Mary's Golden Age
Conference Marks 70th Anniversary of Pius XII Encyclical
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ROME, OCT. 28, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Pius XII today is often associated with the debate surrounding his assistance to Jews during World War II. But as his first encyclical turned 70 this month, a conference was held to reflect on one of the truly momentous contributions of this Pope to history: his Marian devotion and doctrine.
The Tuesday conference marked the anniversary of "Summi Pontificatus," as well as considering other topics of Pius XII's pontificate and magisterial teachings.
The meeting, organized by the Pope Pacelli Committee and the journal "Cultura & Libri," took place in Rome's Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls.
Father Stefano De Fiores spoke on "Pius XII and Mariology"; other themes included the encyclical "Mediator Dei" on sacred liturgy, Pius XII and World War II, ecclesiology, and this Pope's bioethics.
The full texts of the speakers' talks will be published in a special issue of "Cultura & Libri."
Father De Fiores explained that with Pius XII's pontificate (1939-1958), the Catholic Church lived a golden age of the post-Tridentine Marian movement, oriented to the promotion of Marian devotion and Mariological doctrine.
Special veneration of the Mother of Jesus made its greatest impact in the first half of the 20th century, to the point that Blessed John XXIII would refer to it as the age of Mary.
Pius XII's devotion to Mary was fervent, and his Mariology was very rich. On Dec. 13, 1894, when he was 18, Eugenio Pacelli enrolled in the Marian Congregation of the Jesuits in Rome.
Five years later, on April 3, 1899, when celebrating his first Mass, he chose the Borghese Chapel of St. Mary Major.
He was consecrated bishop on the same day that the Virgin appeared to the three little shepherds in Fatima (May 13, 1917). And when elected the Bishop of Rome in 1939, he entrusted his pontificate to her.
Father De Fiores confirmed that, "gratified by the vision of the dancing sun, Pius XII expired in Castel Gandolfo on Oct. 9, 1958, with the rosary in his hand."
The Pontiff's devotion was also expressed through a series of official events (Roschini lists 400 documents) whose objective was to promote Mary's presence in the life and thought of the Church.
The noteworthy events of Pius XII's Marian magisterium are numerous. There is the famous encyclical "Mystici Corporis Christi" (of June 29, 1943), in which the Pope specifies the Virgin's place in the Mystical Body of Christ, presenting her as "alma socia Christi," that is, Mother associated to the Son in all his redemptive work.
He was the Pope to consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (on Oct. 31, 1942), thus heeding the request of the Portuguese episcopate on the 25th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin in Fatima.
At the height of the War, the Pope invoked Mary as "refuge of the human race" and entrusted the whole world to her maternal protection.
Pius XII reiterated this act of confidence in Jesus' Mother consecrating Russia to her in 1952 and Spain in 1954.
As a continuation of these gestures, Pius XII established the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the universal Church on March 4, 1944.
To Pius XII is owed the promulgation of the first Marian Year in history (in 1954), on the occasion of the centenary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
This Marian Year was solemnly opened Dec. 8, 1953, in St. Mary Major, and closed in St. Peter's on Nov. 1, 1954, with the crowning of the Salus populi romani [salvation of the Roman people] icon of Mary and with the institution of the feast of Mary Queen of Heaven.
He had explained the theology of this feast in the encyclical "Ad Caeli Reginam" (of Oct. 11, 1954), taking into account biblical and ecclesial foundations.
Pius XII loved the rosary, which he described as the "compendium of the whole Gospel" -- Paul VI would take up this expression in "Marialis Cultus" (No. 42) -- and he considered it the meditation of the Lord's mysteries, evening sacrifice, crown of roses, hymn of praise, prayer of the family, sure promise of heavenly favor, pledge of hoped for salvation and hope to heal the evils that afflict our time.
Father De Fiores explained to ZENIT that "Pius XII will remain in the history of the Catholic faith above all for the dogmatic definition of Mary's assumption in body and soul to heaven."
Following the example of Pius IX for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, with the encyclical "Deiparae Virginis" (of May 1, 1946), he consulted all the Catholic bishops to see if they considered timely the definition of the Assumption (there were already 8,036,393 signatures in favor).
The Nov. 1, 1950, proclamation was a memorable event in the history of the Church, which Pius XII himself interpreted with these words: "As though shaken by the beat of your hearts and by the commotion of your lips, the very stones of this patriarchal basilica vibrate and together with them it seems the innumerable and ancient churches cry out with mysterious trembling, raised everywhere in honor of the Assumption."