2nd and 3rd Centuries - Mary and Christian Pubic Worship

Primitive Liturgy

Primitive liturgy was centered around the Easter mystery, culminating on Easter day, but lived throughout the year on each Sunday. This liturgy was celebrated in the unity of the History of Salvation from Creation to Parousia, with the birth, death and resurrection of the Lord at its center.

It took into account, with a strong eschatological character, all that had happened, making present both the past and the future.

In this context, we cannot imagine a marked devotion to the Blessed Virgin. What should only be sought is the place Mary held in the History of Salvation within Christian public worship.

The sources that allow us to recreate the climate of worship are:

  • Liturgical (hymns, prayers, homilies, etc.);
  • Icons (representations of figurative scenes);
  • Archeological (places of worship, epigraphs, etc.);
  • Literature (writings of the Church Fathers).

Marian Hymns and Homilies of the 2nd century

  1. The "Odes of Solomon" belong to this tradition of liturgical hymns. Ode XIX, 6-11 celebrates the Virgin Mary in the History of Salvation.
  2. Melito of Sardis' famous homily Peri tou pascha (On Easter). The term "virgin" and particularly the expression "the Virgin" in this specific context designate the Mother of Jesus and have devotional nuance, i.e. a sense of veneration and stupor before the prodigy of the Blessed Virgin's divine and virginal motherhood.

The expression "this is he who was born of Mary, the good ewe" has a very important devotional aspect. In the context of Exodus 12, Melito projected on the Virgin Mary the characteristics of the Son, the Paschal Lamb, "without defects or blemish" (1Pt 1: 19; cf. Ex 12: 5). Mary is seen as the "beautiful and good and pure and unblemished ewe."

The Protoevangelium of James and the Hail Mary

The Protoevangelium of James is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her glorification, as opposed to those who denigrated her.

The author has a keen awareness of the eminent dignity of the Mother of Jesus, a deep sense of reverence, and faithful love manifested by frequent praise.

The Virgin Mary is constantly the object of blessings and love from priests and all the faithful.

The writer and his community reported on what they had felt in their hearts about Jesus' Mother in the past.

After the blessings of the New Testament (Lk 1: 28-30; 42-43; 45-48-49; 11: 27), come the liturgical blessings concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary. The author repeats the greeting of the Angel Gabriel and borrows Saint Elizabeth's blessing. The Hail Mary is born.

Early Types of Marian Prayer

  • Eve-Mary: this typology was proposed by St Justin (Dialogue with Triphon, 100), and perfected by St Irenaeus (Against Heresies III, 22: 4).

By highlighting the social impact and the universal effects of the Blessed Virgin's adhesion to God's salvific project, this type of prayer contributed to the popularity of invocation.

  • Virgin Land: in the virgin land of paradise, not yet watered by rain or worked by a human hand (cf. Gn 2: 5), from which Adam was drawn, Irenaeus (cf. Against Heresies III: 21, 9-10) an image of Mary's virginal womb is given, in which, without the intervention of a man, the body of Christ was made by the action of the Holy Spirit.

This symbol shows the Virgin Mary as deeply enveloped in the cosmic mystery of God and consequently provokes a sense of veneration and sacred respect toward her.

Traces of Marian piety identified by archeological findings, 2nd and 3rd centuries

A) Hierapolis (Turkey): The Epigraph of Abercius.

This epigraph reflects primitive worship: the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church give the Christians the Eucharistic Christ as a food. This doctrine is expressed in the respectful language of Marian devotion.

B) Nazareth: Marian engravings in the Judeo-Christian Church.

A female pilgrim wrote Mary's name next to those of her parents on a plaster column.

Another pilgrim wrote in distinctive Greek letters the Angel's greeting: "Kaire Maria," (Rejoice O Mary).

C) Jerusalem: Devotion associated with Mary's last moments on earth.

The correspondence between diggings and ancient texts relative to "Transitus Mariae" or Mary's passing prove that there once was in Gethsemane a Judeo-Christian devotion connected to the end of Mary's earthly life, and this before the Council of Nicea.

D) Rome: Frescoes in the Catacombs represent the Madonna and Child and the Adoration of the Magi.

E) Alexandria: Prayers on papyrus addressed to the Mother of God.

A Gila