The Holy Name of Mary

September 12, 2020 | Fr. John of God Bertín, MC

The virgin’s name was Mary (Luke 2:27)

On September 12, the Church celebrates the liturgical feast of the Holy Name of Mary. Although this feast was always celebrated in some places of Europe within the octave of the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8), Pope Innocent XI extended the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary to the Universal Church, to be celebrated on September 12 to commemorate victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The object of the feast is the Holy Name of Mary, which encloses all the privileges given to Mary by God and all the graces we have received through her intercession and mediation.

Throughout Scripture, we hear stories of God changing a person’s name to reflect the mission He gives them. In Genesis, Abram becomes Abraham, which means “father of a multitude,” and Sarai becomes Sarah, “mother of nations.” In the New Testament, we hear Jesus tell His disciple Simon, “You are Peter [which means “rock”], and upon this rock I will build my Church,” indicating his mission as the foundation of the Church. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and again to Mary, he was clear about the intended names for their miraculous sons, John the Baptist and Jesus. In the Bible, names are not simply a collection of syllables to identify a person; they have intention and significance.

Today, on the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, let’s consider the name of the Mother of God. Tradition teaches us that she is the daughter of Joachim and Anne, who grieved their infertility for many years, much like the parents of Isaac, Samuel, Joseph, and John the Baptist. Joachim and Anne, however, were not given a boy but a girl, and she was immaculate. Surely they thought and prayed carefully about what name to give her, and God Himself inspired them with this holy name. Inspired by this certainty, Richard of St. Laurence exclaimed: “From the treasury of the divinity, oh Mary, came forth your excellent and admirable name. For the Most Holy Trinity gave to you this name, next to the name of thy Son, so superior to every name, and attached to it such majesty and power, that when it is uttered, all in heaven, earth, and hell must fall prostrate and venerate it.”

Like other names in the Bible, Mary’s name corresponds with her mission. Like every mother, Mary’s mission is expansive, not limited to one single task. So it is fitting that her name is not limited to one single meaning.

In Hebrew and Aramaic, Mary’s name means bitter. She grieves for all her lost children, those who have left the Church, praying for them to come home safely. Standing at the foot of the Cross, the Mater Dolorosa united her heart perfectly to that of her Son’s, participating in his great act of redemption. When we are at the foot of the Cross, whether at Mass or in our own suffering, we can unite our heart to hers, knowing that the coredemptrix will transform our pain into a perfect prayer united with the perfect sacrifice. Saying her name reminds us of her suffering and its redemptive power.

In Syriac, Mary’s name means queen. In ancient times, the queen was the mother, not the wife, of the king. Since Jesus is king of all creation, Mary reigns as queen. By recognizing her queenship, we recognize our own place as her servants, belonging completely to her. But Mary is not a distant queen, unfamiliar with the lives of ordinary people like us. As we follow her story through the Rosary, we begin by meditating on the fiat of this poor and humble maiden in the first Joyful Mystery, and continue until her coronation in the final Glorious Mystery. As we try to respond to God’s will with our own fiat, we can unite our efforts to our queen’s fiat, trusting that she will obtain for us the grace to be humble and submit to God’s will for our lives.

According to St. Jerome, Mary’s name means star of the sea. Before modern navigational technology, sailors would navigate by following the stars; in the same way, we can navigate the spiritual life by following Mary. Like a star, she shines brightly and beautifully, but humbly; she does not rival the brightness of the sun. When we say her name, we honor her as the one who helps us find our way home through stormy waters.

The name of Mary is a powerful and simple prayer. We say her name twice in the Hail Mary, and it takes even less time to simply say her name by itself, reminding ourselves of her suffering, her queenship, and her aid.

Let us always have this holy name in our mouths, but let us have it more deeply engraved in our hearts. Let us say it often, together with the name of Jesus. Let us say it with devotion in the morning, during the day and before going to bed. Let us pronounce it in temptations, sickness, dangers. Let us say it in joys and consolations. This little exercise can help us remain in the presence of God throughout the day, to avoid temptation and sin, and to grow in virtue.

All of this in four letters, two syllables, one name: Mary! Today, on the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, let’s think of everything our heavenly Mother does for us to bring us closer to her Son.