The addition of a new feast to the universal calendar – Our Lady of Loreto on December 10 – is a reminder of the growing Marian enrichment of the Roman Missal.
Pope Francis famously began his pontificate with a visit to the Madonna Salus Populi Romani at St Mary Major in Rome, and he visits the icon on the occasion of every papal trip. So that he would honour the “flying” house of Loreto seems both endearing and fitting.
The new calendar after Vatican II moved, subtracted and enhanced some Marian feasts. For example, St John XXIII chose to open the Second Vatican Council on the feast of the divine maternity of Mary (October 11). That no longer exists, but was transferred and given a major upgrade; it’s now Mary, Mother of God, and completes the octave of Christmas on January 1. (October 11, by the way, is now the feast of St John XXIII.)
The third typical edition of the Missal, promulgated by St John Paul II for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, restored the Holy Name of Mary (September 12).
Pope Francis introduced last year the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church (Monday after Pentecost), and now adds Loreto.
The calendar gives us a full itinerary throughout the year. There are feasts that mark episodes in the life of the Blessed Virgin: her Immaculate Conception (December 8), nativity (September 8), presentation in the temple (November 21), the Annunciation (March 25), her presence on the Via Dolorosa (September 15), her Assumption (August 15) and her coronation in heaven (August 22).
Then there are the feasts of particular devotions, which demonstrate the accompaniment of the Blessed Mother on the pilgrimage of the Christian faithful throughout history: Loreto (December 10), Guadalupe (December 12); Lourdes (February 11); Fatima (May 13); Mount Carmel (July 16); Our Lady of Snows, associated with the basilica of Mary Major in Rome (August 5); and Our Lady of Victory/Holy Rosary (October 7), associated with the Battle of Lepanto.
And all this enrichment is just in the universal Roman calendar. The principal flourishing of Marian devotion at Holy Mass remains hidden from nearly all Catholics and even from a great number of priests. In 1986, Rome approved 46 Mass formularies, complete with their own proper readings and Gospels, called the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It did take rather too long for them to be fully available in English, but they have now been translated for quite some time.
The prayers in the Collection, especially the prefaces, are some of the most biblically rich and devotionally refined texts in our entire liturgy. Their literary quality alone is a step up from much of the Roman Missal.
Organised by season, there is, for example, an Advent Mass formulary entitled “Mary, Chosen Daughter of Israel”. For the Christmas season, there is a Mass of Mary at the Epiphany. As Mary is the fairest of all Israel, so too she presents the Light to the nations.
It would have done much good at the recent Amazon synod, with all the disturbing confusion over “Pachamama”, for the Holy Father to have offered the votive Mass of Mary, Queen of All Creation.
The Collection consists of votive Masses, which can be celebrated only when there is not an obligatory feast, and when the season permits it. The Collection is particularly suitable where the venerable custom is kept of votive Masses of Our Lady on Saturday. Indeed, one of the reasons for the Collection is that the “common” prayers in Missal for Marian Masses were widely recognised as inadequate, theologically thin and rhetorically banal.
That, in turn, suggests a project for the next revision of the Roman Missal.
The collects for the devotional feasts – Lourdes, Fatima, Mount Carmel, Snows and now Loreto – are particularly weak, with only faint references to the very devotions they celebrate.
The Collect for Our Lady of the Rosary is, for example, the prayer from the Angelus, which is also the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. There is no mention of the rosary or victories in any battles, spiritual or temporal. The Collect for Loreto is marginally better, as it refers to “this holy place” where the Annunciation happened, but nothing about the particularities of the Loreto devotion.
Just months after the canonisation of Cardinal Newman, a good way to prepare for the new feast of Loreto is to look again at his meditations on the titles of Our Lady in the Litany of Loreto.
St John Henry explains some of the more enigmatic titles – House of Gold, Tower of David – and associates them with the principal mysteries of Mary’s life, such as her Immaculate Conception or her Assumption.
“A tower in its simplest idea is a fabric for defence against enemies,” writes Newman. “David, King of Israel, built for this purpose a notable tower; and as he is a figure or type of our Lord, so is his tower a figure denoting our Lord’s Virgin Mother.”
A mighty tower or a simple house at Nazareth, now Loreto, is testament to how Mary protects the mystery of Christ.
Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of convivium.ca
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