I. FACTS RELATED TO THE VENERATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY IN
To the people of God in the Philippines, especially the clergy, religious men and women, and
members of mandated organizations.
1. The unavoidable conclusion of anyone contemplating the religious practices of the
Philippines is that we Filipinos are indeed a religious people. The thousands of churches and
chapels all over the Islands, from the Batanes in the North to Job in the South, testify that
Christianity has become a true part of Philippine life. We consider ourselves the
Christian country of Asia.
2. When one tries to determine the characteristic of our Christian faith, one finds that our
practice of religion has taken on a popular color and has a special sense of devotion that makes it
specifically Filipino. One finds that certain traits of Philippine Christianity transcend the
boundaries of Catholicism and are found with equal prominence in other groups of Filipino
Christians and in other Philippine Christian Churches. The devotion that the Filipino people
show for the principal mysteries of our Redemption comes from the very life of our men,
and children in the form of a deep and personal faith. The celebration, for instance, of Christmas
with its cheerful and colorful religious and family customs, on the one hand, and the mournful
but no less colorful celebration of Holy Week on the other, center the Christian life of the
average Filipino on the Incarnation and Passion of Our Lord.
3. No less prominent is another trait connected with the two mysteries just mentioned
the special place the Mother of Christ has in the life of the Filipino people. It is to this devotion
to the Blessed Mother that we would like to dedicate our pastoral letter. The spirit of reform and
renewal, or to use the catchword "aggiornamento," made famous by the late Pope John XXIII,
which began at the end of the Second Vatican Council has led us to direct our attention to this
aspect of the religious life of our people. This devotion to the Blessed Mother should be reflected
upon and examined so that a golden mean may be kept between these forms of devotion that
reflect "the diversity of native characteristics and temperament among the faithful,"(1)
and the principle stated by the Council itself "that true devotion consists neither in fruitless and
passing emotion, nor in a certain vain credulity. Rather, it proceeds from true faith, by
which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues."(2)
4. We had been considering the idea of addressing to you a pastoral letter on
renewal of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary – "renewal" in all its facets is
also one of the purposes of the Holy Year – when we received the Apostolic
Exhortation of our Holy Father Paul VI Marialis Cultus which he has dedicated to this very theme. We feel, therefore, doubly justified
in addressing ourselves to you now. This offers an opportunity to examine one important aspect
of our religious life at a time when there are excesses in both directions, credulity and unbelief,
and not a few of our faithful are looking for appropriate guidelines in the matter of devotion to
5. We begin this Letter with a description of the veneration of Mary in the Philippines.
There will follow a doctrinal reflection on the basis of the devotion to Mary and finally we will
make concrete pastoral applications to the religious life of our faithful.
I. FACTS RELATED TO THE VENERATION OF THE
BLESSED VIRGIN MARY IN THE PHILIPPINES
6. Statistics are cold numbers which will never express accurately a spiritual reality nor the
intensity of religious faith. At times, however, numbers may constitute a significant index of a
more profound reality. It would be enough to open the Catholic Directory of the
Philippines to realize that a very large number of parishes are dedicated to the
Mother of God under one of her many invocations. Four hundred sixty-three, or over one-fourth
of all parishes, have the Virgin Mary as their titular patron without counting innumerable barrio
chapels; religious oratories, or private shrines dedicated to her.(3)
VARIOUS INVOCATIONS AND TITLES
7. Over one hundred of the parishes honor the Immaculate Conception, over sixty are dedicated to Our
Lady of the Holy Rosary, while others carry various titles like the Assumption, Our Lady of
Carmel, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, etc.(4)
Some of the shrines La Candelaria) in Mabitac, Laguna, Our Lady of Casaysay in Taal,
Batangas, Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City, Nuestra Señora Virgen de Regla
in Lapulapu City, Our Lady of the Pillar in Zamboanga, etc.
8. This widespread devotion to the Blessed Mother goes back to the origins of Christianity
in the Philippines. As early as 1571 we find ancient statues of Mary, like Nuestra Señora
de Guia, now venerated in the Ermita Church and whose origins are somehow lost in the
folkloric details of legend, and Our Lady of the Rosary in Manila whose origin dates back to
9. Among the titles under which Mary is venerated in the Philippines, two are
particularly prominent: the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of the Rosary. The invocation
of the Immaculate Conception goes back to the year 1578 when Pope Gregory XIII in a
Bull issued on February 6 decreed that the Manila Cathedral should be erected under the
invocation of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.(6) Clement VIII decreed on
August 13, 1595 that the Cathedrals of Nueva Segovia and Caceres also be erected under the
same title of the Immaculate Conception. Moreover, one of the three ships that reached the
Philippines in the first voyage of Magallanes in 1521 was the "Concepcion," named after the
Immaculate Conception, together with the ships "Trinidad" and "Victoria." Hence, the Islands
before being named Filipinas, and even before the name of Christ had begun to be preached, saw
on these shores the name of Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception.
10. The veneration to Our Lady under the title of the Rosary goes back to 1587
when her statue was brought to the Philippines. A confraternity was established in 1588. Nuestra
Señora de la Naval occupies a place of honor among the national shrines dedicated to
Mary in the Philippines.(7) The Blessed Mother was referred to as the Señora Grande
de Filipinas on account of the many favors attributed to her. The recitation of the Rosary
became a popular practice(8) which has more than one analogy with the popularity that the novena
to Our Lady of Perpetual Help enjoys today.
VARIOUS PRACTICES OF DEVOTION
11. As other examples of paraliturgical devotions in her honor, we may mention
novenas to the Blessed Mother as preparation for the patronal feast.(9) These include the special
weekly novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, now very popular in the Philippines.
12. The Block Rosary is practised in some parts of the Archipelago. It offers a
good example of a devotion that is connected with the visit of images or statues of Mary from
house to house and from one family to another, where special veneration is given to Mary during
the term of the image's stay.
13. A familiar sight in many homes, even of modest income, is what can be called the
"family altar." In most families the image venerated is the image of the Virgin Mary
under one of her familiar invocations. This fact, more than any other, constitutes a proof
of how deeply rooted the veneration to Mary is in the socio-religious structure of the Filipino
14. The various manifestations of popular piety towards the Mother of God appear not
only in the number of churches, chapels, or shrines consecrated to her, but in many other forms,
ranging from the liturgical celebration of her feasts throughout the year to religious calendars
with the holy picture of Mary not always of the most artistic nature, it must be
acknowledged in the most humble nipa huts or in the slums of the cities, to her picture in
public vehicles, buses or jeepneys. Grottoes dedicated to the Immaculate Conception under the
invocation of Lourdes are found in private gardens or in various public places, along the roads or
in corners of modest dwellings.(10)
15. The endless symphony of Marian names in the baptismal records of our
parishes constitutes by itself a tribute to the devotion of our people to the Mother of God. It may
be safely said that of the names of saintly women imposed in baptism, none is more frequently
found than the name of Mary, either expressly or in one of her many titles.(11)
THE LITURGICAL YEAR
16. The liturgical year has its climax in the solemnity of Easter, but within the year the
Church recalls the mysteries of Redemption, thus opening to her faithful "the riches of her Lord's
powers and merits, so that they are in some way made present at all times, and the faithful are
enabled to lay hold of them and become filled with saving grace." "In celebrating this annual
cycle of Christ's mysteries, the Church honors with special love the Blessed Mary Mother of
God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son. In her the Church
holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of the redemption."(12)
17. Thus we find various feasts of Mary celebrated in the Philippines. We find her feasts
particularly in the Christmas cycle which comprises the Aguinaldo Masses where the
traditional celebration is the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, New Year's day when the Church
celebrates the feast of the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the feast of the Holy Family which
falls within the octave of Christmas, and the feast of the Purification, now called the Presentation
of Our Lord, and popularly known in the Philippines as La Candelaria.
It is a well-known fact that the most important religious occasion of the year for the
Filipino, with the possible exception of the religious celebration of the town fiesta, is Christmas.
Christmas offers a special opportunity for the people to show their veneration to Mary:
not only will the belen feature the Mahal na Birhen, but in other dramatic
presentations, like the posada, or panunuluyan ("begging for shelter") which
persists in many communities, Mary plays an important role.(13)
Christmas caroling could also be conveniently related to and considered as a
commemoration of the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to spend the night. This feature
should be brought out more clearly in order to give this custom a truly religious meaning.(14)
The re-enacting of the Nativity of Our Lord, with the part that Mary had in it, is done
dramatically, with a deep sense of simple faith and identification with both the Infant Jesus and
18. During the Lenten season, especially during Holy Week, Mary plays an
important part in the popular devotion of our faithful. Good Friday has a deep human appeal for
many Filipinos especially with its Way of the Cross and commemoration of the sufferings of Our
Lady of Sorrows. Easter Sunday brings the deeply human and dramatic encounter of the Mother
with her risen Son in the Salubong, which is artistically enacted in many places all over
A popular feature of the Holy Week is the Pabasa ng Pasiyon. Although there
are versions in almost every major language of the Philippines, the best known Tagalog
which begins with a prayer to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only tells the story of the
creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, but even tells of the birth of Mary. After having described
a series of selected events from the life of Christ, especially His Passion, Resurrection, and
Ascension, the death, burial, and assumption into heaven of Mary are treated, as well as her
crowning as Queen of Heaven.(17)
When the Holy Week solemnities are accompanied by processions, the custom is that the
last statue in the procession is the Mater Dolorosa (the Sorrowful Mother) behind which
the priest walks, followed by a brass band playing solemn marches.(18)
19. It would be worth our considering the sociological implications of the two most
popular celebrations we have just described where Christ and his Mother are presented together:
the feast of Christmas and the celebration of Holy Week, particularly the Salubong. If
one compares the two feasts, as locally celebrated, he will observe that in the traditional
celebration of Christmas, it is the. family which is the center of interest from the time of the
Misa de Aguinaldo onward. In the Easter celebration, the folk practices center on the
reunion of Christ and his Mother, while all who participate feel the joy of this meeting
vicariously. Both of these feasts, therefore, feature a family reunion, and are for this reason
extremely rich experiences for the Filipino.
20. In May the classical Flores de Mayo are held in many localities, towns, or barrios,
parishes or private chapels and involve not only women and children but in some places the
whole family. They are celebrated with a splendor and simplicity of faith and devotion which
echoes the simplicity of the Gospels.(19)
Then follows October with the Rosary devotions, a practice widespread since
time immemorial, due mainly to the zeal of the Sons of St. Dominic, and the historical procession of La Naval.
The Immaculate Conception, whose feast falls on December 8, remains the
principal Patroness of the Philippine Islands. After the suppression of several Church holydays in
the Catholic Calendar of the Philippines, still her feast stays as one of the three holydays of
obligation during the year, the other two being Christmas and January 1, when the Solemnity of
Mary, Mother of God, is celebrated.(20)
21. It would not be correct to qualify all these manifestions of the Marian piety of our
faithful as mere actions or symbols without meaning, or to consider that they do not stem from a
sincere and simple faith, since all these devotions represent a normal outlet for human and
religious remembrance, thoughts, and affection. In fact this veneration of and deep commitment
to Mary blossomed in the mid-eighteenth century with the foundation of the first Filipino
congregation for religious women, dedicated from its beginning to the Blessed Mother, namely
the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Philippines, popularly known
as Religious of the Virgin Mary. The Barangay Sang Birben, the Sodality of Our Lady,
the Legion of Mary the Association of the Children of Mary Immaculate are also fruits of the
same devotion and have contributed in their own way to the development of Christian life in the
22. An element that often escapes the superficial observer is the deep religious meaning
that some of these practices, and in particular the town fiesta, have in the life of the
Filipino people. The fiesta is neither exclusively sacred nor secular but a mixture of rites and
feasts. But from the religious point of view, the fiesta has three notable effects: the fulfillment of
the community's obligation to its heavenly patron, in our case the Virgin Mary; a certain,,
perhaps only initial, renewal of the spiritual life of the individual by the reception of the
sacraments of confession and communion, and in many cases also by the baptism and con- firmation of children; and the renewal (or creation) of the individual's consciousness of
membership in the Catholic Church.
This is true of the fiestas in general, but it applies in a particular way to the fiestas in
honor of Mary who is the patroness of so many parishes and barrio chapels. In this sense, the
celebration of the fiestas in her honor offers a particular occasion for revitalizing Christian life,
and thus fulfills a truly religious function. This would be reason enough to allay the fears of
who may think that these celebrations divert the attention of the faithful away from God to Mary
and thus appear to be anti-Christian or superstitious. What is needed is a renewal, not a suppression.
VENERATION OF MARY IN OTHER CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
23. This veneration of Mary is not a feature exclusively of Catholics. Even, the followers of the
late Gregorio Aglipay often have shown and continue to show many of the signs of veneration
toward Mary that Catholics do in celebrating her feasts, such as holding processions in her honor,
keeping lamps burning in front of her image, and even having associations that carry the name of
Without in any way minimizing the differences in attitude toward the Mother of God
among various Christian groups in the Philippines some respectful, some rather
belligerent regarding Catholic doctrine and practice we find, for example, that there is also
a genuine Marian piety among the faithful of the Philippine Episcopal Church manifested in the
liturgical celebration of various Marian feasts (Annunciation, Purification), the song of the
Magnificat in the Evening Prayer, and even the fact that their cathedral in Manila is
dedicated to St. Mary and St. John.
24. The facts we have presented above show the extent of devotion to the Blessed Mother
in our country, especially among Catholics. Before we come to pastoral and more practical
considerations in this matter, we wish to offer some theological reflections on the veneration to
Mary, the Mother of God.
II. THEOLOGICAL BASIS FOR THE DEVOTION TO
THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
25. In order to preserve and purify and strengthen our Filipino heritage of devotion to Mary, we
should compare our own practices and attitudes with the sources of Revelation and the
documents of the Magisterium, so that we can retain and enhance what is truly Christian and
eliminate what is merely legendary or false. We should also set our devotion to Mary in the
context of our Filipino society and in confrontation with the needs of the Filipino people today,
so that it may be truly our own and may mirror our way of approaching Mary and Christ.
In this way too we can avoid the deviations against which the Second Vatican Council,
and recently Pope Paul VI himself, warned us: exaggeration that can falsify our devotion to
Mary, or a sentimentality that can substitute merely external practices for a serious commitment
to the Gospel in action and in life.(22)
A. MARY IN SCRIPTURE
26 The Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus issued on February 2, 1974 by Pope Paul
VI calls our attention to the fact that "Today it is recognized as a general need of Christian piety
that every form of worship should have a biblical imprint."(23)
A first level of biblical imprint on Marian devotion is attained when scriptural texts that
mention Mary or allude to her are used in liturgical worship as well as in popular devotions.(24)
It is therefore useful for us to review these scriptural texts briefly.
27. The mother of Jesus is mentioned in Mark 3:31-35 and its parallels in Matthew 12:46-50 and
Luke 8:19-21 (see also Luke 11:27-28). There Jesus speaks about the person who does what God
wants as his true kinsman. A reference to her is also made in Galatians 4:4 when St. Paul
emphasizes the full humanity of Jesus, son of a human mother.(25)
BASIC GOSPEL DATA
28. The data we have from the Gospels concerning Mary are that she was betrothed to Joseph
(Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26.27) in Nazareth; that she was a virgin when she conceived. (Luke
1:27.34-35; Matthew 1:25; see also Luke 2:5) and that she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem
(Matthew 1:25-2:1; Luke 2:4-7). Otherwise she is simply located at various places, always
connected with her Son: in the hill country of Judea for Elizabeth's recognition of her unique
maternity (Luke 1: 39ff.); at Jerusalem for her own purification in the Temple and the offering of
the Child to God (Luke 2:22ff.); at Nazareth for the Child's rearing (Luke 2:51; Matthew 2:23);
at Jerusalem for the discovery of Jesus speaking with the teachers in the Temple (Luke 2:42.46);
at Cana for a wedding (John 2:1); and finally at Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified (John 19:25)
and when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles (Acts 1:8).
29. It is necessary for us to go beyond the historical data in order to appreciate what Scripture
to say about Mary. When she is spoken of in the New Testament, the inspired writers often
convey a deeper meaning by their words than may be immediately seen by the average reader.
30. Matthew connects the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.
so doing he teaches us that long before the event God chose Mary to be the Virgin Mother of the
Saviour. The Evangelist reenforces this point by stating that Joseph "did not know her" until the
birth of the child. According to Matthew then, Joseph recognized that Mary was divinely chosen
to be the Virgin Mother of the Child, and fully respected God's will that Mary remain a virgin.
It has been said that Matthew gives more attention to Joseph than to Mary, but it should
not escape our attention that the role of Joseph in Matthew's narrative is to provide the title "Son
of David" (Matthew 1:1) for the Son of Mary (Matthew 1:25) a role he fulfills because he
is of Davidic lineage (Matthew 1:20) and the husband of Mary; to understand Mary's virginal
motherhood of Emmanuel; and to care for and protect mother and child so that they could
achieve their salvific mission to the Jews and the whole world.
31. In the story of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) Matthew keeps silent about Joseph but says that
the Magi from the east "saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did
him homage" (Matthew 2:11). Jesus is revealed to the Gentile world, represented by the Magi.
Mary's Son is the "Son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1), the one through whom the divine promise
that all the nations are to be blessed in Abraham is fulfilled (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8-9). A
clear allusion to Mary in a perhaps not-too-clear context but with deep religious and moral significance for Christian discipleship is found also in Matthew 12:46-50 "Anyone who does
the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother" a parallel with
32. It is clear from Matthew's theology that Mary has a special place in God's salvific plan. She
was chosen by God to be the woman who would give reality to the messianic hope of Israel, and
the one who will be with the Messiah when the Gentiles come to worship.
33. By an artistic use of comparison and contrast the Infancy narrative of Luke shows the
superior dignity of Jesus over John and of Mary over Zachary and Elizabeth. The literary style of
the narrative draws heavily upon words, expressions and figures of the Old Testament, not by
direct citation of them, but by allusion.
34. In the Annunciation the angel Gabriel greets Mary saying: "Rejoice (Hail), so highly
(full of grace)! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The Evangelist suggests that this greeting is
not to be interpreted conventionally, for he describes Mary as pondering it and asking herself
what this greeting could mean (Luke 1:29).
All three parts of the greeting are connected with Old Testament prophecies that invite
Israel, under the figure of a woman, the "daughter of Sion," to rejoice because God will bring
about the promised salvation of the people.(26)
The invitation to rejoice ( à î) parallels that of Zephaniah 3:14.(27)
The expression, "so highly favoured" ( î à ç æ ) recalls the idealization of. Israel as God's favoured people, spoken of as the "virgin daughter of Sion" (Isaiah 37:22) or "virgin Israel"
(Jeremiah 31:4), who is invited to rejoice at the fulfillment of her messianic hope. The assurance,
"The Lord is with you," as used in the Old Testament(28) expresses the
idea of God's salvific presence, and when connected with Zephaniah 3:15, "The King of Israel, the Lord,
is in your midst," it refers to the inauguration of . the messianic era. As the prophet Zephaniah
(3:14-17) invited Israel to rejoice over the presence of God within it to save it from all its
misfortunes, so the angel invites Mary to rejoice because she is favored with the presence of God
who saves her from all the misfortunes of her people. In this way Luke teaches that Mary, by
becoming the Mother of Jesus, Son of the Most High, receives in her person. the messianic hope
of her people. The total salvation which in the past was just a promise, becomes a living reality
Mary. She epitomizes all that God has done for his people.(29)
35. Mary's famous question in Luke 1:34, "How can this come about, since I am a virgin
(I do not know man)?" raises exegetical problems that have not yet been fully solved. However it
is clear that, in contrast to Zachary who requested evidence to verify the truth of Gabriel's prophecy concerning Elizabeth's child (Luke 1:18), Mary does not challenge Gabriel's message,
but merely asks that she be given an understanding of it. The angel replies that the divine favor is
to be shown her through a virginal conception of the child by the divine presence residing within
her (Luke 1:35). Just as in the Old Testament an overshadowing cloud symbolized the divine
presence in the meeting Tent housing the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 40:35), so also the power
of the Most High will cover Mary in its shadow, and cause not only symbolize the
presence of God's Son in Mary's womb, the new Ark of the Covenant.
Overwhelmed at God's favor, Mary professes her humility but accepts the angelic
message in its entirety, expressing her confidence in the virginal conception as an action of God,
in the mystery of the divine presence in theChild, and in the pledge of God that the divine favor
toward her and her Child will be manifested in due time. Through this act Mary becomes the
model of faith.
36. In the visitation (Luke 1:39-45.56) Mary, carrying the Child in her womb, is
compared by allusion to the Ark of the Covenant, the site of the permanent presence of God
among his people. As the Ark was brought to Jerusalem in David's time (2 Samuel 6:1-11), so
the mother of Jesus departs in the direction of the Holy City to visit Elizabeth. As Israel honored
the presence of God in the Ark during its trip toward Jerusalem, so Elizabeth recognizes at
Mary's greeting that the mother of Jesus carries in herself the divine presence. But unlike
David's (2 Samuel 6:9), Elizabeth's reaction to the presence of the Lord is one of joyful awe, not
reverential fear (Luke 1:43); for Mary carries the presence of God that sanctifies (Luke 1:4) in
contrast to the terrible presence that dealt Uzzah a mortal blow (2 Samuel 6:11), so Mary remains
with Elizabeth for about three months (Luke 1:56).
37 The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) brings back the theme of Mary's exalted
dignity hidden in her humility.(30)
She is again presented as a model of faith, but this time faith takes the characteristics of the
ANAWIM, the spiritual community of the humble poor who found their joy and strength in their
dependence on God.(31)
Essentially the Magnificat is a series of religious reflections invoking various Old
Testament ideas that concern the mystery of God's salvific plan finding fulfillment in Mary,
through whose maternity of Jesus the generations to follow will receive the blessings of the
messianic era. All generations, recognizing the divine favor bestowed upon them through her,
will call her blessed.
38. The second chapter of Luke invites the reader to reflect on the mystery of Jesus
through the eyes of his mother. The Child's birth occurs in simple and lowly surroundings that
reflect the condition of Mary as the embodiment of the ANAWIM. Together with the shepherds,
who also represented the ANAWIM, Mary ponders the revelation of her Child to Israel.
Also in her capacity as one of the ANAWIM, Mary presents the Child to the Lord in the
Temple and makes the offering of the poor, two turtle doves (Luke 2:22). On this occasion God
acts to manifest the significance of the Child as Saviour not only of Israel but of the Gentiles as
well, thereby also giving joy to the old man Simeon (Luke 2:32). But Mary is invited to look at
Jesus as a "sign that is rejected" and to prepare herself for the sword that will pierce her heart
(Luke 2:33-35). The prophetess Anna gives a joyful ending to the episode by praising God and
speaking of the Child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).
39. Luke concludes his Infancy narrative by putting a veil of quiet obscurity on tile Holy
Family fulfilling God's design through humble living in Nazareth, a veil lifted for a little while
by the episode of the Child lost and then found in the temple, sitting among the doctors, busy
with his Father's affairs (Luke 2:41-50). Mary is presented as the model of those who ponder
things in their heart as Jesus increases in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men
40. The saying in Luke 8:21, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of
God and put it into practice," has been so edited by the Evangelist that it becomes the conclusion
of a series of teachings about hearing the word of God.(32)
Far from being a denial of Jesus' filial sentiments toward Mary, the saying is Jesus praise of his
mother as the perfect hearer of the word of God. She is commended as the model of Christians
inasmuch as they must respond to the word of God. She is a figure or type of the Church, the
community of those who, listening to the words of Christ, become his mother, brothers and
A similar message is found in Luke 11: 27-28, the passage telling the incident of the
woman who spoke to Jesus saying, "Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked."
Jesus replied: "Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it." Although the
happiness that came to Mary because of her physical motherhood of Christ was great, greater still
was the happiness of being the disciple of Christ, the woman of faith. This is the deeper level of
understanding that Luke wanted his readers to attain.(33)
41. The theological portrait of Mary in the Lucan writings is rich in its variety of roles:
Mary is the Daughter of Sion, or personification of God's beloved people, who is invited to
rejoice at the messianic fulfillment of God's promises; she is the New Ark of the Covenant that
causes rejoicing because she makes God present among men; she is the embodiment of the ANAWIM who rejoice in their complete dependence on God.
42. John has been called the Theologian par excellence among the Evangelists as he
constantly invites his readers to see the deeper meaning of what Jesus did and said. He frequently
does this by alluding to Old Testament events, personages, oracles, as well as Jewish religious
practices, and by suggesting that the New Testament inaugurated by Jesus brings the past to
perfection and makes it operative in the present. Even the eschatological and future glory of the
Church is presented by John as already present in the person of Jesus Christ.
From the Johannine viewpoint Mary, as the mother of Jesus and the woman most closely
associated with him, acquires a prominence unequaled in the other Evangelists' treatment of the
public ministry of Christ.
43. Mary is presented by John at Cana, when Jesus begins his ministry (John 2:1-12), and
at Calvary when he consummates his work (John 19:25-27). In the narrative of both episodes we
find the term "the mother of Jesus" as well as "woman" and "hour."
It is impossible to interpret satisfactorily the Cana narrative on the assumption that it is
solely the historical record of an objective event. John has purposely saturated his historical data
with allusions to the Old Testament so that the deeper meaning of what happened could be
appreciated by the discerning reader.
44. John avoids Mary's proper name and designates her with a title, "the mother of Jesus"
(John 2:220.127.116.11). For John titles are important to clarify the religious significance of
mother, then, Mary had a role to play in Jesus' glorification. This is called his "hour"(35) and is achieved
through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Once glorified by these events he can bestow
messianic benefits on Israel and on all people.
Without denying the historical value of Mary's declaration, "They have no wine," we
must seek in it a theological meaning intended by John. Wine, in the Old Testament symbolism,
stands for the messianic benefits.(36)
In the theology of John, the statement, "They have no wine," may be understood as implying
Mary is asking Jesus to bestow the benefits of the messianic kingdom on Israel.(37)
45. Taking account of the petition implied in Mary's remark, Jesus addressed her as
"woman." This title as used in John 2:4 cannot be taken simply for the respectful term of address
it represented in the Greek world of the Evangelist's time. John gives it a theological meaning
which we can grasp only after the meaning of changing water into wine becomes evident.
The element of rejection in the question, "What (is it) to me and to you?" is explained by
the fact that, at the historical moment of the Cana event, the "hour" of Jesus had not yet arrived.
Jesus will not yet give the people the messianic benefits for they will be given only after his
Resurrection. However, a "sign" of the messianic benefits could be given, and this is what Jesus
proceeded to do.(38)
By changing water into wine Jesus manifested to his disciples that he will fulfill the
messianic benefits promised to the Patriarchs. A confirmation of this thought is provided by the
setting of the miracle, a wedding banquet. This is a Christian term portraying the joys of the
messianic kingdom.(39) The meaning of the symbolism is further confirmed by the fact that
the wine came from the water of ritual purification. Jesus will transform Old Testament rituals
into New Testament salvific sacraments.
46. In the light of the message so far gathered from the Cana narrative, we can see more
fully the meaning of "woman" in John 2:4. It echoes the "woman" in Isaiah 26:17, the metaphor
of the pregnant woman, yearning for the kingdom but unable to bring it about. The title "woman"
in the Cana narrative makes of Mary a figure of the people of God: first, of the old Israel
yearning for salvation through Christ, yet completely dependent on the action of God through
him; and second, of the new Israel, to come into existence through his Passion and Resurrection.
However, in Christ's ministry, the kingdom is being inaugurated. Its full benefits can not yet be
imparted but a "sign" of them can be given.
From this standpoint Mary is the mother Israel foretold in Isaiah 60:4-5 and 66:7-11.
Through her participation in the miracle at Cana she is beginning to experience the joy of
gathering the new people of God into the kingdom that Christ will finally establish.
47. In the Calvary scene John appears to offer if not to complete his
reflection on Mary as a "woman" who will be the associate of Jesus in renewing mankind.
"Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother,
'Woman, this is your son.'"
Mary's physical motherhood is perfected with the addition of spiritual motherhood. She
is not only the "mother of Jesus" but also the mother of John, who typifies the new people of
God. At the word of Christ the John who was not the son of Mary is changed to the John who is
Mary's son, just as, at Cana, by the command of Christ, water was changed into wine. The
messianic benefits Mary asked for at Cana and which were then deferred and granted only as
"sign" are now given in full measure to the new people of God represented by John. The
messianic benefits are summed up in the privilege of becoming the son of Mary. The Mother of
Jesus becomes also the Mother of the Church.(40)
48. We mentioned above a first level at which the Bible left its imprint on Marian
devotion. A deeper level is attained when this devotion is made a channel through which great
themes of the Bible are brought to the attention of the people (Matthew 22:2; 25:10; Luke 12:36).
In seeking to reach this level we can avail ourselves of the practice not uncommon in the patristic
era of seeing Mary typified in Eve, Esther, Judith, the Ark of Noah, etc. We can also apply to
Mary such texts as Proverbs, ch. 8, and Ecclesiasticus, ch. 24, as well as the book of the Song of
Songs. But the task of extending the biblical typology and accommodating biblical texts go
beyond the strict study of Scripture. We therefore conclude this section happy in the thought that
modern advances in biblical studies, have enriched rather than diminished the place of Mary in
49. We may say in fact that in our time a great interest in Mary has been shown by
biblical scholars, both Catholic and Protestant. Their findings converge remarkably, while at the
same time both emphasize the fact that the Mariological orientation in Scripture is always and
definitely Christological. The description of Mary is always pithy and sober, without any hint of
exaggeration even in Matthew and Luke. It will also be useful to remember that the Gospel data
regarding Mary do not present a historical narrative of Mary's life but rather a kerygmatic picture
of Mary as the Church saw her since its beginnings, a paradigm of what we see in her also today.
B. MARY IN TRADITION: DOCTRINE AND LIFE OF THE CHURCH
51. Scripture gives witness that Mary's privileged role became the object of the early Church's
reflection. We might say that following Jesus' last bequest on the Cross, the disciples of Christ
took Mary as their own and sought to discover the great graces with which God rendered Mary
truly blessed among women.
MOTHER OF GOD
51 By this title we express the most basic truth of our faith, that God became man, the mystery
of Incarnation. We honor Mary with this title whenever we recite the Hail Mary; we honor her as
Mother of God in each of our Eucharistic Prayers.
This title was in use in the Church as early as the third century. The original form of the
familiar prayer "We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God" may also be that early. In the
doctrinal controversies of the fifth century that accompanied and followed Euthyches' and
Nestorius' opinions on the problem of nature and person in Christ, the title of Mary as Mother of
God was challenged. And although the point at issue was Christological rather than Mariological,
the logical consequence of Nestorius' doctrine as understood in the debate was the denial of
Mary as Theotokos (éî ç , Mother of God).
52. The Church reacted strongly to this challenge. St. Cyril of Alexandria defended
Mary's title of Theotokos precisely as a profession of faith in the divinity of her Son:
"Jesus Christ was not first born of the holy Virgin as an ordinary man, in such a way that the
Word only afterwards descended upon him; rather he was united with flesh in the womb itself,
and thus is said to have undergone birth according to the flesh. ... For this reason the holy Fathers
have boldly proclaimed the holy Virgin Theotokos" (41)
It was this faith in Christ's Incarnation that the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 A.D.
when it supported St. Cyril and defined Mary's title of "Theotokos" as a doctrine of Christian
Mary then can rightly be called "Mother of God," not indeed in the blasphemous sense
of having existed before God, but as an affirmation of the truth of the Incarnation. The Son of
Mary and the Son of God is one and the same person, Emmanuel.
"ANG MAHAL NA BIRHEN"
53. This is the title by which Filipinos very often address Mary. And our Filipino tradition has
nuanced this title with all the reverence paid to Mary as Mother of God and all the childlike trust
with which we can call her our own Mother.
Mary's virginal Motherhood is a mighty act of God, an overshadowing of the Holy
Spirit, as is related to us in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Christ's virginal conception is a
mystery acknowledged and proclaimed by the Fathers of the Church. In fact the earliest Fathers
took Luke and Matthew literally on this point. We profess Christ's virginal conception in our acts
of faith and recite it in our creeds.
54. Some perhaps may find it strange, if not difficult, to understand how this fact can be a
point of revelation on the part of God. Virginal motherhood seems so much like a private
privilege which would only benefit Mary, and would have little relevance for our lives as
Christians. Theologians hasten to point out that Mary's virginal motherhood is a great sign of
God's own absolute initiative in redeeming mankind. As St. Irenaeus says, "Because an
unexpected salvation was to be initiated for people through God's help, an unexpected birth from
a Virgin was likewise accomplished. The sign was God-given; the effect was not man-made."(42)
When we emphasize God's absolute initiative in granting Mary the privilege of her
virginal motherhood and the Church celebrating her virginity, both elements are to be properly
understood. It is not simply the absence of a man that is being extolled at the Incarnation, but
Mary's action of totally committing herself to God for the redemption of mankind. It is precisely
from this mutuality of God's initiative and Mary's total response that her blessedness appears in
MOTHER OF THE CHURCH
55. The first new insight given us by the Fathers of the Church is that of Mary as the "new Eve."
As early as the second century St. Justin brought out the contrast between Eve and Mary. The
virgin Eve accepted the word of the serpent and gave birth to disobedience and death; the virgin
Mary received the word of the angel with joy, and through the power of the Holy Spirit gave
birth to the Son of God.(43) "And thus," adds St. Irenaeus, "as the human race fell into bondage
to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin; a virgin's disobedience is balanced by
This comparison of Mary with Eve quickly gave rise to the veneration of Mary as the
new "mother of the living."(45) Thus the title that had been given to the Church from the beginning
was also applied to Mary; and this in turn occasioned the growing comparison between Mary and
the Church. The Woman of Apocalypse (the Church) and the Woman at the foot of the cross
(Mary) became one.
56. Filipinos have always had a very tender devotion to Mary as Mother; and this
devotion has brought down numberless benefits on our people. The loyalty of our people to
Christ has been closely bound with our devotion to Mary who is his Mother and ours. Rather
than discourage a filial devotion like this, we hasten to praise it, and pray that we may always
preserve our childlike trust in Mary's maternal love for us. But with the maturing faith of the
Filipino, we should reflect and consider what we mean by Mary's spiritual motherhood.
57. St. Epiphanius, who first honored Mary as "mother of the living," explains it thus:
"Life itself was introduced into the world by the Virgin Mary... Mary brought forth the cause of
life, through whom life itself is produced in us."(46)
Mary is our spiritual Mother because she is the physical Mother of our Savior Jesus Christ. Of
course, mere physical motherhood would have been of no avail either for Mary's own
sanctification or for our redemption. A basic element of Mary's motherhood was her faith and
consent expressed in her "yes" to the Angel of the Annunciation. Mary conceived in her heart,
with her whole being, before she conceived in her womb. As St. Augustine says (and the Second
Vatican Council quotes his words), Mary is "clearly the mother of the members of Christ...since
she cooperated out of love that there might be born in the Church the faithful, who are members
of Christ their Head."(47)
St. Augustine hastens to add that we too are Christ's brothers and sisters and mother
when we do the Father's will in charity, and labor for others until Christ be formed in them. We
are all brothers and sisters, parents and children to each other spiritually.(48) But Mary is the
spiritual Mother of us all, because she cooperated in the birth of us all when she bowed to God's will and consented to be the mother of our Redeemer. And the Vatican Council reminds us that
Mary's cooperation with her Son's work of redemption lasted from the moment of Christ's
virginal conception up to his death. And even after Jesus' ascension, she prays with the Apostles
for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Finally, even in heaven Mary's maternal heart reaches out to us,
the members of her Son's Mystical Body. With confidence then do we "rely for help on her
intercession," as we profess in the Eucharistic Prayer.
58. It is based on these ideas that Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964 at the closing of
the Third Session of the Council proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church.(49)
This title refers to Mary's spiritual motherhood toward the members of the Church, pastors and
ordinary faithful alike, the Church being the mystical body of which Christ is the Head.
59. Mary is the way God chose to carry out his wonderful work of reconciliation and
redemption. Mary totally gave herself to this work in her cooperation. But she is not a dead
instrument; rather we see the effects of God's wonderful redemption present in her in a very
special way. She who was to work and cooperate with her Son was also to be the first to
experience all the wonders of God's redemptive power.
MARY AS FIRST OF THE REDEEMED
60. Finally, we should also treat of the singular blessedness of Mary as first of the redeemed.
Considering how infrequently the Gospel writers praise individuals, the insistence on Mary's
blessedness in the first chapter of Luke is evidence of the veneration in which she was held in the
early Church. She is called blessed by the Angel, twice by Elizabeth; and once even by herself:
"All ages to come will call me blessed, for he who is mighty has done great things for me" (Luke
We must hasten to point out that Mary's holiness is entirely the gift of God, derived
wholly through the merits of her Son Jesus. Mary is redeemed, as we are, although .in a more
excellent way. Her claim to glory derives entirely from the faith and obedience
themselves divine gifts too with which she received the gratuitous gifts of God. She is our
Mother and our model and our patroness only because she is "the handmaid of the Lord" who
opens herself completely to God's saving grace. "Blessed, because you have believed" (Luke
1:45 and 49).
61. Mary's Immaculate Conception was the first gift that God gave to Mary.
Conceived and born of human parents in the normal way, Mary was especially gifted by God
from "the first instant of her conception," when she received a fullness of sanctifying grace and
indwelling of the Most Blessed Trinity and so was by a singular privilege preserved from the
stain of original sin "in consideration of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of the human race"
to prepare her to be the Mother of the Redeemer,(50) her most basic gift. Thus we wish to point out that the
doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is doubly Christ-centered. It makes clear, first of all, that
no one is saved apart from Christ. This is true of all people who have ever lived, even though
they were born many centuries before Christ. Secondly, the privileged redemption of Mary is
totally and splendidly God's gift to her because she was to be the Mother of Christ.
62. Another aspect of our Lady's holiness is brought out in one of her oldest liturgical
feasts, the Assumption, a celebration so dear to the heart of Eastern Christians. The
meaning of this doctrine is that Mary is one with the risen Christ in the fullness of her
personality, or as we commonly say, "in body and soul." Pope Pius XII solemnly made this
doctrine explicit on November 1, 1950: "The Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever-virgin, after
her life on earth, was assumed body and soul, into heavenly glory."(51) The title of Mary as
Queen of the Universe appears, thus, to be full of meaning.
Again, we should not look on the Assumption as a private gift of God to Mary alone.
Rather, "Mary assumed into heaven" serves as a gracious reminder to the Church that our Lord
wishes all whom the Father has given to him to be raised with him. In Mary taken into glory, to
union with Christ, the Church sees herself answering the invitation of the heavenly Bridegroom.
Hence, in Mary's life and vocation the Church's, indeed every Christian's, call to faithful service
and to glorious union with Christ shines forth.
III. PASTORAL REFLECTIONS
63. The summary of Mary's place in the history of our country as presented in the first part of
this Letter has shown how deeply she is part of our heritage and part of our Filipino identity.
Even where religious instruction among Catholics is inadequate, the Filipino always holds on to
the devotion to Mary as a source of inspiration and an aid to salvation. This devotion, even in an
imperfect form, is a positive asset that we pray will always be ours. And we write this pastoral
letter so that the Filipino may grow in his devotion to Mary and acquire a deeper understanding
of Mary's role in the Church and a keener appreciation of her role as our Mother.
64. We would now like to bring to your attention certain aspects needing either reform or
renewal from a particular pastoral point of view or in the general context of Christian life. It is
not our intention to draw up an exhaustive list. We have chosen just a few examples either
because some need more immediate attention, or because the principles and norms we propose
may be applied not only to the case in question but may also serve as a pattern for similar
situations. But before we come to them, let us examine the positive values we find in the
veneration of Mary by our faithful.
POSITIVE VALUES OF THE DEVOTION TO MARY
65. As a preparation for the writing of this pastoral letter, a survey was conducted on the
devotion to Mary in the Philippines which, although limited in scope, was very precise in the
questions proposed. From the answers given in the various ecclesiastical territories in the
Philippines it seems clear that devotion to Christ's Mother is a positive and powerful force in and
for the Christian life of our people, although in some cases it must be purified and more
vigorously incorporated into Christ's mystery.
Several facts have been brought up in this survey which in a remarkable way point to the
same conclusion and serve to complement each other. We find them expressed in various forms.
66. The love for and veneration of Mary, especially by the celebration of her feasts, the
pilgrimages to her shrines, the recitation of the rosary (a practice, however, not as flourishing as in
the past) have given the faithful a community awareness, while promoting a Christian
atmosphere, and continue to help keeping family solidarity by making participants feel that they
truly and brothers and sisters.
67 Besides effects of a more general nature, these practices of Marian devotion have
produced other concrete and perceptible results in our people. We do not speak only of the
Marian life fostered by the Legion of Mary whose praesidia are widely disseminated in
some dioceses, nor the fact that the Barangay Sang Birhen has taught a number of
believers how to pray the rosary and continues to help many to build up Christian communities.
We refer particularly to the fact that the cult of Mary and the devotion to her image have helped
many simple people to remain Catholics. Although the religious practice of many is minimal, yet
the devotion to the Mother of God helps them to keep their faith alive. In fact on the occasion of
her feasts and during novenas in her honor, a perceptibly greater number of people receive the
sacraments. Hence, we may say that even a minimal form of devotion to Mary has consistently
This has helped in many instances to keep and nurture the prayer-life of our people, but
also and this must be noted it has given an added dimension by providing a
powerful motivation for works of Christian charity, particularly by groups dedicated to her. It is
to be hoped, however, that it will help them also to dedicate themselves with greater ardor to the
apostolate of social justice, accepting Mary's special role in humanity's destiny, in the
development of humanity to a community of justice and peace.
68. Perhaps this is the place to reflect more deeply on an aspect of our Catholicism which
on the one hand is characteristic of our people and on the other contains a richness of spiritual
values which might not have been properly appreciated in the recent past or may have been
placed out of focus.
69. The recent Synod of Bishops in Rome has discussed the problem of Evangelization in the
World Today, considering it in the various regions of the globe and in the various aspects of
Christian life. In a certain sense, the presentation and defense of popular Catholicism at the
Synod, albeit surprising to some, represents a new approach in pastoral theology. An attempt will
be made here to reflect on these aspects of popular Marian religiosity that seem to demand more
immediate attention in our country.
Our brother bishops of Latin America a continent with which our country has
more than a few similarities have also been confronted with the problem of popular reli-
giosity in their own countries. Their reflections were offered to their fellow bishops during the
recent Roman synod. Their views represent very valid insights into the problem. Hence, we do
not hesitate to make our own many of their ideas as they are applicable in general to popular
Catholicism in the Philippines and in particular to the veneration of Mary by our faithful.(52)
70. Christian tradition penetrates individual existence, social content, and the very history
of our people. This Christian tradition, a real experience of God and of faith, can be said to be the
concrete mode in which Christianity is incarnated in our people, deeply lived by them and manifested in their existence.(53)
This popular religiosity is manifested above all in a special sense of God and of his
providence over our lives, of the special help and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the
saints and in certain fundamental attitudes in the face of life and death. From these arise the
popular devotions, novenas, processions, pilgrimages, fiestas, and the celebrations that surround
baptism, first communion, marriage, death and burial.(54)
While not a few forms of this popular religiosity are of a rather ritualistic sort and in
general tend to be unrelated to day-to-day life, still the spirit behind them keeps in our people its
full unity and operative power. Popular religiosity in our country is a springboard as well as an
invitation for the deepening of a more religious consciousness. The valid elements of an
authentic faith, which are present in the profound religiosity of our people, need and demand that
they be purified, interiorized, made more mature, and brought to bear on daily life.
71. This demands that certain syncretistic and superstitious elements that might have
entered into certain practises of devotion, at times a kind of folkloric ritual which is wholly out
keeping with the true Christian faith, must be eliminated or transformed. In particular this
religiosity of our people, this beautiful gift of God which is the seed of our authentic faith, must
be deeply rooted in the reality of the Person of Jesus Christ and in the Paschal Mystery, the
Christ-event which at times has been somewhat obscured.
72. This brief summary of what popular religiosity is, its positive values and
shortcomings may now be applied to the devotion to Mary in the Philippines.
It cannot be denied that popular religiosity has maintained in our country a deep
Christian content. Witness the many facts, historical and situational, presented in Part One of this
Letter. From them it appears clearly how devotion to Mary in the Philippines has been intimately
intertwined with Christ and the mystery of Incarnation and Redemption. In fact, the Philippines,
like her sister countries in Latin America, is a Christian and Marian nation. The Philippines was
evangelized in the light of Christ, of the crucified Christ hence the prominence of
Christmas and Holy Week and of Mary. In this incarnational and redemptive context the
veneration of Mary has been and still is an important element in bringing about a deep
evangelization of the masses of our people.
In this respect what is true of Latin America is also true of our country: "The
fundamental paschal dimension came to us through the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,
especially through the recitation of and meditation on the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary,"(55) a devotion which
encompasses the mysteries of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of our Lord.
73. In this sense, we may also say with our brother bishops of Latin America that
devotion to Mary "is the safeguard for the preservation of our faith and the principle of deeper
and fuller evangelization."(56)
Hence, we cannot but encourage our priests and faithful to continue fostering a fervent
and authentic devotion to Mary.
74. One particular aspect of the veneration of Mary intimately connected with the forms
of popular religiosity in our country is the holding of fiestas in her honor and pilgrimages to her
Fiestas are more intense and vigorous moments of the spirit in the collective life
of the people and constitute for them a privileged encounter with God and the Blessed Virgin
Mary. Our people should be helped to rediscover in community the ever-present riches of the
75. These celebrations in honor of Mary often culminate in pilgrimages to one of her
shrines, where God's presence among us appears with particular transparency, where
people feel they have a proper forum for their religious experiences, and where the pilgrim finds
a particular stimulus to commit himself to a real "salvation history."
76. In this context we find a deep meaning in the holding of processions, a
feature most frequently found in the celebration of fiestas. These processions when participated
in with a spirit of faith and prayer, become the sign of the pilgrim Church moving towards
Christ's paschal mystery. In this sense participants become and are
eschatologically oriented. Pilgrimages to Mary's shrines, thus, not only help in
conserving a tradition of faith, but also are full of spiritual meaning and content. It is the duty,
therefore, of the pastors to make these fiestas and processions in honor of Mary and pilgrimages
to her shrines a true spiritual encounter and to prevent in their celebrations any deviation
towards superstition or even the appearance of commercialism.
NEED OF REFORM
77. We said above "authentic" devotion to Mary. This word invites us to reflect on those aspects
of the devotion which might have deflected from genuineness and purity, and hence are in need
of reform and renewal.
The survey on the veneration to Mary we mentioned above, has shown not only the
many and rich, positive and potential values of this devotion, but also has brought to light some
aspects that are less commendable. Some attitudes or practices in Marian devotion, well-
intentioned as they are, cannot be unreservedly approved, and in this respect there is a need of
instruction and correction.
78. The lack of doctrinal instruction (biblical or liturgical) on the role of Mary in the
history of salvation, seems to be at the root of the problem. The exploitation of Marian popular
devotions for show purposes or for the benefit of visitors, and the fact that in many places the
main devotions appear to be too secularized, should be the object of special reflection.
79. Some practices need special consideration. We cannot approve, for instance, of the
presence of several images of Mary in the same house, chapel or church even parish
churches with their devotees extolling the power of their statues over the others as if they
were rivals. Medals, scapulars, and votive candles are by their very nature religious symbols and
manifestations of spiritual trust and candid devotion. However, we see a danger connected at
times with their use, when people consider them as magic talismans, a kind of anting -
anting for mere material or bodily protection. We warn our faithful against a thirst for and
easy acceptance of visions and visionaries with the concomitant dangers of paying a less than
prudent credulity to strange announcements, threats, or promises. We are seriously concerned
about the abuse in some places, where so-called faith-healers use the popularity of the devotion
to Mary under one or other of her titles to persuade the simple people that their faith-healing
power comes from her or through her intervention.
80. Above all, we wish to emphasize that all veneration of Mary is to be subordinated to
the adoration of the triune God and of Christ who is the Mediator. Mary's dignity is the most
exalted among all the saints because of her divine maternity and hence she is worthy of special
veneration as the Mother of God. Her place and role in the economy of salvation is to be clearly
proposed to the faithful, as the Second Council of the Vatican has expressed.(57) This, we think, is a
very important point and, if wrongly understood, is the root and source of any ill-advised form of
81. It is in this context that certain pastoral steps should be taken to reform and renew
some practices in the life of our faithful. The faithful should be instructed to venerate Mary out
of love for her and appreciation of her dignity and not primarily to obtain personal and material
favors. They should see the hierarchy of Christian values and the duties in the Christian life by
paying greater attention to the participation in the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday than in any
other form of devotion. Public and traditional Marian celebrations like the Flores de
Mayo, often connected with the Santacruzan, must be prevented from becoming
fashion shows that take away their spiritual meaning, with the danger of converting Marian
devotions into beauty parades rather than religious manifestations of faith. Similarly, the
traditional forms of devotion must never be an ostentatious show to be displayed for guests or
visitors. The real spirit of these devotions should be emphasized, and not merely the external
NEED FOR RENEWAL
82. These and other points are offered here as concrete suggestions for reform. But there must
also be room for renewal. Not a few forms of Marian devotion, good in themselves, and with the
venerability of tradition, have fulfilled an important role in their time. However, they must be
updated and adapted to today's religious world and needs. The lead has been shown to us by the
Second Council of the Vatican which courageously initiated liturgical reform and renewal.
83. Thus, in consonance with the principles of liturgical renewal which do not need to be
repeated or enumerated here, it is clear that the problem of fiestas and novenas must be squarely
faced. Pastors must be vigilant to prevent as far as possible the mixing of paraliturgy with
or the simple incorporation of novenas into the Eucharistic celebration. A distinction must be
made also between the novena for the annual patronal feast, a weekly novena (like the popular
novena to Our Lady of the Perpetual Help) and devotions to Mary that may last one full month
(May and October). In any event two alternatives may be offered here:
a) A Mass-Novena with the elements of the novena incorporated into the Mass
either after the Communion and before the dismissal, or even during the Prayer of the Faithful. It
is to be noted, however, that in this case the prayer should always be addressed to God the
not to Mary.
b) The novena by itself, which should be renewed. A special committee to deal with
this matter for the liturgical and paraliturgical forms of devotion to Mary will be established,
particularly for the renewal of the novena structure and prayers.
84. Novenas will then be renewed by making them more scriptural, avoiding a verbosity present
in some of them and a sentimentality less in consonance with today's religious attitudes.
On the other hand, it is a well-known fact that the holding of novenas, specially in
preparation for Mary's feasts, brings with it a particular sense of community among those
practicing the devotion.
85. As for the Flores de Mayo an effort must be made to utilize them better to
instruct the people about the meaning of religious celebrations and to revitalize them. A similar
remark applies to the practice and recitation of the block rosary, a practice we highly
We address also a word of encouragement to priests and religious: They too should try to
rediscover the value of the rosary as a community prayer.
86. A word of caution seems to be in place here. Our calling attention to the need of
reform and renewal does not in any way advocate a kind of iconoclasm for images or devotions.
On the contrary, we wish these manifestations of veneration to be kept for their value and to be
purified of excrescences or deviations. Hence, pastors should be very careful not to eliminate or
discourage devotions of piety in their correct forms, and in this way create a vacuum which
cannot be easily filled. This is a delicate matter that needs to be handled with utmost pastoral
prudence lest we lose many religious practices and particularly forms of devotion to Mary,
because of an imprudent or too premature uprooting of forms that demanded only reform and
renewal. This demands in turn a certain sensitivity and a profound respect for the people's affectivity, their love for color and their sentiments of faith.
These are some of the aspects we thought deserve your attention from the pastoral and
liturgical point of view. Let us now enter into that dimension that Pope Paul VI elaborates as the
fourth principle in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Marian Cult.
ANTHROPOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL DIMENSIONS
87. Let us turn our attention now to a different but not less important aspect.
We refer to that dimension essential in the authentic devotion to Mary which is
particularly relevant in today's world – the social and anthropological
dimension. This sociological aspect has come to the fore with distinctive
intensity in the twentieth century and must be discerned in the light of the
88. A revolution is going on which is woman's growing awareness of what she is.
Previously consigned to roles defined for her by a man-controlled society, woman is now
questioning the structures of such a society. Agencies all over the world are taking cognizance of
this phenomenon. The United Nations, for one, has designated 1975 as International Year of
Woman. If the Church is to be faithful to her call, she must look at this phenomenon and
question herself regarding her own attitude towards women. This is not a problem only for
women, but a profoundly human one.
89. Without question, the male element is preponderant in the Church. Sometimes this
fact breeds a certain unconscious attitude of paternalism or condescension toward women which
prevents women from attaining mature stature or from fully participating in the life of the
Church. This area needs to be explored, especially with regard to implementation of new forms
of service for women, and renewal of a devotional spirituality that often appears less masculine
in character. However, the traits of liturgical services and spirituality are more pronouncedly
90. In the Philippines where women enjoy a status and a freedom to which her Asian
counterparts still aspire, we must look deeper into the question, beyond what seems to be obvious
and taken for granted by convention. The Filipino woman, though stereotyped as Maria Clara, is
a figure of strength not only in the family but also in society. Her relationship with man,
therefore, is highly ambivalent. Since it is this relationship which is at the root of any society, it
needs to be examined before any renewal of Philippine society can be effected. Is the Filipina
who is equal, but complementary to man, or is she one who supplants man? Does she, by her
manner of being and her attitude toward herself and the opposite sex, help to produce better
Filipino manhood or does she weaken it? These questions need to be probed especially by those
engaged in the social sciences.
91. Imitation of Mary does not mean keeping women within the cultural limitations
which bound the women of Mary's time. The Virgin Mary is proposed to the faithful as an
example to be imitated not precisely in the concrete tasks she undertook at Nazareth, and "much
less for the socio-cultural background in which she lived and which today scarcely exists
anywhere. She is held up as an example to the faithful rather for the way in which, in her own
particular life, she fully and responsibly accepted the will of God, because she heard the word of
God and acted on it and because charity and a spirit of service were the driving force of her
quality of her life as spouse and mother can imbue the ordinary chores of women in the home
with a deeper meaning and significance.
The modern search for the equality of women, and their co-responsibility in politics, the
social field, scientific research, and intellectual activities, is by no means incongruent with a deep
devotion to Mary. Marian devotion and imitation have shown themselves in varied ways,
according to the different sociological contexts in which Christian women lived. The Church
does not bind herself to any particular anthropological ideas underlying such expressions of the
Marian cult. She "understands that certain outward religious expressions, while perfectly valid in
themselves, may be less suitable to men and women of different ages and cultures."(59)
92. In connection with the image of women, there is these days widespread publicity
given to numerous beauty contests, a fact that is deplorable since these events are occasions of
falsehood which distort the true image of women, feed people's minds with false values, and put
women on pedestals only to exploit them. The eyes of the nation are often diverted by such
beauty pageants from the ills of society and the serious tasks of nation-building. Church-related
activities are not entirely free of this tendency, and fund-raising connected with fiesta queens
ought to be discouraged. It is also worthwhile mentioning that respect for women should find its
expression in decent feminine dress, and is also fostered by Christian propriety.
93. In view of the above consideration of Mary and the Filipino woman, it is appropriate
that we should address a few words to the Filipino man in particular. The dignity, self-awareness,
and spiritual realization to which Mary is summoning the Filipina is for the Filipino man a
challenge to understand her correctly and a reminder to respect, love, and protect her. A woman
is degraded when treated like an object, the conquest of which is taken as a proof of one's
masculinity in the spirit of childish machismo. A woman is a companion and a partner,
an equal, and not a plaything or a slave. It does the Filipino woman no justice to practise in her
regard a double standard, by which she is expected to fulfill her familial duties, while the man's
infidelity and irresponsibility are excused or taken for granted. Moreover, supporting her
materially is by no means the only obligation of a husband to her, nor does it justify any
negligence or abuse on his part.
The mutually enriching and salvific union which is the goal of the institution of the
sacrament of marriage can only be achieved on a basis of respect, love, fidelity and the deep
sense of responsibility that a man should have for his wife and vice versa. The Filipino woman
measures up more fully to her very important role in our nation-building and most especially in
that basic unit of society, the family, when she is accorded love and justice by the Filipino man.
94. We rarely associate devotion to Mary with the social dimension of Christian living,
and this is when devotion to her can tend to become pious individualism. Mary should always be
seen in a Biblical context, for she was the product of the heritage of patriarchs, prophets, and
psalmists of the Old Testament. We see this very clearly in her song of praise, the
Magnificat, where she turns naturally from herself to her people. The God who is her
personal Saviour and whose greatness she proclaims is a God whose action on behalf of the
lowly and the poor endures through the ages. Although Mary's words are not to be interpreted in
the contemporary sense of class struggle, they point to a reversal of the social order in the
Kingdom of God.
95. Mary's song speaks of a God who has "routed the proud of heart," "pulled down
princes from their thrones," "exalted the lowly," "filled the hungry with good things,"and "sent
the rich empty away" (Luke 1:51-5 3). This is an echo of the utterances of the prophets who
condemned the wealthy not for their wealth but for their selfish complacency, the powerful
officials not for their positions of authority but for their injustice and cunning. The poor of Israel
were a blight in the land; they were the manifestations of a sick society, but even more
fundamentally, of a radical deviation from God's intentions for his people. In brief, the poor were
visible signs of the deep-rooted sin of the nation. Greed and deceit were in the hearts of the
powerful of the land who were squeezing the lifeblood from the poor for their own selfish
purposes. Though entrenched in this social sin, they put a facade of piety and respectability
which was sacrilegious in the eyes of the prophets. It was to those people that the Lord said:
"When you stretch out your hands I turn my eyes away. You may multiply your prayers, I shall
not listen... Take your wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search
for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:15-17).
96. Such a society is encountered in the Philippines. The destitution of millions of
Filipinos is an indictment of all of us who call ourselves believers. The oppression that exists in
Filipino society is contrary to the salvation that Jesus and his Mother proclaimed by their lives.
We who profess to be their followers must live according to what we say we believe. At this
moment of our history as a people, our collaboration with God's work of salvation must take the
form of work for justice, freedom, and peace not in the abstract, but in the daily realities
of living, for they are the conditions of salvation. Wherever there is injustice, bondage, and
unrest there sin prevails.
Our devotion to Mary should never lose sight of the present plight of the vast majority of
our Filipino brethren who live lives unworthy of human beings. These poor and oppressed
brethren of ours are devotees of Mary, too, and they call out to her, their Mother, to ease their
sufferings and free them from their chains. And surely her maternal heart goes out to them. Her
appeal comes to those of us who can help the helpless. Mary is the model of the perfect disciple
of the Lord: "the disciple who builds up the earthly and temporal city while being a diligent
pilgrim towards the heavenly and eternal city, the disciple who works for that justice which sets
free the oppressed and for that charity which assists the needy."(60)
Devotion to Mary shows itself in works, and the works which are needed in the Philippines
today are the works of justice and freedom from oppression. As the Church points out to us, our
mission is "to be present in the heart of the world proclaiming the Good News to the poor,
freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted."(61)
97. These are some of the reflections on Mary, the Mother of the Lord, which we wished to
with you. The knowledge of the sincere veneration of our people for Mary has given us particular
comfort and joy. This veneration is not only rooted in history but, above all, is
also deeply rooted in
the hearts of our faithful.
We have also shared with you some insights on this devotion which is grounded solidly,
as we have shown, in the teachings of the New Testament and the life of the Church itself from
But these two aspects the historical and the doctrinal must not be
considered as triumphalistic or irrelevant utterances. In offering them to you we have a practical
and pastoral aim in view: the authentic renewal of the veneration of Mary in the Philippines. This
devotion must be fundamentally biblical, solidly Christological, soundly liturgical.
98. The profound religiosity of our people call it, if you wish, popular religiosity
will receive a powerful impulse during the celebration of the Holy Year, a year of
and reconciliation. Our faith in and love for the Incarnate Lord, who took flesh in Mary, will be
strengthened in the measure we try to live with and for Christ as Mary did, so that we may
become, like her, his true disciples. The Church contemplating Mary's "profound holiness"(62) "admires the most
excellent fruit of the redemption and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless model, that which
she herself wholly desires and hopes to be."(63) Our veneration of Mary, therefore, should be an imitation of her
who achieved her destiny by freely cooperating with God's love, reacting responsibly to the
demands of God and neighbor during her "pilgrimage of faith."(64)
For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
[signed] Cardinal Rosales, President
Manila, February 2, 1975
Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord