Which are the Marian feast days?

There are many Marian feast days celebrated in the Catholic Church, but the principal ones are the Solemnity of Mary, the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, the Annunciation, the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is the oldest Marian feast of the Church of Rome. It commemorates Mary's vocation to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Mary as the Mother of God was first defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., but the concept is much older. The Solemnity of Mary is celebrated on Jan. 1.

The feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple is celebrated on Feb. 2. It commemorates the offering made by Mary and Joseph of the infant Jesus in the temple, forty days after his birth. The story is told in Luke 1:22-39.

The feast of the Annunciation on March 25 commemorates the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to announce that she will bear the Son of God and that God's divine nature will be united with human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. He also tells her that her cousin Elizabeth will bear a late-in-life baby who turns out to be John the Baptist. Luke 1:26-38 relates the story of the Annunciation.

The feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15 celebrates Mary's entrance into heaven, body and soul. Because of her perpetually sinless state, Mary is the first among the faithful to be fully redeemed. Catholics believe that because of Mary's close relationship to her son, Jesus, she shares through privileged anticipation in the grace of the resurrection of the dead. Mary does not have to endure the suspension of eternal life until the resurrection of the dead. The Assumption of Mary was declared a dogma of faith, and so to be believed by faithful Catholics, by Pope Pius XII on Nov. 1, 1950.

Although many mistakenly believe it to refer to Jesus, the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 celebrates Mary's being conceived free from all sin, particularly the original sin that all descendants of Adam and Eve inherit as a consequence of the pair's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden that is recounted in Genesis 3. Mary's preservation from original sin was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1854. Jesus' freedom from sin was never in question.

In summary, Marian feasts originate ultimately or primarily by ecclesial decision. The Church decides whether they should be local, regional or universal, and what degree of solemnity should be attributed to them (solemnity, feast, memorial) depending on the importance of the theme celebrated. As to Marian feasts we distinguish the following categories:

  1. Feasts based on events related in scripture (for example, Annunciation)
  2. Feasts that are object of dogmatic statements (for example, Immaculate Conception)
  3. Feasts that arose thanks to popular devotion and/or some special event (for example, Our Lady of the Rosary)
  4. Feasts with geographical connection based on apparitions or other special events (for example, Lourdes)

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