Father John Joseph Fenelon
Traditionally, Catholics have always given special attention to the months of May and October dedicated to Our Blessed Mother. But how many of us know that August is a Marian month too?
May, the month of Mary
In May, Catholics offer up to Our Lady, both in church and in the privacy of the home, an especially fervent and loving homage of prayer and veneration. This custom of dedicating the month of May to the Blessed Virgin arose at the end of the 13th century.
May as a Marian month was further affirmed by Mary’s first apparition at Fatima (May 13, 1917). In 1953, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of the Queenship of Mary on May 31 as part of the Marian Year he proclaimed in 1954 with the encyclical Fulgens Corona.And in 1965, in the encyclical Mense Maio, Pope Paul VI identified the month of May as an opportune time to incorporate special prayers for peace into traditional Marian devotions.
Today, however, May 31 is the feast of the Visitation of Mary; the Queenship of Mary has been moved to August 22 (see below).
October, the month of the Rosary
This has its origins dating back to the High Middle Ages. Every October is dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary, primarily because the liturgical feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated on October 7. It was instituted to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary for the protection she gives the Church in answer to the praying of the Rosary by the faithful.
The feast was introduced by Pope St Pius V in the year 1571 to commemorate the miraculous victory of the Christian forces over the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. The Pope attributed more to the “arms” of the Rosary than to the power of the cannons and the valour of the soldiers, heavily outnumbered by the enemy, who fought there.
August – a Marian month?
Little do Catholics realise that August is also a Marian month. Although the Solemnity of the Assumption is on August 15, it is seen as an isolated liturgical event; no one really ever asks why it is set in August! The Assumption of Mary was already celebrated in the West under Pope Sergius I in the 8th century and Pope Leo IV officially confirmed it. It became an integral celebration in the popular devotion to Mary that flourished from the Middle Ages. In 1950, Pope Pius XII defined it as dogma for the Catholic Church.
Although the Assumption is one of the four major Solemnities after the feasts of the Ascension, All Saints and Christmas, the whole month of August is traditionally dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This long-held devotion – where the physical heart of Mary is venerated – and not adored in the same manner as the Sacred Heart of Jesus – because it is united to her person and is the seat of her love, especially for her divine Son, Jesus Christ – received new emphasis when, in 1925 and 1926, Our Lady appeared to Lucy Dos Santos, oldest of the visionaries of Fatima. In these visions, Our Lady asked for the practice of the Five First Saturdays to help make amends for the offences committed against her Immaculate Heart by the blasphemies and ingratitude of the people. (This practice parallels the devotion of the Nine First Fridays in honour of the Sacred Heart).
In 1944, the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was established on August 22, the octave of the Assumption, by Pope Pius XII during the Second World War to implore Our Lady’s intercession for “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity and the practice of virtue” However, following the Second Vatican Council in 1969, Pope Paul VI exchanged the feast days of the Immaculate Heart and the Queenship of Mary on May 31 (see below) so that the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary could be joined more closely to the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (typically in June).
August, the month of Our Queen
Mary’s queenship has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “Mother of my Lord.” Intimately associated with Jesus, her queenship is a share in the Kingship of Jesus Christ.
In the 4th century, Saint Ephrem called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors and litanies, such as the Litany of Loretto, continued to use the title: hymns from the 11th to 13th centuries such as “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” and “Salve Regina” are still sung today.
In 1954, in his encyclical Ad caeli reginam, Pope Pius XII established the feast of Mary, Queen of Heaven, teaching that Mary deserved the title, not only because of her participation in Christ’s redemptive work of salvation as Mother of God (Theotokos), but also as the new Eve to Jesus’ new Adam, and because of her pre-eminent perfection, and most of all her obedience, her Fiat (faithfulness) to God. It was originally celebrated on May 31, the last day of that Marian month, but has now been transferred to August 22, the octave of the Assumption to recognize the close connection between Our Lady’s Assumption and her coronation as queen of heaven.
This month of August then, in the words of Pope Pus XII in Ad caeli reginam: ”Let all Christians, therefore, glory in being subjects of the Virgin Mother of God, who, while wielding royal power, is on fire with a mother’s love.”
Rev Fr J J Fenelon is Assistant Parish Priest of the Church of St Vincent de Paul