Misreading of Vatican II led to ‘collapse’ in Marian devotion, studies

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

Father Phalan at a Marian conference in Rome Sept. 6. (CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Devotion to Mary “collapsed” in some parts of the United States after the Second Vatican Council even though the council fathers had upheld her critical place within the Catholic faith, said a leading American expert in Marian studies.

The council’s decision to integrate a draft text on Mary into a larger dogmatic text — “Lumen Gentium” — rather than publish it as a separate document — sent an unintended message to the rest of the church, Holy Cross Father James Phalan, president of the Mariological Society of America, said in a presentation at an academic conference in Rome.

Even though bishops felt Mariology, like the church as a whole, needed to be renewed in light of tradition, liturgy and the Bible, later an “overly rationalist” historical approach reduced the role of the Holy Spirit and marginalized most forms of devotion, Father Phalan said.

Worsening the problem, he said, was the timing: post-Vatican II coincided with the upheaval of the 1970s when religious traditions and beliefs were being intensely questioned or completely dismissed by society.

Marian devotion “was caught up in this confusion” and there was a drop-off in practice and study, he said.

“The apparent change in emphasis on the Blessed Virgin contributed to a full-scale collapse of Mariology that has had very notable effects on the life of the church,” he said in his talk on “Mary and the Second Vatican Council.”

Father Phalan, who is also director of Family Rosary International, was one of the scholars, experts and theologians speaking at the 23rd Mariological Marian International Congress held in Rome Sept. 4-9.

In light of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the talks focused on “Mariology since the Second Vatican Council: Reception, Results and Perspectives.” More than 300 people from 37 countries attended the meeting, which was sponsored by the Pontifical Marian International Academy.

The council fathers had drawn up what Father Phalan called “the most complete and conclusive doctrinal statement about the Blessed Virgin Mary ever written” and made it the final chapter of the 1964 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (“Lumen Gentium”).

Its placement within a document about the church as the body of Christ underlines the council fathers’ vision of Mary “in relation to Christ and the church,” not as someone separate or independent of Christ and the church, he said.

“The council fathers wanted us to see Mary as identified with the church,” a notion Pope Benedict XVI has often repeated, saying that Mary, as a personification of the church, should be appreciated and imitated in her contemplative and personal relationship with Christ, Father Phalan said.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, president of the congress and prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, said Vatican II was a “momentous watershed moment for Marian discourse” — steering it away from “every undeserved doctrinal and devotional exaggeration,” which would put Mary on equal ground with the Lord. Rather, it upheld her unique, yet human role in God’s plan of salvation; she is “the living vessel who, in receiving, transmits the salvation of Christ,” he said.

The church teaches that salvation only comes from God in Jesus Christ, he said, but the human being must still be open and receptive to that grace. Any sense of Mary being “co-redeemer” must be understood as cooperating “with,” not being “equal to” Jesus, because God the father generates salvation and Mary, the mother, is the recipient of that gift.

“This is the theological reason to affirm the reality of Mary and the ‘Marian principle’ in the church,” the Italian cardinal said.

While popular piety may have suffered in some parts of the West, Cardinal Amato said Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict did much to enrich and invigorate Marian reflection and tradition.

Pope Benedict has promoted attachment to Mary as a way for the faithful to draw closer to Christ. While Catholics must not exaggerate or over-sentimentalize her role, he told pilgrims at the Mariazell shrine in Austria in 2007, Mary “is a creature of courage and of obedience … an example to which every Christian — man and woman — can and should look.

In light of the upcoming Year of Faith and the call for new evangelization, Mary can again play a critical role, Father Phalan said.

“She was the first evangelist,” showing Jesus to the world, starting with the shepherds and wise men. And she is a model for all Christians in understanding what faith is and how to accept and participate in salvation, Father Phalan said.

Given the troubled world of today, he said, “the love and mercy of God that flow through Mary” must be “even more present as part of evangelization today.”

– – –

Editors: A CNS video interview with Father Phalan can be seen at

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21 Responses to Misreading of Vatican II led to ‘collapse’ in Marian devotion, studies

  1. toadspittle says:


    “Pope Benedict has promoted attachment to Mary as a way for the faithful to draw closer to Christ. While Catholics must not exaggerate or over-sentimentalize her role, he told pilgrims…”

    Naturally not.
    Who would ever dream of doing such a thing?



  2. kathleen says:

    Another of the post Vatican II tragedies, that were not justified by any of the documents of the Council! Extraordinary! Father James Phalan is so right in this.
    I grew up during this period, and although the rosary was recited in our school chapel during the months of May and October, and my beloved father (who never went a day without praying the rosary) did his best to encourage devotion to Mary in our home, sadly the Catholic world at large seemed steeped in putting Mary – and so many beautiful Catholic devotions and practices – to one side.

    The good news is that the tide is changing again, and once more the Blessed Virgin Mary is being given in the Church the honour and importance bestowed on her by God.


  3. JessicaHof says:

    Good news indeed. In my part of the Anglican devotion, devotion to Our Blessed Mother has never wavered. Sentimentality is, of course, in the eye and the heart of the beholder, and it is often the case that the presence of a beam in the former and a sliver of glass in the latter creates a cynical outlook which rejoices in nothing save the need to rain on the parades of others. But of course, unless one is actually a rain cloud, it is usually the case that one rains solely on one’s own 🙂


  4. golden chersonnese says:

    I’m going to risk saying that this may be something that has occurred mainly in the English and other “Germanic”-speaking countries, Marian devotions are still quite popular here. For instance, Mass can’t start unless the novena has finished. All a bit strange, as the following Mass is usually ferociously novus ordo in every way.

    In Singapore there is the Novena Church along Thomson Road, which has thousands turning up for devotions such that the church can hardly cope. The church is so well known that it has lent its name to the local area, the mass transit rail station and even the shopping plaza!



  5. JabbaPapa says:

    Blessèd be gentle, brave Saint Mary, for the Light of God came to shine through her in her Son the Lord our Christ


  6. toadspittle says:

    …the presence of a beam in the former and a sliver of glass in the latter creates a cynical outlook which rejoices in nothing save the need to rain on the parades of others…

    Magnificent mixed metaphor, Jessica! perhaps we can put it down to your assidous reading of Dan Brown?
    However, Toad must still rank it second to one he read in the Telegraph recently. “The lemmings have crawled out of the woodwork, and are now in the driving seat.”


  7. JessicaHof says:

    How conventionally you Toad – it must be being around here, you are becoming quite a traditionalist. It will be the Latin soon, if you don’t take care 🙂


  8. toadspittle says:

    Yes, Jessica, old Toad is fond of CP&S and a good laugh – who isn’t?
    And there are few more “trad” than he. Has been, since he was a toadpole..

    As to the Latin, well, comme ci, comme ça, as the Greeks say.


  9. The Raven says:

    Now then Toad, French is so passé!


  10. toadspittle says:


    (can’t do accents)


  11. JessicaHof says:

    Touched – a possible explanation, I suppose?


  12. JabbaPapa says:

    (can’t do accents)

    Ah ben désolé mon kéké, très compliqué honnêtement de te les expédier exprès ès boîtes à méls que tu fréquentes !!!


  13. toadspittle says:

    As a passing pilgrim said to Toad in Moratinos recently, “Excuses moi. No parlo Italiano.”


  14. toadspittle says:

    (If Jessica persists in her vicious and blistering attacks on Toad – well, he’ll just have to turn it in, won’t he?)


  15. JessicaHof says:

    Now toad, don’t go getting people’s hopes up like that 🙂


  16. Gertrude says:

    We welcome all people of good will who reply on these pages Jessica. Toad is an old friend of CP&S, and over the years that we have known him (not quite since he was a tadpole) we have become familiar, as will you, of his particularly wry comments.

    We do not always agree with him, but we would be sad without him.

    Toad, like many other Roman Catholics grew up in a pre-Vatican II Church, when Latin was the language of the Universal Church, and I am sure many of his comments reflect this. 😉


  17. JessicaHof says:

    I do hope no one misread my wry comments – I was sure that Toad did not from his own joke 🙂


  18. toadspittle says:

    You are all very kind to the undeserving amphibion. Your reward will not be on this earth.


  19. piliersdelaterre says:

    Toad- I wouldn’t speak French if I were you, given that nation’s gastronomic propensities.
    (-no, probably alright as wrong sort of amphibian- degueulasse!)


  20. toadspittle says:

    Good point, Piliersd. Especially as it was a Frenchman (Chamfort) who said, “Swallow a toad in the morning if you want to encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.”

    Toad is prepared to go half way with him on that.


  21. toadspittle says:


    (and make that a live toad. Must get Chamfort right.)


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