Invoking Mary’s Intercession

By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.

We honor Mary throughout this month of August. For starters, we celebrate two important feast days that are linked together by an octave. The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is held on Aug. 15, which marks the first day of the octave, and the Feast of the Queenship of Mary is held on August 22, which concludes the octave. 

In addition to these beautiful celebrations, we have a tradition dating back to World War II in which the entire month of August is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is not decreed in an official way by the Church, but it remains a beautiful tradition, and it’s worthy to recall the reason for its observance.

In May of 1944, as the war raged on in Europe, Pope Pius XII named August 22 the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, invoking Mary’s intercession in a prayer for “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity, and the practice of virtue.”

The establishment of this feast day inspired many Catholics to dedicate the entire month of August to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Decades later, Pope Paul VI saw good reason to move the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to the Saturday following the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It created an entire week in June linked together by the theme of the Miraculous Hearts of Mother and Son. August 22 subsequently became the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, and this also makes sense because we now follow our celebration of Mary’s Assumption by honoring her Queenship over heaven and Earth.

But tradition holds that we can still declare August dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary due to the extenuating circumstances under which this dedication came about. It is hard even to imagine the terror that gripped the entire world at that time. Pope Pius XII had been inspired by the message of Fatima to turn to Mary’s intercession on behalf of humanity, and as Mary promised, that intercession came, and relative peace was restored to the world. 

It was an imperfect peace, but it was a dramatic shift from the brink of destruction to which the world had been brought.

The war in Europe came to an end on May 7, 1945, almost exactly one year after Pius XII established the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and World War II ended on August 14, one day before the octave that began with Mary’s Assumption and ended with the newly declared Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

That octave now concludes with the celebration of Mary’s Queenship, and we should indeed celebrate the status she holds and the intercession she has extended to all of us. It is a time to recognize the miraculous hand of God at work in Mary’s life, beginning with her Assumption, when the hand of death was stayed and she was assumed body and soul into heaven; it’s a time to honor her Queenship over heaven and earth; and it’s a time to grow in admiration for her purity of heart.

So, let’s join our current prayers for peace with all those who prayed for soldiers on the front lines of the war during that tumultuous year between 1944 and 1945, imploring the pure heart of Mary to intercede on our behalf so that Christ will bring peace to the world.

Father Ed Dougherty is on the board of directors of The Christophers and the former Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.