Blessed Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary – 12 September
On this day dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary let us repeat that wonderful prayer of Saint Bernard, responding to Pope Benedict XVI’s invitation to “invite everyone to become a trusting child before Mary, even as the Son of God did. Saint Bernard says and we say with him: ‘Look to the star of the sea, call upon Mary … in danger, in distress, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary. May her name never be far from your lips, or far from your heart … If you follow her, you will not stray; if you pray to her, you will not despair; if you turn your thoughts to her, you will not err. If she holds you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you need not fear; if she is your guide, you will not tire; if she is gracious to you, you will surely reach your destination”’ (Pope Benedict XVI, address at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, September 9, 2007).
Most Holy Name of Mary:
In accordance with Jewish custom our Lady’s parents named her eight days after her birth and were inspired to call her Mary. The feast of the Holy Name of Mary therefore follows that of her Birthday, as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus follows Christmas. The feast originated in Spain and was approved by the Holy See in 1513; Innocent XI extended its observance to the whole Church in 1683 in thanksgiving to our Lady for the victory on September 12, 1683 by John Sobieski, king of Poland, over the Turks, who were besieging Vienna and threatening the West. This day was commemorated in Vienna by creating a new kind of pastry and shaping it in the form of the Turkish half-moon. It was eaten along with coffee which was part of the booty from the Turks (this is the origin of the of the croissant).
The ancient Onomastica Sacra have preserved the meanings ascribed to Mary’s name by the early Christian writers and perpetuated by the Greek Fathers. “Bitter Sea,” “Myrrh of the Sea,” “The Light Giver,” “The Enlightened One,” “Lady,” “Seal of the Lord” and “Mother of the Lord” are the principal interpretations. These etymologies suppose that the Hebrew form of the name is Maryãm, not Miryãm. From the time of St Jerome until the 16th century, preferred interpretations of Mary’s name in the West were “Lady,” “Bitter Sea,” “The Light Giver,” and especially “Star of the Sea.” tella Maris was by far the favoured interpretation. The revival of Hebraic studies, which accompanied the Renaissance, led to a more critical appraisal of the meanings assigned to Our Lady’s name. Miryãm has all the appearance of a genuine Hebrew name and no solid reason has been discovered to warrant rejecting the Semitic origin of the word. The Hebrew name of Mary, Miryãm, (in Latin Domina) means lady or sovereign; this Mary is in virtue of her Son’s sovereign authority as Lord of the World. We call Mary our Lady as we call Jesus our Lord and when we pronounce her name we affirm her power, implore her aid and place ourselves under her protection.
“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 (110-1167).