Celebrate These Important Feast Days of Mary
Great love and respect for Mary, the Mother of God, permeate numerous aspects of the Catholic Church. Even from a secular perspective, it is nearly impossible not to notice the reverence that Catholics hold for Mary; images of her adorn our churches and words about her remain within our prayers. This kind of devotion is often mystifying to non-Catholics, as it may seem from a certain viewpoint that Catholics worship the Mother of God in addition to God Himself, or even hold her in esteem above Christ.
However, Mary holds a special place in the hearts of Catholics in a different way. The various titles and feast days of Mary remind us of the vital role she plays in bringing Catholics closer to God. She is described throughout Church history as “Cause of Our Salvation,” “Queen of Heaven,” “Throne of Wisdom,” and “Health of the Afflicted.” Such titles, though only a few of her many, indicate her importance in our lives as Catholics.
Honoring Mary in Her Assumption and Queenship
In the month of August, there are at least two ways in which we can meditate on Mary’s role in our lives. This is because two of her great feast days occur this month: the Feast of the Assumption, taking place on August 15, and the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, taking place just a week later on August 22. These two feast days cooperate beautifully to show how we should give Mary honor in our lives, just as Christ Himself gave her honor. By understanding the meaning of these two feasts, we can begin to better understand how Mary may provide us with a path to heaven.
Before discussing the particular feasts of this month and how they work together, it can be helpful to first understand the basic doctrine or idea that each feast focuses on and celebrates. The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, also known in the Eastern rite as the Falling Asleep (Dormition) of the Blessed Virgin Mary, states that at the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed both body and soul into heaven. The notion of Mary’s queenship is rooted in the idea that Mary is honored so deeply by God Himself and by the members of the Church on earth that she is seated in heaven as queen.
The Feast of the Assumption
Focusing on each feast more particularly helps us further understand Mary’s presence in the life of the Church. When we consider the Feast of the Assumption, we are able to come upon several fundamental and meaningful truths.
The Church has dogmatically defined Mary’s assumption into heaven, meaning that the Church considers the doctrine of the Assumption to be important enough that it ought to be recognized as incontrovertibly true among all Catholics. The fact of Mary’s assumption foreshadows to us that the general resurrection of the body will ultimately occur, but it also makes Mary unique among the human race and indicates to us the esteem we ought to have for her.
It took centuries for this doctrine to be made official by the Church. However, the Feast of the Assumption was thought to have been celebrated as early as the 8th century, and accounts of Mary’s assumption into heaven have circulated even earlier (possibly as early as the 4th century). When Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption as dogma for the Catholic Church in the year 1950, he cited numerous writings spanning hundreds of years. These writings came from saints, from letters, even from the Bible itself. The Catholic Church often interprets Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to Mary’s assumption, as it describes “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.”
The Feast of the Queenship of Mary
Considering this excerpt from Revelation 12, we can begin to see a connection between the Feast of the Assumption and the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. Since we as Catholics believe that God always works with intention and purpose, a question here arises: for what purpose did God assume Mary into heaven both body and soul?
This question may be answered through the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. We can see by the existence of this feast that Christ wanted to exalt Mary in the most fitting way, and so He chose to bring her into heaven with him so that she might be seated beside Him as the Queen of Heaven. Christ acted upon the words of Mary’s Magnificat which she spoke upon hearing of her new role as mother of God: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.” Christ crowning Mary as Queen of Heaven is the ultimate honor for His humble mother. Here, then, we can see how these two feasts relate to one another. Christ ultimately desired to exalt His mother above all, and so he accomplished this in two ways: first, in her assumption into heaven, both body and soul, and second, in her coronation as queen of heaven.
The initial feast honoring Mary’s queenship was established by Pope Pius XII in the year 1954. Initially, it was celebrated on May 31, the last day of the month of Mary. In 1969, however, Pope Paul VI chose to move the feast to August 22, where it remains to this day. He chose this date to emphasize the close correlation between the glorification of Mary’s body and soul in the Assumption and her queenship of heaven. The Second Vatican Council, confirming this, stated that "Mary was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son."
Growing Closer to Mary Through Her Feasts
Honoring these two feast days in the month of August allows us to devote special thought and time to Mary’s presence in our Catholic spirituality. Seeing the manifold ways in which Christ chooses to honor his mother reminds us of the beatitude which states: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Mary’s assumption and queenship show us that true and honest humility will lead to a Catholic kind of greatness. Her own humility led her to be wholly united with Christ in heaven. In the same way, our humility will not lead us to a prideful, earthly kind of greatness, but will rather make us most able to be united with Christ in heaven.
We have heard so often that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. In another way, we see that Mary is the same: she provides a way to Christ through her venerable intercession, she bears the truth of Christ as she bore Him in her womb, and she is the example of a holy life where the answer to God’s request is always “fiat,” or “be it done unto me according to Thy word.” Let us meditate on the holiness of the mother of God as we ask for her intercession and wisdom, and may we seek throughout our lives to be as humble as she!