"The month of May is almost here, a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Our heart rejoices at the thought of the moving tribute of faith and love which will soon be paid to the Queen of Heaven in every corner of the earth. For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God's merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother's throne." Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mense Maio, n. 1.

Six months prior to issuing this encyclical, St. Paul VI had promulgated the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which urged the faithful to venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“This most Holy Synod deliberately teaches this Catholic doctrine and at the same time admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and the practices and exercises of piety, recommended by the magisterium of the Church toward her in the course of centuries be made of great moment, and those decrees, which have been given in the early days regarding the cult of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, be religiously observed. But it exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God. Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Holy Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church's magisterium, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always look to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and piety. Let them assiduously keep away from whatever, either by word or deed, could lead separated brethren or any other into error regarding the true doctrine of the Church.” (Lumen gentium 67)

In this interview, Colin B. Donovan proposes five books on Marian devotion.

Colin B. Donovan, STL is Vice President for Theology at EWTN, was host of EWTN Theology Roundtable, and currently hosts the Friday edition of Open Line, and a monthly Catholic Sphere. Prior to coming to EWTN in 1995, he taught Theology at Aquinas College in Nashville. He is a member of the Mariological Society of America and the Pontifical International Marian Academy.

  1. Our Lady of Fatima
    by William T. Walsh
  2. The Secret of the Rosary
    by St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort
  3. True Devotion to Mary
    by St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort
  4. The Glories of Mary
    by St. Alphonsus Ligouri
  5. Calls from the Message of Fatima
    by Sister Lucia of Fatima
Five Books for Catholics may receive a commission from qualifyng purchases made using the affliate links in this post.

Devotion to Mary is founded upon Mary’s special status within the Church and the economy of salvation, as revealed through the apostolic tradition and Scripture. Mariology is theological reflection on the Mother of Jesus. Why is it important?
It is important to be well rooted. In reviewing the books that I have suggested, I read something that St Alphonsus Liguori wrote in what is for him a very devotional work. He made a point which I too normally make. Anything that is Catholic, even if it is simply devotional, must be read through the lens of Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Church’s teaching on it. That is the only way to draw out the foundation of Catholic belief: divine revelation. Theologians can speculate and propose solutions. However, their speculation is of worth to all the faithful only if it is consistent with the deposit of the faith. That is why Mariology is important. It needs to speculate correctly on Mary so that the rest of the Church, reflecting on a less scientific level, can frame Marian devotion, not as something distinct from the faith of the Church, but within the faith of the Church.

Five Best Papal Teachings on the Rosary - Spiritual Reading for October
This article explains the five main papal documents on the Rosary.

The Dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Council asks theologians and preachers “to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God” (Lumen gentium 67). What sorts of gross exaggerations or petty narrowmindedness about Mary are around today?
We seem to be an age of polarities. People stake out positions at one end or the other. Sometimes their positions are fuelled by a particular interest or devotion.

The Pope recently instructed the Pontifical International Marian Academy to curb the apocalypticism. People sometimes latch onto the spangly bobble of private revelations because they appear to be predicting the future and such like. Like certain theological speculations, they offer explanations of history that are based on new ideas but are not rooted in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Currently, for example, there is much discussion on the popular level about whether the end of the world is imminent, or the antichrist is just around the corner. The Church, however, has a solid, structured theological teaching on eschatology and Mary, though these two sets of teachings still have not come together very well yet.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, starting at paragraph 668, lays out the order of history. In someone like St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, on the other hand, you find the Marian side to this teaching. He talks about how Mary necessarily has a role at the end of history. We can fit the private revelations of Fatima, St. Faustina, and others into his teaching. However, people make proposals about eschatology and drag Our Lady in to prove their predictions. Not many theologians are doing this. However, quite a number of laypeople are, and they are not grounded in the Church’s teaching on eschatology or in Montfort’s understanding of Mary's place in it.

As to technical issues, there is the question of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. This doctrine has a lot of traction in Tradition. For example, the two volume Marian Missal, approved by Rome, speaks of it in many places, though not with that term. The debate is whether the Church should proclaim this doctrine, without going through the necessary theological consideration and development, or reject it.

Interestingly, St. Alphonsus Liguori describes seven categories of devotion to Our Lady, that go from the sceptic to the extremist. Then, as now, extreme positions were taken and defended. The Church wants to put a damper on that. In recent pontificates, there have been efforts in this direction, whether it be Cardinal Ratzinger's theological commentary on the secrets of Fatima or Pope Francis’s recent statements.

Those who adopt extreme positions often lack the patience that theology requires. The Second Vatican Council asked for that patience in dealing with issues concerning Our Lady. Such issues tend to become amplified in the public sphere. We should let theology do its work. From it, the Church will draw its conclusions and decide.

During the Second Vatican Council, there was a debate between maximalists and minimalists about Mary. In the end, Paul VI resolved the matter with Chapter Eight of Lumen gentium. It affirmed the traditional, settled teaching and virtually nothing much beyond it.

"The objective is to bring Jesus Christ to people. Mary is very happy to be a door for them. That is how she presents herself."

You were appointed in 2023 to the Pontifical International Marian Academy. What tasks or initiatives does this institute carry out?
Theological research is one. That is what most of the members do every day, whether in seminaries or theologates around the world, in the curia of their diocese or the Roman curia. There is another area of work which, as the pope has called it, is evangelical. This is in line with the recent reorganization of the Roman Curia in Praedicate Evanglium.  Leading people to Christ is the central feature of all the Holy See’s work. Indeed, this is an important Marian theme. St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, the great writer on this subject, spoke specifically of how we go to Jesus through Mary. In his True Devotion he explained how we can accomplish this. This still needs to be inculcated within the Church.

Under this mandate, the Academy is available to dioceses and other institutions where there are claims of mystical phenomena or apparitions. It hopes to support them in their discernment of the authenticity of these phenomena. It aims to send field workers to gather the data and forward it to the Academy.

Interreligious dialogue is another task. A few years ago, I took part in the academy’s congress during the COVID pandemic. I was very impressed by a Maronite member’s comment about Muslims. He said that more Muslims than Christians visit the principal Marian shrine in Lebanon. Naturally, there are more Muslims than Christians in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Mary offers a way of initiating a dialogue with them. Moreover, it begins with the devotional element. That is the way into their hearts. Their hearts will be changed by their devotion and prayer life, not by theologians developing and expounding formulas, as important and necessary as that is. So, that was a very touching story.

There are similar reports about our Protestant brethren. England’s historical devotion to Our Lady is well-known. At Walsingham and Willesden there are twin shrines to Our Lady, one for Anglicans, and one for Catholics. Moreover, many Anglicans are interested in Mariology. So, this is another area in which the Academy can engage more deeply and profoundly in evangelization.

The objective is to bring Jesus Christ to people. Mary is very happy to be a door for them. That is how she presents herself.

With the definition of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has Mariology reached the limits of its development?
Yes and no. There are things that follow from the Assumption: Mary’s coronation, for example. There is a much that is implicit in the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.

Like the theology of the lay vocation, Mariology has been slowly gaining steam within the Church. The critical issues of Christology, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology have developed more quickly within the Church and out of a certain necessity. They are related directly with the Church’s core activities. However, other areas of doctrine have developed more slowly. Only recently, has a fuller theology of marriage has emerged, with impetus from St. John Paul II and Dietrich von Hildebrand, among others.

Much of what the Church has always believed about Our Lord has not been developed explicitly. Only the most fundamental truths, such as her perpetual virginity, Immaculate Conception, and Assumption have been defined explicitly.

Take her role as Co-Redemptrix. We still have to explain her participatory role in the Redemption. It was given to her once the Father chose her to be the vessel and mother of the Word made flesh. However, we have not dealt with the full implications of this. We need a much deeper discussion of how Mary figures in Sacred Scriptures. For Mariologists, she is figured not only in Eve, as the Church Fathers taught, but also in the heroic women of the Old Testament.

It is a matter of fleshing out the doctrines that have already been defined, just as we do in Christology or soteriology. It is especially a matter of applying those Marian doctrines in moral theology and the Church’s pastoral action. There is still a lot to be done in this regard.

The Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon taught that Christ is a divine person who has assumed a human nature. That means that Mary was chosen as his mother. All the graces she received during her life and the prerogatives she attained after her earthly life, such as the Assumption, follow from this election. We still need to flesh all this out so that Christology and Mariology are one. The proper role of Mariology is to be at service of Christ and Christology.

"Most people are not intellectuals. The devotional pathway is what is going to hook them and draw them closer to Mary, and through her, to her son."

Often, many of our Protestant brethren are suspicious of Catholic devotion to Mary and the saints. They fear that it is not sanctioned by Scripture and betrays a lack of faith in the sufficiency of Christ's redemptive work. Why have you not recommended any books that, primarily and explicitly, address their concerns?
In selecting the books, I was thinking primarily about how I came to a deeper and more scientifically grounded faith in Our Lady.

Of course, faith is communicated by baptism. Nevertheless, it needs to be fostered. Protestants receive that faith, but they also receive a lot of bad information that needs to be undone. They need to be won over.

Over the years, many converts, often Protestant pastors or intellectuals, have spoken on The Journey Home, an EWTN program. They have always had to get over the polemics about Mary. These polemics are not necessarily ill-willed. They are based on certain assumptions about what Scripture says and does not say. Still, they need to be undone.

Recently, a local priest, who has come into the Anglican Ordinariate of Catholic Church from Anglicanism, spoke on a show that I host, Catholic Sphere. He noted that it was probably devotion to Our Lady that brought him over. It was not a matter of wrapping his head around the theological principles. That was important once he responded to his attraction to Our Lady. However, this goes back to the point I made about interreligious dialogue. People are attracted by Our Lady and her goodness. This priest felt that she had reached out to him in many ways, even though he had been raised in an area of the United States where Protestants would caricature people who planted an image of Mary on their front lawn to show that they had devotion to her. Such a caricature fails to understand, however, how deeply Mary, and her Son, influence the life of the people who manifest their devotion in these ways.

There are books that address Protestant objections for the more intellectual non-Catholics. However, the way of deeply held devotion does not require much technical explanation for the typical non-Catholic Christian. We simply need to encourage people to show Our Lady the respect and honour that we give to our own mothers and to ask ourselves how Jesus would have respected and honoured her. As St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort notes in True Devotion, prior to his public ministry, Jesus spent his life in obedience to his mother and St. Joseph. That tells us more about the will of God than our intellectualism. That is why devotion inspires people more than technical writing does. That is why I have selected books that concentrate on the devotional pathway, that then led me to a more scientific pathway. Most people are not intellectuals. The devotional pathway is what is going to hook them and draw them closer to Mary, and through her, to her son.


The first book, and that you have recommended is William T. Walsh's book on Fatima. Why were you chosen this as an entry point into devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary?

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