Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs – Veneration of Mary

detail of a stained glass rose window of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception; date unknown, artist unknown; Saint Nicholas Catholic Church, Zanesville, Ohio; photographed on 31 December 2014 by Nheyob; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

A great and popular veneration of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos), existed in the early Church long before any special feast was instituted in her honor. To her is accorded a veneration (hyperdulia) that transcends the honor given to any other saint (dulia) Her dignity as the Mother of the Incarnate Word of God, and the spiritual privileges conferred on her by reason of this dignity, raise her beyond all created spirits to the exalted position of “Queen of all Saints.” On the other hand, she still remains a mere creature in all her glory. The Church has never “adored” Mary or accorded her any honors that are reserved for Divinity.

Wall paintings in the Roman catacombs, dating from the first half of the second century, picture her holding the Divine Child, usually with a Biblical scene for background. The earliest apocrypha (legendary Christian literature) of the second century bear eloquent testimony to the veneration that was accorded Mary at the very dawn of Church history. The first known hymns and poetical prayers to her were written by the deacon of the church of Ephesus, Saint Ephrem the Syrian (373). His twenty madrase (poems) on Mary breathe not only tender devotion, but classic beauty as well. Here is a translation of a stanza of one of his hymns:

Blessed are you, Mary, for in your soul dwelled the Holy Spirit of Whom David sang.
Blessed are you who were deemed worthy to be greeted by the Father through Gabriels mouth.
Blessed are you who were made to be the living chariot of the Son of God.
He stood on your knees,
He lay in your arms,
He drank from the fountains of your breasts.
He rested, a baby, in your embrace:
But His gown was the flaming light of Divinity.

The feasts of our Lady observed in the universal Church are quite numerous. They form a radiant pattern of festive commemorations through the year. Some of them have affected the public life of communities and countries for many centuries. Others are celebrated only within the confines of liturgical service. All of them cast the light and warmth of their blessing into the hearts of devout Christians everywhere.

Five festivals, called the “major feasts of Mary,” were kept as public holydays (and holidays) up to the present century. It was as recently as 1918 that the new Code of Canon Law dropped three of them from the list of prescribed holydays. In the liturgy, however, they still retain their place, and rank as major feasts. Many ancient customs connected with them have survived to our day.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weiser, SJ. “Veneration of Mary”. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, 1952. CatholicSaints.Info. 15 February 2017. Web. 4 April 2020. <>