The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Blessed Virgin Mary

Blessed Virgin Mary
A traditional Catholic picture displayed sometimes in homes. It is sometimes displayed as part of a set. For accompanying image, see the Sacred Heart.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes shortened to The Blessed Virgin, is a traditional title specifically used by Roman Catholics, Anglo-Catholics and others to describe Mary, the mother of Jesus. It carries with it a belief not merely in the virginity of Mary, but of her continuing role within the church and in the life of ordinary Catholics, for which Roman Catholicism in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (21 November 1964) passed during the Second Vatican Council granted her the title Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix.


The Blessed Virgin Mary in Catholicism

Whereas many branches of Christianity see Mary as a passive historical figure, Catholicism focuses on her as a living entity who can intercede with her son, Jesus Christ, on behalf of humanity. From the beginning of the Church Catholic theology has believed that Christ is the Sole Mediator between God and Man (1 Tim 2:5
). Yet as Ludwig Ott observes, "there is nothing to prevent others in a certain way (secundum quid) from being called mediators between God and man, in so far as they, by preparing or serving, cooperate in uniting men to God" (Bk III, Pt. 3, Ch. 3, §7) (emphasis added). Catholic theology proposes that Mary's willed obedience (Lk 1:38
) is contrasted with Eve's disobedience (Gn 3:6
), an idea with roots in the writings of the Church Fathers. Mary herself required redemption, and is not equal to Christ in Catholic theology. Nonetheless her role was pivotal, as emphasized by St. Jerome, St. Irenaeus inter A.D. 180–199 (see Jurgens §224), Tertullian c. A.D. 212 (see Jurgens §358) and others including herself in Scripture: "behold the handmaid of the Lord" (emphasis added). Mary is also described by St. Ambrose as "the prototype of the Church"[1] .

Marian devotions play a key part in the ritual and liturgy of Roman Catholicism, through feast days, special prayers and hymns. Her centrality in Catholic theology has been stressed by popes and saints thoughout the centuries. According to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (10901153): "[Mary is called] the gate of heaven, because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through her" while St. Bonaventure (12211274) wrote: "As the moon, which stands between the sun and the earth, transmits to this latter whatever it receives from the former, so does Mary pour out upon us who are in this world the heavenly graces that she receives from the divine sun of justice."

The Rosary

The most famous Marian prayer is the Rosary, a form of mantra in which an Our Father, ten Hail Marys and a Glory Be to the Father (together forming a "decade of the Rosary") are repeated five times, to be followed by a prayer called the "Hail Holy Queen" and the "Litany".

Other famous Marian prayers include the "Magnificat" and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Marian hymns include O Mary, we Crown Thee With Blossoms Today, the Regina Coeli, and the Ave Maria. The month of May is usually seen within traditional Roman Catholicism as a Marian month.


The central role of Mary in the beliefs of Roman Catholicism is reflected in the fact that many Roman Catholic churches contain side altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary (see image below). Roman Catholicism also celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary through major religious sites where it is claimed apparitions or appearances of the Virgin have occurred, often with claims by witnesses that messages to humanity were delivered. Among the most famous such sites of the alleged apparitions approved by the Roman Catholic Church are

Photograph of alleged Apparition in Zeitun, Egypt
Photograph showing an apparition of a robed figure, thought by some to be the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Egypt in 1968. It was supposedly witnessed by Christian, Moslems and President Abdul Nasser, as well as captured by newspaper photographers and Egyptian television. Investigations by among others the Coptic Church and the police could find no explanation for the phenomenon. No device was found within a radius of fifteen miles capable of projecting the image, while the sheer number of photographs from independent sources suggests that no photographic manipulation was involved.

Among the most famous unapproved sites of alleged apparitions are

Papal Marian apparitions

It has also been claimed that apparitions were experienced by a number of popes, including Pope Leo XIII in 1884, Pope Pius XII at various stages during his papacy, and Pope John Paul II in 1981, while he recovered from an assassination attempt which occurred on the anniversary of the Fatima apparition. John Paul II's particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is indicated in his coat of Arms (see below), which contains a large letter "M". He has also visited many of the most famous alleged apparition sites, notably Fatima, Lourdes, and Knock.

Third secret of Fatima

Coat of Arms of Pope John Paul II
John Paul II's Coat of Arms contains the letter "M" to indicate his devotion to Mary

Witnesses to these "apparitions" claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary urged humanity to repent from sinful ways and issued predictions as to events that would happen to humanity if repentance did not happen. The most famous such prediction is known as the Third Secret of Fatima, which the Vatican was accused of suppressing, due to the disturbing nature of its contents, which have been claimed to fortell among others a nuclear war, the deposition of the pope, the assassination of a pope, or the replacement of a pope by an imposter.1

The Vatican released the complete text
of the Third Secret in the year 2000, including a scanned copy of the original text in Portuguese. According to this text, the secret was a vision of a man clothed in white who moved through a ruined city full of fallen bodies on his way up a hill towards a cross. Upon reaching the cross, he was shot down by soldiers and apparently died. John Paul II believes that the secret concerns the failed assassination attempt by Ali Acga on May 13, 1981 against his person. He is quoted as saying that "a motherly hand guided the bullet's path", saying that he had been spared by the Blessed Virgin. In thanksgiving he had the bullet used in the attempt mounted in the crown of the image of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. The Vatican insists that the Third Secret refers to none of the apocalyptic theories that circulated before the release. However it has never denied rumours that Pope John XXIII supplied the details of the Third Secret, which unlike the version published by Pope John Paul II included the description of a nuclear war, to Nikita Khrushchev (First Secretary2 of the USSR Communist Party), Harold Macmillan (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and John F. Kennedy (President of the United States) to influence them during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

One "visionary", Sister Lucia, who on May 13, 1917 as a child stated that she witnessed the Fatima apparition above a holmoak tree in Cova da Iria near Fatima, Portugal. In 1929 at Ponteverda, she claims to have experienced another "visit" from the Blessed Virgin Mary, who told her:

Look, my daughter, at my Heart encircled by these thorns with which men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, strive to console me, and so I announce: I promise to assist at the hour of death with the grace necessary for salvation all those who, with the intention of making reparation to me, will, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say five decades of the beads, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the rosary.

The Immaculate Conception

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven
Catholic dogma proclaimed under papal infallibility by Pope Pius XII in 1950
In December 1854 Pope Pius IX controversially proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, finally concluding a debate that had existed within Catholic Christianity from the earliest times, namely was Mary conceived with sin (a Maculate Conception, i.e., did she possess Original Sin which according to the Book of Genesis had been bestowed on humans for disobeying God in the Garden of Eden, and which could only be lifted by Baptism), or conceived without sin (an Immaculate Conception), a special honour given on account of her status as the "Mother of God". Theologians, popes and Religious Orders had argued the issue for centuries. Pope Pius IX concluded the debate with his dogmatic decision, stating that "the Blessed Virgin Mary in the first instance of her conception was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race." (Ineffabilis Deus, issued on 8 December 1854). It was subsequently claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary during her first appearance in Lourdes on 11 February 1858 announced to Bernadette Soubirous "I am the Immaculate Conception". The term Immaculate Conception is also widely used within Catholicism to refer to the Virgin Mary.

Dogma of the Assumption

In 1950, using Papal Infallibility, in his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Dogma of the Assumption, in which he stated that "at the end of her earthly course, Mary was assumed into heavenly glory, body and soul". He stated that "holy writers who ... employed statements and various images and analogies of Sacred Scripture to illustrate and to confirm the doctrine of the Assumption..." He also stated that he was relying both on scripture and on "apostolic tradition". As an infallible pronouncement, the Dogma of the Assumption is thus a mandatory belief for Roman Catholics. No pope since has issued an infallible dogma.

Mary as "co-redeemer"

Side altar to the Blessed Virgin Mary
in St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin

Some Catholics in the late twentieth century urged Pope John Paul II to infallibly declare Mary a co-redeemer (co-redemptrix) with Jesus. Professor Mark Miravalle of the Franciscan University in Steubenville in the United States launched a petition to urge Pope John Paul to make such a move, by designation Mary as Co-Redemptrix [co-redeemer], Mediatrix [mediator] of All Graces, and Advocate for the People of God. More than six million signatures were gathered from 148 countries. Signaturies included Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, 41 other cardinals and 550 bishops. However such a proposal was also heavily criticised by many Catholics who suggested that only Christ could be a redeemer and that such an act would drive a wedge in relationships with other apostolic tradition christian faiths, notably the Orthodox Church and Anglicanism, neither of whom would accept such a designation. Though both Pope Pius XI in 1935 and Pope John Paul II himself in 1985 did use the word co-redemptrix to refer to Mary, no formal infallible dogma supporting such a designation has been issued, notwithstanding the petition.

Accusations of idolatry

Many non-Roman Catholic, non-Eastern Orthodox Christians have accused Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox of idolatry in focusing on Mary rather than on Jesus Christ, suggesting that Catholic faiths adore the Virgin Mary in breach of the Ten Commandments which condemn keeping "false gods". This point was offered especially by Calvin. In Catholic theology there is a clear distinction drawn between the sacrificial worship of latria, and the worship of praise, or dulia. Catholicism has traditionally accorded to the Virgin Mary the veneration of hyperdulia which rests in part upon the angelic salutation, "Hail, full of grace" (Lk 1:28
), a phrase with momentous theological impact. Over the centuries, the nature of Mary within theology became clearer, and by A.D. 403 we find St. Epiphanius refuting a sect called the Collyridians who adored Mary, telling them: "Mary should be honoured, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost should be adored. Nobody should adore Mary" (in Ott, Bk. III, Pt. 3 Ch. 3, §8). Thus we find, from the earliest Church, veneration of Mary, the belief that Mary intercedes for us with her Divine Son, and a clear distinction between latria and dulia together with a rejection of the notion of giving latria to Mary. The Saints, for their part, receive dulia. This distinction between latria, hyperdulia, and dulia, is key to understanding Catholic worship.

Marian titles and feast days

Our Lady of Lourdes
frequently displayed image
commemorating Lourdes 'Apparition'
  • Our Lady of the Holy Rosary
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • The Madonna of Consolation
  • Our Lady of Perpetual Help (see icon below)
  • Our Lady of Good Counsel
  • Our Lady of Lourdes (see icon above)
  • Our Lady of Loreto
  • Our Lady of Sorrows
  • Our Lady of el Carmen (Nuestra Seņora del Carmen, typical in Spanish language).
  • Our Lady of The Miraculous Medal.
  • Our Lady of Fatima
  • Our Lady, Queen of Ireland
  • Mary, Queen of Heaven
  • Mary, Queen of the World
  • Queen of the Angels
  • The Virgin of the Charity of Cobre (Patron Saint of Cuba)

Among the most prominent Marian feast days in the Roman Catholic Calendar are

See also


1 Some conservative catholics claim that Pope Paul VI was replaced by an imposter, supposedly an Italian actor, in 1972. Some websites claim a series of apparitions in New York by the Blessed Virgin took place in the 1970s confirming the "switch", with the real Pope Paul kept drugged in the Vatican Palace, thus fulfilling what they claim is the real Third Secret of Fatima. However few give such claims, or the claims about the apparitions, much credence.
2 The office was later called General Secretary.

External links

Our Lady of Perpetual Help
a famous mediæval icon
  • The Mary Page – maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton in Ohio
  • site containing long list of other Marian sites
  • Catholic Apparitions of Jesus and Mary Homepage
  • website about the alleged Zeitun apparitions, with photographs
  • Pope John Paul's Encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae
  • The academic and religious investigations into the photograph of a possible apparition in Portugal during Assumption 2003
  • Politicizing the Virgin Mary (Skeptical Inquirer, Nov 2002 (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal)
  • Anglo-Catholic (Church of England) website for the "Society of Mary"
  • Apologetics Index research resources on Mariology
  • Page on Pareidolia (the illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct.)
  • Website mentioning use of the image of Mary by US tobacco companies to promote cigarettes
  • Anno Domini – Link on the designation of Mary as 'Our Lady' in the late middle ages in an era of 'courtly love'
  • - The Virgin Mary 'An Example of Chastity' website
  • BBC News report on Marian statue purportedly weeping blood
  • Religious Tolerance webpage on Mary
  • Right wing fringe US Catholic website based on 'apparitions' and 'prophesies' of Veronica Lueken
  • Catholic Pages Directory entry on the Virgin Mary

Last updated: 02-11-2005 00:28:25
Last updated: 05-06-2005 01:27:49