Looking at the Mass Through the Eyes of Mary

BOOK PICK: ‘Mary and the Liturgical Year: A Pastoral Resource’ shows us how Mary points us to Jesus Christ and how Mary reminds us of who we are called to be as the People of God.

‘The Virgin of the Host’ by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854
‘The Virgin of the Host’ by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854 (photo: Public domain)

Mary and the Liturgical Year: A Pastoral Resource

By Katharine E. Harmon

Liturgy Training Publications, 2023

112 pages, $17.95

To order: LTP.org

The Eucharistic sacrifice is the summit and source of the entire Christian way of life. This truth has been emphasized by the Catholic Church throughout the ages. It was highlighted by the Second Vatican Council, as it called for reforms to the life of the Church.

In her book Mary and the Liturgical Year: A Pastoral Resource, author Katharine Harmon explores the beauty of the sacred liturgy from the perspective of Mary. The book triples up as a devotional, theological reflection and a resource to understanding and applying the sacred liturgy to everyday life.

Consisting of six chapters, the book begins with a presentation of Mary of Nazareth and then walks through the history of the Church from the patristic era, the medieval period and the modern world. After this broad survey, Harmon then focuses specifically on prayers and devotions to Our Lady after Vatican II and Mary’s role in our contemporary time.

In the book’s introduction, discipleship and the call to follow the way of the Lord Jesus is explained and emphasized to the reader. Harmon focuses on the summons of the Sabbath and the importance of liturgical worship. The author highlights Mary as the first and preeminent disciple of the Lord and stresses the role of Our Lady as the model and exemplar of discipleship to each of us. 

Through Mary, we can see worship in a different way. Harmon makes the point that the liturgical year allows us to see time with “a Christocentric lens,” namely from the perspective of Jesus Christ. Mary stands in the center of the lens. She shows us the glory of her divine Son and points us to worship him in spirit and truth.

Harmon makes the point: “On the pilgrimage of the Christian journey, Christians enjoy a special relationship with the one who experienced firsthand the power of the paschal mystery, the one who said Yes to the Holy Spirit, the one whose very life stands as a great Amen to the living God: Mary, the Mother of God.”

After the introduction, the first chapter explores the person of Mary from Scripture and Tradition. The biblical portion gives a review of the Holy Family and Mary’s relationship with Jesus and Joseph. The portion from Tradition looks at the devotional life of the Church and what it might be able to tell us about Our Lady. It includes the liturgical celebration of aspects of Our Lady’s life and identity. The chapter includes a helpful chart drawn from the Roman Missal of all the solemnities, feasts and memorials of Mary.

From Chapter 1, the book moves through three major time periods in Church history. Each time period has its own chapter. Harmon looks at the early Church and indicates the importance of “the new Eve” in the teachings of the early Fathers. The various extra-biblical sources about Our Lady are also discussed, especially how they have influenced our understanding of Mary’s childhood. 

In the medieval period, Harmon gives a compare-and-contrast between the Western and Eastern Churches. The comparison is helpful in seeing the different but complementary spiritualities and liturgical traditions of the East and West. In general, the author tells us, “The cult of Mary flourished in the medieval period. Harmon highlights various devotions — such as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Rosary, and the sorrows of Mary — and how they developed and grew in prominence in the daily life of the Church. 

For the modern period, Harmon begins with the teachings of the Council of Trent, the missionary impulse of the Church, and the apparitions of Our Lady at Guadalupe. The role of these trends is shown as an influence on the eventual declaration of the dogma of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption (1950). The author also addresses the five approved apparitions of Our Lady that have liturgical feast days: Guadalupe, Loreto, Mount Carmel, Lourdes and Fatima. Harmon writes, “Nevertheless, the presence of these five distinct celebrations, in addition to devotional practices and objects inspired by apparitions, underscores the significance of Mary’s life as a model for Christians living and as an inspiration to the faithful.”

After giving a survey of Our Lady’s influence on the liturgical year and in pious traditions, Harmon then gives a full stop to the period following the Second Vatican Council. The 21st ecumenical council sought reform and renewal in all the areas of the Christian way of life. Such a reform began with the sacred liturgy and then moved to the devotional life of the Church. Since Our Lady was so prominent in these areas, the reform would naturally influence her role in the Church and vice versa. The changes to the liturgical year, therefore, were rightly conditioned by the faithful’s strong devotion to Mary. 

Harmon notes, “This emphasis upon Mary both acknowledged the faithful’s love for Mary and emphasized what love of Mary leads to: Mary is an image for the pilgrim Church on earth who, praying together, waits with blessed hope for the coming of Christ.”

After giving a general summary of the reforms to the Roman Missal, the author then walks through and explains 12 days dedicated to Mary in the liturgical year. The theology and importance of each day is developed in the book and helps the reader to appreciate these holy days throughout the year.

The sixth and final chapter of the book gives a beautiful and definitive summary of Our Lady. The maternal presence and intercession of Mary are stressed and shown to be a lifeline between ourselves and the Lord Jesus. Harmon writes, “Mary was unafraid to hold the Mystery of Salvation in her hands — when he was an infant or in his passion and death. Mary is our model for our hope as we continue down our own road to God, because her journey to God is complete.”

In 100-some pages, Mary and the Liturgical Year: A Pastoral Resource shows us how Mary points us to Jesus Christ and how Mary reminds us of who we are called to be as the People of God. Katharine Harmon gives precision and depth to the intricacies of the Church’s devotional life and liturgical year and shows Mary’s presence and influence throughout them. The book is easy to read and a delightful engagement with the theology and devotions of Our Lady.