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What's In A Name?


by Father Charles M. Mangan

Each September 12th the Church liturgically commemorates the Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary.

Scholars are divided as to the meaning of “Mary” and from whence it came. The most frequent hypothesis is that Mary is the English form of “Miryam” or “Miriam,” while its derivation is unclear. We do know that Mary was the name of the sister of Moses and several women mentioned in the New Testament.

Donald Attwater, in his valuable “Dictionary of Mary” (New York: P. J. Kenedy and Sons, 1956) related that Saint Jerome (about 345-420) around the year 400 interpreted “Mary” as meaning “Star of the Sea” (Stella maris).

Perhaps the origin of the name of the Mother of God does not really matter. To research this subject would undoubtedly prove illuminating, but in the final analysis the results—as some experts suppose—may well be inconclusive. Better to recognize why the name “Mary” as it applies to the Maiden of Nazareth is holy than to know its etymology.

A spiritual author wrote decades ago that when we prayerfully utter “Mary,” the Mother of Christ in turn says “Jesus.” And this is the secret about Our Lady: her unbreakable connection to her Son the Risen Lord. “Mary” is holy because “Jesus” is holy.

We willingly venerate the Mother because of the Son. What He worked in her testifies to His unspeakable greatness and her amazing, lasting receptivity to the Holy Spirit.

Given Mary’s link to Jesus, we are not surprised that her very name is sacred. Christ meant everything to her—and it showed. She completely and promptly changed her life based on the Father’s desire that His Son “build her tent” in her virginal womb. Mary and her name are holy because of her total surrender to the God-man born of her.

For nearly 2,000 years, the disciples of Jesus have invoked Our Blessed Lady in their petitions. Even her name alone is considered a powerful prayer that has comforted the faithful and troubled demons. No wonder that believers have attached her name to churches, schools, medical facilities and cemeteries why those who hate and fear her (one thinks here of various leaders in twentieth-century Communist countries) have tried mightily to eradicate the mere mention of her from the lips of her trusting sons and daughters.

This hideous endeavor of seeking to wipe out Mary’s name and her salutary influence will never be wholly successful. Why? Because the Madonna is well-known in the souls of her humble children with or without the possibility of public demonstrations of loyalty to Our Spiritual Mother. The friends of Our Lady need no monuments to remember and rejoice in her abiding and genuine care for them and their urgent needs.

A happy client of Mary, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) exhorted in one of his Sermons: “In time of danger, of difficulty, of uncertainty, think upon Mary, call upon Mary. Do not let her name depart out of your mouth or out of your heart.”

How favored we would be if we adapt as our motto the last prayer of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary as traditionally prayed by Saint Bernard’s Order, the Cistercians: “May the lovely Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of His Most Blessed Mother be blessed for ever and ever. Amen.”


Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life  , VA
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan - Official, 390 666161125



Mary, Catholic, Father Mangan

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