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How to Celebrate the Feast of St. Mary, The Virgin

The Feast of St. Mary, the Virgin, is coming up on August 15th. On this day, Christians around the world come together to celebrate and honor the remarkable life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a joyous occasion filled with reverence, thanksgiving, and reflection on the profound role Mary played in the salvation story.

The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Theotokos or Mother of God, holds a special place in Christianity. She was chosen by God to be the vessel through which His Son, Jesus Christ, would take on flesh and enter the world as a human being. Mary's obedience and devotion to God played a crucial role in the unfolding of God's redemptive plan.

To fully appreciate St. Mary’s role, we have to go back to the very beginning of our story, to the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve disobey God and eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They know that they have done wrong but when God discovers what they have done, he doesn’t put them to death, but instead issues a series of punishments for their sin and a curse over the serpent, who tempted them. God curses the serpent physically and then gives a startling prophecy -

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring.

He will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

This prophecy is known as the “Protoevangellium”, which means "first gospel" or "first good news." In Christian theology, the term refers to the first proclamation or foreshadowing of the Gospel in the Bible. It is seen as a prophetic announcement of the coming Messiah and his victory over sin and death. Mary is the “woman” and her “offspring”, of course, is Jesus. Satan will temporarily "strike" at Christ's "heel" through the Crucifixion, but through Christ’s death and resurrection, Satan’s head will be crushed forever.

The Protoevangelium is understood by Christians to be not only a prophecy about the coming of Christ but also of the significance of Mary and the role she played in the salvation of mankind and in the Incarnation of the Word of God.

And so it came to pass, when the fullness of time had come (Galatians 4:4), God sent the angel Gabriel to a young girl named Mary. Mary listens in awe as she is told that she will conceive a son by the Holy Spirit and that he will be called the Son of the Most High and will reign over the house of Jacob forever. Mary humbly accepts her role, responding, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to your word."

This incredible response from Mary is known as Mary’s Fiat. The term "fiat" comes from the Latin word for "let it be" or "so be it." Mary's "fiat" is a profound act of faith, obedience, and surrender to God’s will. Her acceptance of God's plan without hesitation has made her a model of faith for many Christians and is a central theme in Christian theology and devotion. Her "yes" to God's plan contrasts with Eve's disobedience, making Mary's "fiat" a critical moment in salvation history.

The entire event, known as the Annunciation, is also a central moment in Christian belief, signifying the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is at this moment that Mary becomes what is known as Theotokos or "God-bearer.” The title emphasizes Mary's role in giving birth to Jesus Christ, who is recognized as fully God and fully human in Christian doctrine. By calling Mary "Theotokos," the Church affirms the belief in the divine nature of Christ from the moment of His conception.

From that moment on, we are given beautiful, detailed accounts of Mary’s experiences. We are told about her visit with her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Upon hearing Mary’s voice, Elizabeth and her unborn baby are filled with the Holy Spirit, and Elizabeth exclaims, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" And Mary responds with a joyful song of praise and thanksgiving to God, famously known as the Magnificat.

Months later, we are told that Mary traveled with Joseph to Bethlehem so that he could take part in a census. Mary is in labor when they arrive and they are unable to find a room at the inn. She gives birth to her son, Jesus, in a stable. That night, shepherds arrive at the stable, praising God and telling incredible stories of heavenly hosts and angelic proclamations. The shepherds are there to see the baby, whom they believe is the Messiah. After seeing the baby, they leave glorifying and praising God, while, as Luke says, Mary keeps all these things and ponders them in her heart.

This is the beginning of a series of remarkable encounters for Mary: meeting Simeon and Anna in the Temple, the Wise Men from the East, the angel warning them to flee to Egypt, finding the young Jesus in the Temple where he was astounding the teachers of the law, Jesus’ first miracle where he turns water into wine, his crucifixion, death and resurrection and being in the upper room when the Holy Spirit fell. These encounters are significant theological moments where Jesus' divinity and divine power are revealed. Mary's role in these moments highlights her faith in God, her son, and her unique understanding of His mission.

Mary's appearances are relatively few but highly significant. They portray her as a figure of faith, obedience, and humility, deeply connected to Jesus' mission and the broader themes of God's compassion and justice. Her role serves to bridge the Old and New Testaments, embody the ideal response to God's call, and symbolize the Church as the family of believers. Her unique position as Theotokos (God-bearer) also establishes a profound theological understanding of Jesus as both fully human and fully divine.

I love what “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” says about St. Mary -

“What we can believe is that one who stood in so intimate a relationship with the incarnate Son of God on earth must, of all the human race, have the place of highest honor in the eternal life of God. A paraphrase of an ancient Greek hymn expresses this belief in very familiar words: “O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises, alleluia.”

St. Mary’s Remaining Days

According to tradition, Mary lived out her remaining days in the care of the Apostle John, as Jesus had requested from the cross (John 19:26-27). The early Christian writer, Hippolytus of Rome, writes that the Apostle John took Mary to Ephesus, a city in modern-day Turkey, where she lived until her death. During this time, it is said that Mary lived a life of prayer and service to the early Christian community, providing moral support and guidance.

How to Celebrate the Feast of St. Mary

Read Luke 1:26-38 and recite the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

Make something with rosemary or gather a bouquet of rosemary and place it in a vase on your dining room table. Legend has it that the blossoms of the rosemary plant were white until Mary stopped to do laundry during the holy family’s flight to Egypt. Mary threw her blue cloak over a rosemary bush to dry and the flowers have been blue ever since.

Plant marigolds or place a bouquet of marigolds on your dining room table. The name "marigold" is a combination of "Mary" and "gold." Traditionally, the golden color of the marigold is said to symbolize the golden virtues of Mary, such as purity, love, humility, and obedience.

Decorate your dining table with a blue tablecloth or eat something blue since blue is the symbolic color for Mary. The blue symbolizes purity, humility, and fidelity, all virtues associated with Mary. I love making something with blueberries like this Blueberry Lemon Tart!

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