On 11 February this year, Pope Francis signed a decree that the ancient devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Mother of the Church, be added to the Roman Calendar and celebrated annually as a Memorial on the day after Pentecost. 11 February is significant as it is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
It is the latest official celebration that Francis has decreed to honour women involved in Jesus' life. In 2016, Francis declared the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. The Marian feast of the Solemnity of Mary the Holy Mother of God, celebrated in New Zealand on 1 January each year, acknowledges Mary as the Mother of Jesus.
The 11 February decree states that this feast day is intended to celebrate Mary not only as the mother of Jesus, but also as a fundamental figure in the church. This new Memorial reminds us of Mary’s presence with the Apostles on Pentecost day and recalls her maternal care for the new born Church. We are further reminded that all who are birthed by water and the Holy Spirit through baptism belong to the Body of Christ, so willingly mothered by ‘Mary, Mother of the Church’.
Background to the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
On February 11, 1858, a young woman appeared to a girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in Lourdes in the South of France. This began a series of visions. During the apparition on March 25, the woman identified herself with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Through this apparition, Mary revitalised and continues to revitalise the faith of millions of people. People began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. In 1862 Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions and authorised the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes for the diocese. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became worldwide in 1907.
To access the Decree and texts click here.