The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.
Today, on the Eighth Day of Christmas, we celebrate the feast of Mary the Holy Mother of God. While the liturgical year is designed to highlight the work of our salvation through Christ, Mary is honored with at least a dozen feasts, three of which are holy days of obligation: Jan 1, the Assumption on Aug. 15 and the Immaculate Conception on Dec 8.
The Catholic Church has always venerated Mary and therefore she holds a place in our celebration of liturgy. Her name is mentioned in the Confiteor and in each of the four primary eucharistic prayers. In addition, her name is invoked within the Litany of the Saints. Many Marian hymns have been composed in her honor and it is believed that the words of Mary’s magnificat were taken and set to music as the very first Marian hymn. The church sings this hymn each evening as a conclusion to night prayer.
Second only to various forms of the name, divinity or humanity of Jesus, the name of Mary is the popular choice when naming a parish. Thirty parishes in our diocese use some form of Mary in their church name. The simple, St. Mary, is the most used of any title in our diocese with 18 churches bearing her name as such.
Look for images of Mary in your church. Most likely you will see her depicted wearing blue, a color associated with peace and the heavens. However, Mary can be shown in other colors. In the Eastern Church, often she is in red. As Our Lady of Lourdes, she wears a white gown and mantle with a blue sash; Our Lady of Guadalupe is depicted in an aqua-green mantle with stars and a rose-colored gown, and at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, a statue of Mary shows her dressed with a white veil and white dress with a gold sash. Most commonly, our Blessed Mother is seen with a halo about her head.
As you look upon an image of Mary, what does it tell you about her? Are her eyes cast down suggesting humility, or is she seen as queenly engulfed in celestial light? Can you find an image of her as a mother perhaps holding or playing with the infant Jesus? Look for an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and notice a problem many mothers encounter: as Mary holds Jesus closely, one of his tiny sandals is slipping from a foot.
In 1846, the U.S. bishops chose the Virgin Mary as patroness of our country, assigning to her the feast day of Dec. 8. It is for this reason that in our country the obligation to attend Mass on Dec. 8 remains in effect regardless of what day of the week it falls, although some of the other holy days do not carry that obligation when they fall on a Saturday or Monday. As we begin this New Year, let us turn to her then as the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.