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The Popes and devotion to Mary Priest

The Popes and devotion to Mary Priest

Pope Pius VII (1800 - 1823 AD)

Pius VII approved the devotion to Mary ‘Pastrix Animarum’ [=‘sheperdess of souls’]. This title had arisen in the Capuchin Order at Seville (Spain) from the beginning of the 17th century. Request for the formal approval was submitted to the Holy Father by Jérôme Joseph OFM Cap, a consultor of the Holy Office, in 1796 (addressed to Pope Pius VI who died soon afterwards).

Pope Pius IX (1846 - 1878 AD)

Pius IX wrote a letter to recommend the book Marie et le Sacerdoce [‘Mary and the Priesthood’] by Mgr. O. van den Berghe, Paris 1873. This book is entirely devoted to describing the priesthood of Mary and to documenting its theological and spiritual antecedents in Christian tradition.

Pius IX’s letter of approval was printed as a preface to the book. It contained the following paragraph:

“To inculcate an attitude of sacrifice in the clergy, nothing can be a greater help than the patronage of the Mother of God. There is no more striking example, none more relevant and effective than the deeds of her who reflected divine holiness in herself, as in a mirror without stain, better than it is reflected in any other creature. From Christ’s virginal conception to his cruel death, Mary united herself so closely to the sacrifice of her divine Son that she has been called the 'Virgin Priest' by the Fathers of the Church”. (Marie et le Sacerdoce, pp. V-VI.)

Note 1. Authors sometimes say that the Fathers never used the title ‘Virgin Priest’. However, ‘Virgin Priest’ is a correct translation of the expression ‘young woman, sacrificial priest’ used by Theodore the Studite. This had been pointed out by Mgr, O van den Berghe in his book.

Pope Pius IX’s letter was seen as giving official approval to the devotion to Mary, Virgin Priest. To quote just two examples:

  • “I have rejoiced to see this glorious title of Virgo Sacerdos [=Virgin Priest] vindicated, a title which the growing devotion of the last centuries has built up on a text of ecclesiastical antiquity, then hallowed by the authority of our great Pope Pius IX! It will give a new impulse to the devotion to the priestly Virgin, to Mary Mother of the clergy and Mother of priests.” Cardinal L. Pius, Archbishop of Bordeaux in 1875.
  • “[Theologians . . . ] have interpreted with knowledge and piety the thoughts of the Doctors of the Church relating to the mystical priesthood of Mary, and these thoughts are like a concert of praise to our majestic Queen. Without having been invested with the priestly character, Mary was so closely associated with the sacrifice of the eternal Priest that the Fathers of the Church called her Virgo Sacerdos [Virgin Priest] and the Brief of our great Pope Pius IX accepts and hallows that glorious title. I too salute this divine Queen of the Priesthood.” Cardinal V. Vannutelli, Vatican in 1875.

Pope Leo XIII (1878 - 1903)

Pope Leo XIII received ‘with joy’ a painting by the artist Capparoni, of Our Lady in priestly vestments. L. Laplace, La Mère Marie de Jésus, Paris 1906, p. 404. (The illustration is given in the book on page 392; I have not been able to trace it so far.)

Pope Pius X (1903 - 1914)

Pius IX attached a 300 days’ indulgence to a prayer which ends on the invocation: “Mary, Virgin Priest, pray for us”.

The prayer, drawn up by Cardinals V.Vannutelli and Vivés Y Tuto, consisted of a litany of invocations surrounding Mary’s priesthood. It also contained the invocation: “Priest as well as altar [see Epiphanius II ]-- for which reason you are rightly called ‘Virgin Priest’. It ended on: “Mary, Virgin Priest, pray for us”. (See the full text of the prayer here).

“Three hundred days of indulgence acquires whoever piously and devoutly has recited this prayer” Pope Pius X, Acta Sanctae Sedis 9 May 1906.

Pope Benedict XV (1914 - 1922)

In 1916 the Holy Office forbade the use of images of Mary portraying her as a priest.

“After mature examination the Eminent Cardinals, general inquisitors of the Holy Office, have decided that images of the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing priestly vestments are not approved.” Acta Apostolicae Sedis 8 (1916) p. 146.

But in the same year Benedict XV reassured the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus that the cause of beatification of their foundress, who had promoted the title ‘Mary Virgin Priest’ and the use of paintings of Mary in priestly vestments, would not be affected.

“I am happy to reassure the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus that criticisms that have been raised in connection with a certain title of the Virgin will not put the cause of beatification of their mother foundress in jeopardy.” Letter, 17 February 1916.

Pope Pius XI (1922 - 1939)

In 1927 the Holy Office forbade the devotion to Mary Virgin Priest altogether. This was contained in a letter from Cardinal Merry del Val to the Bishop of Adria, and in a later elucidation by the Cardinal, which were both published in the Palestra del Clero:

“An article on ‘The true devotion to the Virgin Priest’ that appeared in the Palestra del Clero de Rovigo (vol. 6, pp. 71ss) has come to the attention of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. On this subject, the same Sacred Congregation has ordered that your Excellence must draw the attention of the editor of the periodical to this article and warn him that the devotion concerned is not approved and may not be promoted, in conformity with the de decree of the Holy Office of the 8th of April 1916.”
[further elucidation] “The Holy Office no longer wants any question of a devotion to the Virgin Priest. The explanations you offer in your periodical satisfy us and you do not need to return to the subject . . . . You respond well to the intention of the Holy Office by leaving this question entirely alone [lit. by allowing the question to entriely sleep], a question which less enlightened minds would not be able to exactly understand.” Palestra del Clero 6 (1927) p. 611.

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