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Magisterial Documents: Signum Magnum

Magisterial Documents: Signum Magnum

Apostolic Exhortation on Venerating and Imitating the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Model of All Virtues Pope Paul VI
13 May 1967

The full document is available on the internet.

Brief History

Signum Magnum was presented during Paul VI's visit to Fatima to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. The exhortation called for and repeated the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The document addresses the growing pastoral concerns regarding Marian devotion. It begins by asserting that honor is accorded to Mary throughout history, establishes the basis for Marian devotion as well as its value for Christian unity, and clarifies that Marian devotion is consistent with liturgical reform. Signum Magnum repeatedly quotes Lumen Gentium and extends the teaching on Mary, Mother of the Church. Specifically treated are: Mary as mother and model and our active imitation of her, "To Jesus Through Mary." (SM 24)

Mary's intimate union with her son as his educator is brought out: "No human mother can limit her task solely to the procreation of new human beings; she must also undertake the task of nourishing them and educating them. So it is with the Blessed Virgin Mary." (SM 9) Mary's motherhood gives her the title to educate. She educated Christ in his childhood and her motherly task continues in educating Christ's members.

Lumen Gentium's thrust regarding Mary and the Church had been to see Mary as the model of virtues, the type, the pattern for the Church. Signum Magnum continues this thought and expands somewhat on the "gentle attractiveness of Mary's outstanding virtues [which exert] a wondrous hold on souls, drawing them to imitate their divine model, Jesus Christ, whom she mirrored so closely." (SM 15)

Signum Magnum gives the theological basis for Mary's spiritual maternity. She is mother of all, (SM 1) "spiritual Mother of the Church - mother, that is, of all its faithful and of all its sacred pastors" (SM 2) because Christ "designated her the mother not only of John the Apostle," but also "of the human race, which he somehow represented." (Leo XIII, LG 58, SM 10) Mary carries on this role in heaven. She helps to nourish and foster divine life in the souls of redeemed people – this is "an integral part of the mystery of human salvation. Hence, all Christians must hold to it in faith." (SM 10) Signum Magnum continues, "Mary's spiritual motherhood transcends the boundaries of time and space. It is part of the Church's history for all times, because she never ceases to exercise her maternal office or to help us." (SM 33)

Mary enjoys the vision of the Blessed Trinity, but at the same time "does not forget her children who now are engaged in the 'pilgrimage of faith'," (SM 11) Her serving of the whole human race began from the moment of the Annunciation, and her entire life, then and now, was/is one of loving service. (SM 21) The term, pilgrimage of faith, based on Lumen Gentium 58, will become a frequent theme in subsequent documents and is a major development in post-Vatican II Marian thought.

Though also scriptural, Signum Magnum is in the first place based on doctrine and devotion. In contrast to Lumen Gentium, which does not quote this text, the passage from the Book of Revelation (12:1), the "great sign," the "woman clothed with the sun," is referenced to Mary, as the title of the document also indicates. It is the duty of the Christian to honor her and praiseworthy to imitate her for she is the Great Sign of the Church in the contemporary world, the Great Sign fully consecrated to Christ and participant in his work of redemption by her close association with him and cooperation with grace. She is also a sign of unity for the churches and her intercession will assist in bringing about unity and salvation. In Signum Magnum, Mary is described, however, not only as a sign, but as participating in the education of the Christ-formed person.

Signum Magnum explains that there are many ways to venerate Mary and offers numerous suggestions (SM 4, 29). The solemn consecration of the human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is also discussed, and a link is drawn between Lourdes and Fatima. (SM 37)


Honors Accorded to Mary
Basis for Marian Devotion
Consistent with Liturgical Reform
Two Truths Considered
I. Mary, Mother and Model
Her Motherly Role
Mary's Intercession
Mary's Example
The Testimony of Scripture
Our Obligations Toward Her
II. Our Active Imitation
To Jesus Through Mary
Her Message for Today
Mary's Enduring Relevance
Link to complete document
This document is found at: Signum Magnum
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AAS 59 (1967):465-475;
The Pope Speaks 12:3 (1967):278-286

© 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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