." (Marialis Cultus #4 at 15).

To appreciate the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Sacred Liturgy you need look no further than Sacrosanctum Cocilum (The Constitution the Sacred Liturgy) the first document published as part of Vatican II. This document brought extensive changes in the discipline of the Mass, but not the essential doctrine underlying the Mass. Paragraph 103 states: "In celebrating the annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, Holy Church honours the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, with a special love. She is inseparably linked with her Son's saving work. In her the Church admires and exalts the most excellent fruit of redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be." A most fitting tribute to the important role which Our Lord has given to his Mother for the redemption of mankind.

Types of Feasts

Under the revised Calendar there are four types of "feasts." Ranked in order of importance from most important to least they are: solemnity, feast, memorial and optional memorial. The use of the term "feast" in this Chapter has two meanings. First, in the headings for each relevant day the use of the term means a feast proper. Secondly, it is used in a generic sense to mean a celebration regardless of rank.

Important Marian Feasts

According to Pope Paul VI, in Marialis Cultus, the 4 most important Marian feasts in the Calendar are: Mary's Divine Motherhood, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption and the Annunciation of the Lord (#6 at 18). Of these four feasts, the feasts of Mary's Divine Motherhood, her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption are holydays of obligation under The Code of Canon Law: Canon 1246(1). Although the Bishop's Conference can, with the prior approval of the Apostolic See, suppress certain holydays of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday: Canon 1246(2). In Australia, the only Marian feast which is a holyday of obligation is the Assumption. When the Assumption falls on a Saturday or a Monday, no obligation is attached to that feast that year. While they are recommended, no obligation to attend Mass is attached to the Marian feasts of the Divine Motherhood and the Immaculate Conception.

In Australia the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians is also important as she is the Patroness of Australia under that title.

True devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary can be summed up in the phrase: "To Jesus through Mary." It is therefore fitting that Marian feasts are celebrated by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In this way Marian Devotion leads directly and clearly to Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity as should always be the case with true Marian devotion.

Also, several Marian feasts are joint feasts of Mary and her Son, Jesus Christ; for example, the Annunciation. This is so because immediately after Mary consented to become the Mother of God the Incarnation took place, that is, God the Son the second person of the Blessed Trinity became man - a small unborn child in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Similarly, at Our Lady's Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth she was greeted as the Mother of God and John the Baptist was sanctified in Elizabeth's womb by the grace of the Divine Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

The Calender does not include all celebrations in honour of the Blessed Virgin. It is for individual calender to include Marian Feasts proper to the different local churches. (Marialis Cultus #9 at 20) The Marian feasts in the Calendar of the Catholic Church approved for use in Australia are described below.


Mary's Divine Maternity is considered to be the greatest gift from God and the one from which all others flow. Although not a holyday of obligation in Australia every Catholic should try, if possible, to go to mass on this day.

According to St. Bonaventure, in Our Lady's motherhood of Jesus Christ, Almighty God conferred the greatest dignity on the Blessed Virgin. St. Thomas of Aquinas adds that in her motherhood the Blessed Virgin possessed a dignity that might almost be termed infinite, in a certain sense.

Inspired by God, Elizabeth was quick to recognise and acknowledge Our Lady as the mother of Christ with the words "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Why should I be honoured by a visit from the mother of my Lord?" Despite her exalted position the Blessed Virgin acknowledged that her gifts were from God, and setting an example for all, praised God with the Magnificat.


This optional memorial is in memory of the appearance of Our Lady to Saint Bernadette of Lourdes in 1858.

Between 11th February and 16th May 1858 Our Lady appeared 18 times to a fourteen year old named Bernadette Soubirous in a cave of Massavielle near Lourdes in Southern France. Lourdes has now become one of the most famous Marian centres of pilgrimages in the world. Our Lady requested that a church be built at the place of her apparitions. A small church was constructed but when this proved to be too small the Rosary Church was constructed in 1901.

Pope Pius X, in 1907, extended to the Universal Church the observance of this feast with its special office and Mass, which had been authorised by Pope Leo XIII.

Lourdes is best known as a place where the sick and disabled go to be cured of their affliction by bathing in the miraculous waters. A feature of Lourdes is the almost continuous recitation of the Rosary by pilgrims of all nationalities. But, most of the cures have occurred during the daily procession of the Blessed Sacrament into the Rosary Square at the front of the Basilica. Lourdes in an example of the true value of devotion to Mary and how that devotion leads to Christ.


The First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. Today the Church celebrates that day when the Archangel Gabriel requested Our Lady to be the Mother of God. Mary accepts and declares herself to be the handmaid of the Lord.

The Annunciation is one of the three most ancient feasts of Our Lady. The feast probably dates from the Council of Ephesus in 431, when Our Lady was proclaimed the Mother of God. This proclamation was because of a heresy which denied Mary's Divine Motherhood. It was also the Council of Ephesus which added the following words to the Hail Mary: "Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen."

This feast has been known by many names over the years including: "the Feast of the Incarnation," "the beginning of the Redemption," "the Conception of Christ" and "the Announcing of the Christ."


This feast was started by St. John Eudes in 1644 as the paternal feast of his congregation of Priests. The feast was extended to the Universal Church in 1944 by Pope Pius XII. Its extension to the Universal Church was strongly influenced by the Apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in Portugal in 1917.

At Fatima, on 13 July 1917, Our Lady said " . . . Our Lord wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart . . ." A principle means of honouring the Immaculate Heart is the practice of the "First Saturdays."

Our Lady, on 10 December 1925, appeared to Sister Lucy (the remaining seer of Fatima) and said: " . . . I promise to help at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion and recite five decades of the Rosary, while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me." (Fatima in Lucia's own words, pg 195).

Again we see the importance of the Rosary, but more importantly we see how it is to lead to Sacramental Confession, the Mass and Communion. That is, the sacraments instituted by Christ at the establishment of the Catholic Church.

This feast is celebrated of the first Saturday after the feast of the Sacred Heart which is celebrated on the first friday after the feast of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi is celebrated on the eleventh week of ordinary time in the Church's year.


Our Lady Help of Christians is the Patroness of Australia.

Pope Pius VII was imprisoned by Napoleon in 1808, but after the battle of Leipzig the 74 year old Pontiff was set free, and in 1814 returned to Rome in triumph. After Napoleon's "Hundred Days" had been brought to an end in 1815 by the allied victory at Waterloo, Pope Pius VII established today's feast for the Papal States in thanksgiving to God and the Blessed Virgin, and to commemorate the anniversary of his return from Napoleonic captivity(Saints Companion at 145).

Still, it was not until 1878 that a country celebrated the feast on a national basis. That country was Australia.

It is also under the title of Our Lady Help of Christians that St. John Bosco had his famous vision about Christ's Church and the Blessed Virgin in the 20th Century.


The Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. Today the Church celebrates Our Lady's visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

After the Archangel Gabriel leaves, Mary hastens to visit and help Elizabeth. Inspired by God, Elizabeth greets Mary for the first time as the mother of God with the words "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus." John the Baptist leaps for joy in the womb of his mother, sanctified by the grace of the Divine Redeemer. Mary responds with the Magnificat. Tradition holds that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, until the birth of her son or even until his circumcision.

This feast was first heard of in 1263, when it was adopted by the Franciscan Order at the suggestion of St. Bonaventure. The feast was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Urban VI in 1389 in thanks for the end of the Great Schism.

Again see the person of central importance in this feast is not Our Lady, but Jesus. Elizabeth worships the fruit of Mary's womb, Jesus. John the Baptist is sanctified by the promised redeemer and Our Lady gives praise to her son for his gifts to her and the world.


On this day, in 1251, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock (the then General of the Carmelite Order) in Cambridge England and presented to him the Brown Scapular. Mary assured him that all who were invested and wore it with love would be saved from final damnation. This does not mean that a person can go about sinning with impunity simply because they wear the Scapular. The Scapular, it is said, should be wore around the heart. The Brown Scapular is the most indulgenced and widely used. Sadly, since Vatican II the Brown Scapular has fallen into to disuse. Our Lady once revealed to St. Dominic that she would convert the world through the Rosary and the Scapular, let us us use this powerful gift from Our Lady to renew the Church.


The Fourth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. This celebration originated in the 5th or 6th Century. St. Juvenal of Jerusalem stated as early as the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that Our Lady, after her death, was assumed body and soul into heaven.

Pope Pius XII, on 1 November 1950, in Munificentissimus Deus officially defined the doctrine of the Assumption as an article of the Catholic Faith. He stated:

". . . By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by Our Own authority, We pronounce, declare, and define as divinely revealed dogma: The Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, after her life on earth, was assumed, body and soul to the glory of heaven." [III, 44]

St. Alphonsus de Liguori, in Glories of Mary, wrote:

"Since death is the punishment for sin, it might have seemed proper that the Divine Mother should have been exempt from it. But it pleased God to have Mary resemble Jesus in all things, and so He willed that even she should die, but a sweet and happy death. Three things tend to render death bitter: attachment to the world, remorse for one's sin, and the uncertainty of one's salvation. But Marys' death was entirely free from these causes of bitterness; for what soul was ever more detached from earthly goods and more united to God? Nor was it thinkable that any remorse of conscience could trouble her. who had been free from the least taint of actual or original sin; and she also had the fullest certainty of possessing divine grace. Death to her was very sweet, for it would unite her more closely to God by an eternal bond. The Doctors and Holy Fathers of the Church generally assert that she died from no infirmity, but form pure love" at 407.


Pope Pius XII in the Papal Encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam proposed the traditional doctrine on the Queenship of Mary and established this feast for the Universal Church. Originally this feast was celebrated on 31 May each year, but was changed after Vatican II to the present date. As Pope Paul VI stated in Marialis Cultus the Calendar "was revised in such a way as to give fitting prominence to the celebration on appropriate days of the work of salvation" (#2 at 14). Fittingly the Solemnity of the Assumption is now prolonged in the celebration of the Queenship of Mary, which occurs seven days after the Assumption (Marialis Cultus #6 at 18).

Pope Pius IX said of Mary: "Turning her maternal Heart toward us and dealing with the affair of our salvation, she is concerned with the whole human race. Constituted by the Lord Queen of Heaven and earth, and exalted above all choirs of Angels and the ranks of Saints in Heaven, standing at the right hand of Her only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, she petitions most powerfully with Her maternal prayers, and she obtains what she seeks."

Pope XII added: "We commend that on the festival there be renewed the consecration of the human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Upon this there is founded a great hope that there will rejoice in the triumph of religion and in Christian peace.

Therefore, let all approach with greater confidence now than before, to the throne of mercy and grace of our Queen and Mother to beg help in difficultly, light in darkness and solace in trouble and sorrow . . . . Whoever, therefore, honours the lady ruler of the Angels and of men - and let no one think themselves exempt from the payment of that tribute of a grateful and loving soul - let them call upon her as most truly Queen and as the Queen who brings the blessings of peace, that She may show us all, after this exile, Jesus, who will be our enduring peace and joy."


The feast of Our Lady's birth originated in Syria or Palestine at the beginning of the 6th Century. The feast was introduced in Rome some 100 years later.

Our Lady's birthday has been described as "the hope of the entire world and the dawn of salvation" (Marialis Cultus #7 at 7 quoting the Roman Missal, 8 September, Prayer after communion). St. Alphonsus de Liguori in the Glories of Mary wrote:

"Having been destined to become the Mother of the Eternal Word, this child was enriched with so great a grace that, even at the moment of Her Immaculate Conception, she exceeded all the Saints and Angels in sanctity, for she was given a higher order of grace, which corresponded to her dignity as Mother of God.

She was born a great saint! Mary's soul was the most beautiful soul that God ever created.

How delightful a sight to heaven and earth must have been the beautiful soul of this happy child! Let us rejoice with our beloved infant who was born so holy, so dear to God, and so full of grace" at 318.


This is the feast in honour of Mary's seven sorrows. The seven sorrows (or seven dolors) are: Simeon's Prophecy, the flight into Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the Temple, Mary's meeting with Jesus on his way to Calvary, Jesus's crucifixion, Mary receiving the dead body of Jesus and Jesus's burial.

Our Lady of Sorrows is the patron of the Order of Servants of Mary ("the Servites"). Today's feast was granted to the Servites in 1668. Pope Pius VII extended the feast to the Universal Church in 1814 in gratitude for his return from exile in 1814.


In the 16th Century Eastern Europe had been overrun by the Moslems. The Moslems intended to continue their push and conquer the rest of Europe and destroy the christian religion. Pope Pius V in order to save Christendom called for a crusade. In 1571, Spain and Italy responded by sending a fleet of 255 ships and 65,000 men under Don John of Austria to meet the Turkish fleet.

Pope Pius V and the faithful spent the whole of the night of 6-7 October 1571 in public recitation of the Rosary praying for victory. The christian forces also spent three hours on that faithful morning praying the Rosary for victory. That morning the opposing forces meet in the Bay of Lepanto-today known as the Bay of Pathos (this is near the shores of Gappolli now called ANZAC Cove). The Turkish fleet consisted of 290 ships and 88,00 men. That evening the Christian fleet had sunk 240 Turkish ships and killed over 33,000 men. The forces of Don John of Austria crushed the Turkish fleet and put its remnants to flight.

The Feast of the Most Holy Rosary (also known as the Feast of Our Lady of Victories) is celebrated on 7 October and started by Pope Pius V in gratitude for Mary's aid in the great naval victory over the Turks. The feast was extended to the Universal Church in 1716, when Prince Eugene won another important victory over the same enemy in Hungary.


This feast commemorates the presentation of the child Mary, in the temple in Jerusalem, when she was three.

Ancient writings say Joachim and Anne brought their daughter Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem so that she might be educated by the holy woman.

This feast originated in Syria in the 8th Century and was extended to the West while the popes were at Avignon in France. This feast symbolises the Blessed Virgin's Mary consecration to the Lord.


The Immaculate Conception is the dogma of faith stating that the Blessed Virgin was from the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of God, preserved from all stain of original sin. Not only is Our Lady free from original sin see is also free from actual sin. That is, she never committed any sin during her life, even the smallest venial sin.

From the time of the Fathers of the Church up to the Middle Ages we find explicit reference to the freedom of Mary from sin from the first moment of her conception. The Eastern Church as early as the second half of the 7th Century celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception under the title "Conception of Saint Anne."

In the Western Church the feast was first celebrated in Ireland. By 840 the feast was also celebrated in Italy and Spain. Pope Pius V in 1567 condemned Baius for holding that "no one but Christ was without original sin, and therefore the Blessed Virgin Mary died in consequence of the sin contracted through Adam, and endured affliction in this life, like the rest of the just, as punishment for actual and original sin." (The Catholic Catechism, JA Hardon at 154). In the following year the great Dominican Pope extended the Feast of the Immaculate Conception to the Universal Church and made it a holy day of obligation. Although still considered one the most important feasts of Our Lady it is not a holy day of obligation in Australia.

Pope Pius IX on 8 December 1854 issued the Apostolic Letter Ineffabilis Deus in which he defined as an article of Catholic Faith infallibly the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Pius IX condensed the definition into the following single paragraph:

"To the honour of the holy and undivided Trinity, to the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, to the exaltation of the Catholic faith, and the increase of the Catholic religion, We, by the authority of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul and by Our Own, declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the omnipotent God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind was preserved free from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful."

Shortly after this dogma was defined Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in 1858 and described herself as the Immaculate Conception.


This pious practice developed because of Our Lady's apparitions at Fatima. Besides the practice of the First Saturdays, Masses on each Saturday are frequently offered in honour of the Virgin Mary in reparation for sins.

On August 13, 1990, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Newspaper, printed a picture of Pope John Paul II kneeling in prayer above the courtyard of his villa in Castel Gandolfo. The caption read " . . . As is his custom, the pope led the recitation of the First Saturday Rosary with crowds gathered in the courtyard below . . ."