During the Second Vatican Council, discussions on Mary, Jesus’ mother, were very heated and manifested a great deal of disagreement among the gathered bishops. During the 19th century, devotion to Mary had grown tremendously, making it one of the clearest identity markers for Catholics. Along with all sorts of Marian apparitions, novenas, litanies, May-crowning and multiple variations on rosary devotions, two infallibly defined doctrines concerning Mary, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, were declared by Pius IX in 1854 and Pius XII in 1950, respectively.
Many bishops participating at the council desired an increase in devotion to Mary, wanting to honor her with new titles that would show her unique role in God’s plan of salvation. They insisted on a council document that would be devoted exclusively to Mary, highlighting her as co-redeemer or co-redemptorix with Christ in God’s plan, as well as declaring her Mother of the Church. These, along with her other titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix, would highlight God’s special graces to Mary because of her role as Mother of the Redeemer. This viewpoint focused primarily on Mary’s unique place in relationship to her son and in God’s plan of salvation.
Many other bishops felt that this direction could lead to significant distortion that would remove Mary even further from scripture and liturgy, compromising the council’s emphasis on the eucharistic liturgy as the “source and summit” of all Christian living. They also felt that this approach would be ecumenically offensive, since it would continue to distort scripture and divert devotion from Christ to Mary, the consistent accusation that other Christians leveled toward Catholics.
These bishops wished to highlight Mary not as different from the rest of God’s people, but as an integral member of the people of God, a model member of the church and a true example of discipleship. Instead of creating a separate document devoted exclusively to Mary, they said, the council participants should include her in the document on the church. In this manner, her role as a member of the church and a premier example of the discipleship to which we are all called would shine forth.
On October 29, 1963, in an attempt to resolve the conflict, the bishops voted on whether Mary should have her own document, or should be included in the document on the church.