The Catholic Thing
Mary and the Liturgy Print E-mail
By Kristina Johannes   
Saturday, 10 September 2011

Unless you’ve been living for some time on Mars, you know that the English texts of the liturgy are undergoing revision. This revision is accompanied by great hope that it will allow the teachings of Vatican II on the liturgy finally to bear their full and authentic fruit. While I wholeheartedly share this hope, there is something equally fundamental to liturgical renewal calling for our attention – a proper ordering of Marian devotion in the life of every Catholic.

I have to admit that I stumbled upon this recently while doing research about Church teaching on Mary’s mediation. Pope Paul VI’s prophetic gifts were not limited to Humanae Vitae, in which he warned of the ill consequences of contraception. In 1967 he issued Marialis Cultis – an apostolic exhortation whose purpose was to highlight the development of doctrine on Mary and its relationship to liturgical renewal. 

In this document, Pope Paul VI stated: “every authentic development of Christian worship is necessarily followed by a fitting increase of veneration for the Mother of the Lord.” If you’re curious, you can read more deeply here into Paul’s explanation of why this is so. 

Given that we know there is a yardstick by which to measure authentic development of worship, both personally and corporately – increased devotion to Mary – let’s see how things stack up.  

Experience has shown that the hoped for liturgical renewal has not fully occurred. Instead of our churches bursting at the seams, we are now closing them at an alarming rate. Few understand the nature of Holy Mass or the Blessed Sacrament. Attendance has plummeted. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have fallen off to seemingly disastrous levels.

At the same time, what has happened to the veneration of Mary? It too has plummeted. The processions, novenas, rosaries, and consecrations of earlier generations have largely fallen by the wayside. Dissenters regularly deny the settled dogmas on Mary. One is more likely to hear cautions against devotion to Mary than encouragement in its practice. 

But take heart. Paul VI’s formula provides a sure guide to be followed at this important juncture. As he explained, proper devotion to the Blessed Mother is an indication of genuine piety because its presence demonstrates a recognition of the singular place that Mary holds in God’s redemptive plan, always directed to and flowing from Christ Who is the one Mediator between God and man. Increasing the understanding of this mystery will lead to an increase in fruitful participation in the liturgy, one of the hallmarks of liturgical renewal. 

Mary is integral to God’s saving design, not by necessity, but by God’s own will. She is the gift He has given to Himself and to us:  Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. This latter title was confirmed by Vatican II and captures the essence of that Council’s development on the doctrine of Mary. Once Catholics again grasp the importance of “taking Mary into their homes” as their mother, the renewal will be well on its way.

As mother, Mary stood beneath the cross and willingly offered her Divine Son to God the Father on our behalf. At that moment she fully earned her title of Mother to us all in the order of grace, and Christ confirmed this from the Cross. But she understood the nature of her motherhood much earlier in her fiat at the Annunciation. 

She said yes to her motherhood of us at the same time she said yes to her motherhood of Christ the Lord. Her whole life was a journey of growth in this expansive role of mother. From Heaven she continues her maternal intercession on our behalf with the increased knowledge and understanding she receives through her communion with the Blessed Trinity. Having cooperated in our spiritual birth, she constantly oversees our growth as Christians.

Whether we know it or not, every grace we have received from Christ has passed through her Immaculate Heart. There are many graces we might not have received had she not intervened on our behalf. Her intercession at the wedding at Cana demonstrates this without a doubt. And whether we know it or not, Mary is the reason we found Christ. She spiritually repeats the mystery of the Visitation, as many times as there are souls to be won for Christ.

Devotion to Mary is not optional; not some sort of sideline that Catholics can partake of if they desire. God’s gift of her to us requires our response as loving children. And that increase in filial piety is the stuff of which liturgical renewal is made. Once it bursts forth, we will know things are on track.

September is the month in which we celebrate Mary’s birth. This year give her the gift of (re)reading two important documents:  Pope Paul VI’s Marialis Cultis, and Blessed John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater

Kristina Johannes, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is president of Our Lady of Mercy Praesidium, Legion of Mary, in Anchorage, Alaska. She is a registered nurse and a certified teacher of natural family planning for the Couple to Couple League. In 1998 she served as a spokeswoman for the Alaska Family Coalition, which successfully worked for passage of the marriage amendment to the Alaska Constitution.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Brennan, September 10, 2011
I enjoyed this article. It is refreshing and actually encouraging to hear a frank assessment and description of the plummeting in pretty much every area of the Church's life, including devotion to Mary, after Vatican II. Much better than the Pollyanna "happy talk" we usually get about "Well, gee, things are always tough after a Council." Or telling us we are in a springtime of renewal when almost every indicator points to the fact that we are not.

And I agree that devotion to Mary is a good barometer the how healthy the life of the Church is.

Yet I wonder if the article puts the cart before the horse? On the one hand, we should encourage devotion to Mary at every possible chance, yet perhaps it is returning to a devout, reverent and transcendent liturgy which will foster greater devotion to Mary. I mean, if we have a liturgy which does not lift our hearts and minds to God, but instead keeps them stuck in the everyday, mundane world because of its banality, then how are people going to ushered into a supernatural world and atmosphere where devotion to Mary is of critical importance? Unless of course they simply do it on their own?

Well, good article and God bless.
written by Manfred, September 10, 2011
"Devotion to Mary is not optional;..." Why not? Protestants fare pretty well without it. If you discuss Mary in terms of Vatican II you will be greeted with a yawn. You list above all the ills affecting the post- Vat II Church. The Council and all that followed is suspect. What focused Catholics in the past were "parish missions" where Jesuits and Dominicans spoke of Death, Judgement, Heaven or Hell. Devotion to Mary flowed from her approved apparitions where her message was consistent with the eschatology I just described. At Fatima, Mary reminded the world that Hell exists and people (souls?) go there. The reason the Church is shrinking today is because Hell has been quietly removed and we find we really don't need the MODERN Church.
written by Ars Artium, September 10, 2011
Mary as the example, par excellence, of willed obedience to God is a subject I have thought about and loved. Her approach of taking important things into her heart and pondering them is one I have attempted to emulate. But I have never, until now, had any sense of Mary as a person. Not, that is, until I began to think of her as a girl whose ancestry would have been apparent; that her appearance would have been self-evidently Semitic, not northern European. For whatever it is worth, this perception has allowed me to visualize Mary as a real person, a Jewish girl, rather than as an idealized image. It has brought her closer.
written by Howard Kainz, September 10, 2011
St. Louis de Montfort says that devotion to Mary is a sign of predestination -- which is a rather striking claim. But it might be going too far to say that it is "not optional." That's a claim that would need some backing-up.
written by Achilles, September 10, 2011
Manfred, you appear to be led by the false assumption that Vatican II is the root of all the problems of Mother Church. IT is foolishness and appears to have forced you to ignore much of reality and many historical facts. You have confused evil fruits for root problems. Traditionalists have much to offer, but like any ideology, clinging to rigid notions above data and especially revelation is a form of idolatry. I realize that the temptation for the “more intelligent than average” is an overvaluation of self. Even those of us less gifted in the IQ dept. can see the error clearly.
Have you ever read the Vatican II documents? Or did you do a word count and assume ambiguity? There are many more important issues in the Church than the validity of Vatican II that would not be in question but for the arrogance of certain theologians.
written by Manfred, September 10, 2011
Achilles: Thank you for your comments. Please re-read Ms. Johannes paragraph five above (it begins: "Experience.." and ends with "..disastrous levels.") and rather than quibble over Vat. II or I.Q. levels, why don't we attempt to determine why "The processions, novenas, rosaries and consecrations of earlier generations have largely fallen by the wayside."? I move that most churchmen and laity no longer believe they play any important role and are merely cultural encrustations. I pray the Rosary and I wear a Miraculous Medal because I fear Hell and temporal punishment, and I believe that Mary will intervene in this world and the next on behalf of those who reach out to her in faith for succor.
written by Kristina Johannes, September 10, 2011
Thank you, I appreciate the comments.

Brennan, consider that Mary assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross which is made present at every celebration of Holy Mass. Hers was the most perfect model of full, active, and conscious participation the world will ever know. If each of us would strive to model her participation and consciously join ourselves to her sweet adoration of Christ, imagine the consequences for liturgical renewal.

Manfred, I am saying that the necessity of devotion to Mary flows from the nature of the place which God has assigned to her. Those who don't understand that place cannot be held accountable for a lack of veneration, but it seems to me you can't say the same thing for someone who comes to know of the doctrine on Mary yet fails to respond accordingly.

Ars, I agree that it is important to see Mary as a real human. What a woman!

Howard, to say it is "not optional" is a logical conclusion since God Himself has established the relationship. Leo XIII stated in Octobri Mense, "Thus as no man goeth to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother." (4) Evidently Mary can somewhat accomplish her role without our being aware of it, but once we become aware of it, how could it be reasonable to say it is not necessary to acknowledge it and cooperate with it? It would be spurning God's plan. Plus many of the Holy Days of Obligation are Marian and it would seem that the Church is thus requiring our veneration, at least implicitly.

Achilles, apparently you and I both find statements against the beautiful teachings of Vatican II painful. There have been so many false interpretations of the documents of Vatican II floating around, it is understandable that people would blame the Council, although as you point out, that is incorrect. It is very consoling to read the documents (and the footnotes!) because you see the continuation of the Faith.
written by Achilles, September 11, 2011
Thank you for sharing that Manfred. You bring up good questions, most definitely not to be answered by dissenting against Vatican II Council. Let’s not quibble about whether or not we need the “MODERN Church” either. There is the Ecclesia and these are modern times, period. I am sure we agree that the state of many in the “Modern Church” is dismal. Many good men and some Popes have said that the devil is in the Church. The attacks on the Church are immense and fairly explained by history from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment, the Industrial revolution, French Revolution and the sheer arrogance of theologian’s in the 60’s and 70’s who felt justified in misinterpreting a legitimate Vatican II Council thus acting on the hermeneutic of rupture. The Traditionalist position is reactionary, and while containing much apparent sense and devotion, it is off kilter.
Manfred I too am afraid of hell, it just seems to me that we jeopardize our souls when we dissent against legitimate things of the Church, when there are so many real things we should oppose. IF you don’t differentiate between the Council and the “spirit of Vatican II” you are throwing the baby out with the bath water and that is dangerous thing to do. THe author of dissent is Satan.
May Christ’s peace be with you Manfred, Achilles.
written by Achilles, September 11, 2011
Kristina, thank you for a meaningful article! Yes we do agree on that. St. Augustine said “I believe it so I can see it” and if we as faithful Catholics don’t apply St. Augustine’s wise words to the Doctrine and Dogma of Mother Church we are treading on dangerous ground. The appearances of error are Satan’s bread and butter because they play to our intellectual pride.
Thank you for your good words, hope to see you on here again soon, Pax Christi, Achilles.
written by Eric Giunta, September 11, 2011
Some of what you write, Ms Johannes, borders on the downright superstitious. For example:

"There are many graces we might not have received had she not intervened on our behalf."

This looks to me to completely misunderstand the nature of intercessory prayer, taking anthropopathic language hyper-literally, presupossing at it does a pagan god that is neither omniscient nor impassible. Intercessory prayer and its "efficacy" are a mystery, but we know what it isn't: it isn't trying to change Zeus's--I mean, God's!--mind by begging Him till He feels sorry for us, and when failing that we get the Johnny Cochrans of the Faith to do what we can't do ourselves.

These are precisely the silly caricatures that rightly serve as fodder for unbelievers.

Finally, devotion cannot be mandated, let alone legislated. To say that all the graces we receive come through Mary (and indeed, the entire Church, militant *and* triumphant, in Heaven and in the wayfaring state) is far from saying that every grace we receive comes from our making a conscious act of devotion to her or any saint; just as "praying in Jesus' Name" is not only or even necessarily attaching a set of words ("though our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.") at the end of a petition.
written by Brennan, September 12, 2011
"Brennan, consider that Mary assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross which is made present at every celebration of Holy Mass. Hers was the most perfect model of full, active, and conscious participation the world will ever know. If each of us would strive to model her participation and consciously join ourselves to her sweet adoration of Christ, imagine the consequences for liturgical renewal."

Hi Kristina,

I certainly agree that it would be more than laudatory for all people to imitate Mary's virtues at Mass. However, I would say this would result in a devotional renewal, not necessarily a liturgical one.

When I speak of liturgical renewal, I mean specifically the rites of the Church, and not necessarily a man's personal devotion (or lack thereof) at Mass.

Although I do believe an improvement (which may mean going back to earlier liturgical practices) in the liturgical rites would lead to a corollary improvement in devotion at Mass.

God bless.
written by Kristina Johannes, September 12, 2011
Eric, When I said, "there are many graces we might not have received had she not intervened on our behalf" I was thinking of what Blessed JPII called the "feminine genius" the special gift of women to anticipate the needs of others, and Mary's maternity. Can't you imagine that Mary, a woman and our Mother, has asked for many things on our behalf that we didn't know we needed?

I don't really understand your point about intercessory prayer. It seems that you would deprive it of any meaning. Wouldn't your view turn it into a Divine charade? Yes, God is unchangeable, but somehow in that reality He has willed to reserve certain graces to those situations where we ask for them for ourselves or others. It seems to me it is an indication of the incredible dignity with which He has endowed the human person.

Today's readings (Sep 12) were all about intercessory prayer which I found very sweet. What do you think? Do you think that when the schedule of readings was drawn up, somehow God arranged for these for today's date on our behalf? I do and I thank Him for it. He is so tender in His love for us.

Finally, I'm not saying, "every grace we receive comes from our making a conscious act of devotion to her." My point about the necessity of devotion to Mary flows from the fourth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." From the Cross Christ said, "Behold your mother." If we are to honor our earthly mother, how much more must we honor our Mother in the order of grace? How we choose to do so is a matter of individual prudence.
written by Kristina Johannes, September 13, 2011
Brenna, "Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Liturgy" is the title of the first chapter of Marialis Cultis(linked in my article).

#15 of that same chapter states (remember, this is 1974):
" The examination of the revised liturgical books leads us to the comforting observation that the postconciliar renewal has, as was previously desired by the liturgical movement, properly considered the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of Christ, and, in harmony with tradition, has recognized the singular place that belongs to her in Christian worship as the holy Mother of God and the worthy Associate of the Redeemer.

It could not have been otherwise. If one studies the history of Christian worship, in fact, one notes that both in the East and in the West the highest and purest expressions of devotion to the Blessed Virgin have sprung from the liturgy or have been incorporated into it."

With due regard for the difference between veneration of Mary and adoration of Christ, Vatican II intended to renew our understanding of their interrelation, first of all in the liturgy. That's why I see these two things--the new revision of the texts and a new understanding and acceptance of Mary's role in our life--as the unfinished business of Vatican II's liturgical renewal. I don't think it is a cart and the horse scenario but rather "firing on all cylinders" scenario.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author