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In the Catholic Church, May has traditionally been the month of Mary.
While Mary and the saints are an integral part of Catholic faith, it is important to keep them in perspective. Devotion to Mary and the saints must never become superstition, or replace Christ as the centre of our Christian life, or supplant the eucharist as the focus of our worship.
In being cautious, however, there is danger of neglecting this important aspect of our tradition. We could lose the sense of wonder at God’s achievement in human life through the grace of Christ or the mystery of the communion of saints to which we belong.
Catholics venerate, imitate and invoke the saints. We venerate them as human beings transformed by the grace of God. When we celebrate the feast of a saint, we give glory to God who has done marvellous things in the life of one of us.
We imitate the saints because they offer examples of how to be disciples of Christ. When the calendar was pruned after Vatican II, it was not to downplay the role of the saints, but to ensure that those which remained offered models of discipleship which are relevant for the Church in all ages and places.
We invoke the intercession of the saints in the sense that we ask them to pray for us through Christ the one mediator.
The liturgy shows how we can reclaim devotion to the saints as part of our tradition and integrate them into the life of the Church. In a typical month the liturgical calendar lists solemnities, feasts, memorials and optional memorials of Mary or the saints.
Solemnities must be celebrated and even take precedence over the Sunday celebration. Feasts too are days of special celebration with their own readings. Memorials are celebrated normally without disturbing the continuous reading of the word of God for the week in question. All three have the potential to draw us into the mystery of the communion of the Church and the communion of saints in its fullest sense. They offer us examples of God’s grace at work in many different ages and places and inspire us to discipleship in our own time and place.
For instance, the feast of the Visitation on May 31, the first of two feasts of Mary in our calendar, calls us to ponder Mary as the woman who believed and obediently accepted the will of God. This enabled her to play a most significant role in the saving work of Christ.
In Marialis Cultus, the 1974 apostolic exhortation on devotion to Mary, Pope Paul IV said: “far from being a timidly submissive woman, Mary was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their positions of privilege”.
The Visitation demonstrates how celebrating feasts of Mary and the saints can help us rediscover them as models for our own age.