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Magisterial Documents: Lumen Gentium 8

Magisterial Documents: Lumen Gentium 8

Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
November 21, 1964

The full document is available on the internet.

Brief History

The major Marian teaching of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, chapter 8 does not stand alone. It has to be studied in terms of the counciliar action and documents that preceded and followed it. The evolution of the council's understanding of itself in terms of discussion on theological issues to a seeing itself as a pastoral council is another factor that determines how Mary was presented in Lumen Gentium.

In 1963, prior to Lumen Gentium, chapter 8, in 1964, two documents were published, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and The Decree on the Means of Social Communication. Parallel to Lumen Gentium two decrees were published, The Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches and The Decree on Ecumenism.

The first document approved at the end of the 1963 session was The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The centrality of sacred liturgy, especially eucharistic liturgy, as focal point and gathering place of the People of God, was reaffirmed. Henceforth, all conciliar discussion would be keenly aware of the liturgical changes involved (for example, use of the vernacular) and the goal to vivify and unite the Church in the liturgy.

Article 103 on Mary is the first official Vatican II statement on Mary and is quoted here in its entirety:

103 In celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, Holy Church honors the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, with a special love. She is inseparably linked with her son's saving work. In her the Church admires and exalts the most excellent fruit of redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be.

From the start, the council affirms its special love for Mary due to her role in salvation history and her inseparable link to Christ's work. Mary is admired and exalted because she is the first of the redeemed. This statement places Mary among us, as one of us. The Church looks at Mary as an example of what it means to be a redeemed person.

The second document at Vatican II, Decree on the Means of Social Communication, promulgated on the same day as The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, does not mention the Blessed Virgin Mary. The document, however, speaks of the Church as a mother. The document asks the Church to be open to the world, show initiative in reaching the world, and see the value of media for proclaiming the Good News. The text indicates that the Church is separate from the world. Social communication is to help to break down the distance between the Church and the world. These two documents set the backdrop for the thinking of Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. The Church must do all in her power to reach the world through liturgy, language, communication and evangelization.

Simultaneous with Lumen Gentium, two additional documents were published at the end of the second session: Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, and Decree on Ecumenism. Discussions on Mary paralleled the discussion on ecumenism. Both documents include Mary. Orientalium Ecclesiarum does so in the concluding article 30, in a pro forma manner: In the struggle for unity, "all Christians, Eastern and Western, are strongly urged to pray to God daily with fervor and constancy in order that, by the help of God's most holy Mother, all may be one."

In Unitatis Redintegratio, the first Marian text is in article 14. The council teaches appreciation for the heritage of the Christian East. "Nor must we underestimate the fact that the basic dogmas of the Christian faith concerning the Trinity and the Word of God made flesh from the Virgin Mary were defined in Ecumenical Councils held in the East. To preserve this faith, these Churches have suffered, and still suffer much."

The second Marian text, article 15, centers on the liturgy: "In this liturgical worship, the Eastern Christians pay high tribute, in beautiful hymns of praise, to Mary ever Virgin, whom the ecumenical Synod of Ephesus solemnly proclaimed to be the holy Mother of God in order that Christ might be truly and properly acknowledged as Son of God and Son of Man, according to the scriptures." The article confirms the unity of the churches of the East and West in regard to the two early Marian teachings: Mother of God (Theotokos) and ever Virgin.

The third Marian mention is in article 20; it articulates the ecumenical difficulties: "We are indeed aware that there exist considerable differences from the doctrine of the Catholic Church even concerning Christ the Word of God made flesh and the work of redemption, and thus concerning the mystery and ministry of the Church and the role of Mary in the work of salvation." Having named Mary's role as one of the "considerable differences" dividing the churches, and yet recognizing her also as one who could help toward unity, the bishops will have had this in mind as they discussed the Marian contribution in chapter 8 at Vatican II.

The eight chapters of Lumen Gentium describes the Church as it exists and as it longs to be. It was in this context that Mary's place was argued. By including her at this point in the documents, Mary is at the same time totally integrated into the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Church. As Mary existed for Christ from the Incarnation, throughout his life, at his death, and for eternity, so Mary is the model of the Church as it hopes to be. Mary continues to assist the Church to fulfill its destiny.

Chapter 7 of Lumen Gentium, The Pilgrim Church, discusses the Communion of Saints and our union in the Communion of Saints. The Church has always venerated the apostles and martyrs "together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy angels, with a special love, and has asked piously for the help of their intercession." (LG 50) It is in the celebration of the liturgy, "in the fellowship of communion," that the saints are remembered and honored. (LG 50) The chapter teaches, "Let the faithful be taught that our communion with these in heaven, provided that it is understood in the full light of faith, in no way diminishes the worship of adoration given to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit; on the contrary, it greatly enriches it." (LG 51)

Chapter 8 consists of seventeen articles divided into five subtitles. Mary is introduced as the woman (Gal 4:4) of our Creed from whom Christ became incarnate by the Holy Spirit. Honor is due her because she "received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life [Christ] to the world." (LG 52) She is honored in our liturgy, and is the "pre-eminent" and "wholly unique member of the Church." (LG 53) The Church teaches about both her role and our duties toward her. (LG 54) She is a sign of comfort and of hope. (LG 68) Chapter 8 incorporates the scriptural passages on Mary as the basis for Marian devotion.


The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church
I. Introduction 52 - 54
II. The Function of the Blessed Virgin in the Plan of Salvation 55-59
III. The Blessed Virgin and the Church 60-65
IV. The Cult of the Blessed Virgin in the Church 66-67
V. Mary, Sign of the True Hope and Comfort for the Pilgrim People of God 68-69


AAS 57 (1965):1-67
St Paul Editions, 1966

© This material has been compiled by M. Jean Frisk.
Copyright is reserved for The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute.
Most recently updated in 2005.

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