Background

In 1513, a feast of "The Holy Name of Mary" was granted by Pope Julius II to the diocese of Cuenta in Spain. It was assigned with proper Office to September 15, the octave day of Our Lady's Nativity. With the reform of the Breviary undertaken by Pope St. Pius V, the feast was abrogated only to be reinstituted by Pope Sixtus V, who changed the date to September 17. From there, the feast spread to all of Spain and to the Kingdom of Naples.

Throughout time, permission to celebrate the feast was given to various religious orders. Pope Innocent XI extended "The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary" to the Universal Church. The feast was first celebrated on the Sunday after the Nativity of Mary, Pope St. Pius X [+1914] decreed that it be celebrated on September 12 to commemorate victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. After a short period when it was removed because it was considered a duplication it of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8, the memorial was restored to September 12.

We venerate the name of Mary because it belongs to her who is the Mother of God, the holiest of creatures, the Queen of heaven and earth, the Mother of Mercy. The object of the feast is the Holy Virgin bearing the name of Mirjam (Mary); the feast commemorates all the privileges given to Mary by God and all the graces we have received through her intercession and mediation.

Pondering the Meaning of "Mary"

The rendering of the name Mary in Hebrew is Miryam and in Aramaic, the spoken  language at Our Lady’s time, was Mariam. Derived from the root, merur, the name signifies "bitterness."  Throughout the centuries, Saints and scholars have proposed different interpretations for the name "Mary." A mixture of etymology and devotion produced an interesting array of meanings:

"Mary means enlightener, because she brought forth the Light of the world. In the Syriac tongue, Mary signifies Lady." [St. Isidore of Seville +636]

"Let me say something concerning this name also, which is interpreted to mean Star of the sea,[1] and admirably suits the Virgin Mother." [St. Bernard +1153]

"Therefore a certain Star has risen for us today: Our Lady, Saint Mary. Her name means Star of the sea; no doubt the Star of this sea which is the world. Therefore, we ought to lift up our eyes to this Star that has appeared on earth today in order that she may lead us, in order that she may enlighten us, in order that she may show us these steps so that we shall know them, in order that she may help us so that we may be able to ascend. And therefore it is a beautiful thing that Mary is placed in this stairway of which we are speaking, there where we must begin to climb. As the Evangelist says, Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, so immediately at the very moment of our conversion she appears to us and receives us into her care and enlightens us in her light and accompanies us along this laborious path." [St. Aelred +1167]

"Mary means Star of the sea, for as mariners are guided to port by the ocean star, so Christians attain to glory through Mary's maternal intercession." [St. Thomas Aquinas +1274]

"This most holy, sweet and worthy name was 'eminently fitted to so holy, sweet and worthy a virgin. For Mary means a bitter sea,[2] star of the sea, the illuminated or illuminatrix.[3] Mary is interpreted Lady. Mary is a bitter sea to the demons; to men she is the Star of the sea; to the Angels she is illuminatrix, and to all creatures she is Lady."[4] [St. Bonaventure +1274]

"God the Father gathered all the waters together and called them the seas or maria [Latin, seas]. He gathered all His grace together and called it Mary or Maria . . . This immense treasury is none other than Mary whom the saints call the 'treasury of the Lord.' From her fullness all men are made rich." [St. Louis de Montfort +1716]

It is not difficult to see why these various interpretations of the name "Mary" should have been proposed and cherished, for they encapsulate many of our Marian doctrines and beliefs.  Among the many, one interpretation for the name "Mary" highlights the relationship of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Church. It is derived from the Hebrew verb mara, meaning "to be fleshy or robust” and implicitly pointing to Our Lady’s beauty and spiritual fecundity. She is the Tota Pulchra, the Beautiful One.

 

by Sister Danielle Peters
 


[1] The title, "Star of the Sea," dates back to St. Jerome [+420]. It has been said that the great Doctor had originally used the phrase Stilla Maris to describe Mary as a "drop of the sea," the sea being God. A copyist's error, then, could have resulted in stilla [drop] being written down as stella [star]. Of course, the hallowed title, "Star of the Sea," suits Our Lady perfectly.

[2] "Bitter sea [mara = bitter; yam = sea]," in addition to the interpretation given by St. Bonaventure, also calls to mind Our Lady's Seven Sorrows and the sword which "pierced" Her soul on Calvary, recalling the lamentation of the mother-in-law of Ruth, who had lost a husband and two sons: "Call me not noemi, [that is, beautiful,] but call me Mara, [that is, bitter,] for the Almighty hath quite filled me with bitterness [Rt. 1: 20]." Maror are "bitter herbs," such as are found on the seder plate at Passover.

[3] The "Illuminated" points us to St. John's apocalyptic image of the "Woman clothed with the Sun," a dual image encompassing both, the Catholic Church and Mary, the Mother and Image of the Church.

[4] The interpretation "Lady" for Mary was also proposed by St. Jerome, based on the Aramaic word, mar, meaning "Lord." This would render the meaning "Lady" in the regal or noble sense [as in "Lord and Lady."] Catholic sensibility, however, recognizing in Mary the simple dignity of a Mother, as well as the grandeur of a Queen, did not hesitate to add an affectionate touch to this majestic title. Mary is not just "Lady"; She is "Madonna," Notre Dame i.e., she is Our Lady.

 

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This page, maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390, and created by Kelly Bodner , was last modified Friday, 09/05/2008 14:46:53 EDT by Kelly Bodner . Please send any comments to jroten1@udayton.edu.