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Questions Catholics Ask

How many feast days does Mary have?

Every time I turn around, we're celebrating Mary. How many feast days does she have?

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Good observation! Mary feasts have been with us a long time, and they accumulate through the centuries. They began showing up in the East and the West after the Council of Ephesus (431) formally bestowed the title "God-bearer" (Theotokos) on the mother of Jesus. Not long after, near Bethlehem, the feast of "Mary, Mother of God" was celebrated on August 15—the day we now honor her Assumption. The first day of the year became a Marian feast in sixth-century Rome, while December 26 was Mary's day in Byzantine circles. Churches of Spain remembered Mary on December 18, a week before the Nativity.

By the seventh century, Mary's birthday (September 8—not a historical date but a remembrance), her childhood presentation in the temple (November 21), and the Annunciation (March 25—nine months before Christmas) spread from local Jerusalem observances to the Byzantine church and Rome. At present we commemorate 15 Mary days on the universal Roman calendar. 

Four of these celebrations are solemnities, the highest rank of any day in the liturgical year: Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1), Annunciation (Mar. 25), Assumption (Aug. 15), and Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8). Three are feasts: Presentation of the Lord (Feb. 2), Visitation (May 31), and Birth of Mary (Sept. 8). Four are memorials, a simpler form of remembrance: Queenship of Mary (Aug. 22), Our Lady of Sorrows (Sept. 15), Our Lady of the Rosary (Oct. 7), and Presentation of Mary (Nov. 21). And four are optional memorials: Our Lady of Lourdes (Feb. 11), Immaculate Heart of Mary (a movable feast falling on the second Saturday after Pentecost), Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16), and Dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica (Aug. 5). The U.S. bishops added a memorial for Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, bringing the national total to 16 Marian days.

Why so much attention on Mary? We view Mary as mother of the Church as well as Mother of God. She demonstrates how a disciple of Jesus is to act. (Not all disciples were a good act to follow.) Also, Mary has a unique access ("mediation") to her son that believers make good use of. 

In my home I display Marian images from all over the world, traditional and modern, reverential and whimsical. Even folks who don't know who Mary is are captivated by at least one of them. So it is with Mary days. There's one that resonates with everyone.

Scriptures: Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-52; John 2:1-12; 19:25-27; Acts 1:13-14

Books: Sing of Mary: Giving Voice to Marian Theology and Devotion, by Stephanie Budwey (Liturgical Press, 2014)

Blessed Art Thou: Mother, Lady, Mystic, Queen, by Michael O'Neill McGrath and Richard Fragomeni (World Library Publications, 2004)


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