Today, the 12th of September, we celebrate the feast of the Name of Mary. In this liturgical memorial God the Father is glorified due to “the name of Jesus”. In Jesus’ name is couched both his power and mission. St Paul tells us this in his Letter to the Philippians: At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil 2:10). From this we can conclude that the Father is glorified because of “the name of Mary”, which means because of the person of Christ’s mother and her singular mission in salvation history.
This feast has its origin in 1513 when Pope Julius III gave his authorization for it to be celebrated in Cuenta, Spain. Its intriguing history show the Church’s slowly but steady progression in making this feast her own. First, it was given proper Office on September 15, which is the octave day of Our Lady’s Nativity. Then, thanks to the Breviary reform which made Pope St Pius V, the feast was abolished, only to be then reintroduced by Pope Sixtus V. This Pope moved the feast to September 17. Thanks to this move the feast became widely popularized in both Spain as well as to the Kingdom of Naples.
Certain religious orders were gradually given the permission to celebrate this feast. However, it was Pope Innocent XI who extended “The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary” to the Universal Church. The feast was initially celebrated on Sunday following the Nativity of Mary. It was St Pope Pius X who officially directed that “The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary” be celebrated in the Catholic world on September 12th for the single purpose of commemorating the stunning victory over the Turks by the Christian Army at the famous Battle of Vienna in 1683. Putting aside the fact that the feast was, for a short time, removed since it was deemed as a reproduction of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8, this memoria was restored back on September 12.
The name of Mary is special because it is the name of the Mother of God, the holiest of creatures (besides the human nature of Christ). Mary is the Queen of both heaven and earth, and the Mother of Mercy. In this beautiful feast we commemorate with great joy all the privileges given to Mary by God as well as all the graces that we all have received thanks to her intercession and mediation.
Even if etymologically speaking, the name Mary, in Hebrew Miryam, signifies bitterness. However, due to her excellent collaboration with God’s grace, Mary’s name came to be associated with that extreme docility that only a heart which is completely open to God can arrive at. No wonder then that Mary’s name came to be seen in a rather richer, expansive and most docile of interpretations by various authors and saints.
Mary’s name came to be understood as the key to eternal life. St Ephrem (306-373), Father and Doctor of the Church, says: The name of Mary is the key to the gates of Heaven. Her name gives divine grace to the innermost parts of the soul, so St Ambrose (340-397) writes: Your name, O Mary, is a precious ointment, which breathes forth the odour of Divine grace. Let this ointment of salvation enter the inmost recesses of our souls. St Methodius of Sicily (788-847) reflects: Your name, O Mother of God, is filled with Divine graces and blessings. Mary’s name inflames the heart with consolation and joy. Let us resort to her when we are in trouble. Thus, St Bernard of Clairveaux (1090-1153) sings to her:
O great, O gentle, O most lovable Mary, thy Holy Name cannot be spoken without inflaming the heart. To those who love thee, it is unspeakable consolation and joy even to think of thee; thou art a sweet memory to those who honour thee.
In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favour, you shall reach the goal. If the hurricanes of temptation rise against you, or you are running upon the rocks of trouble, look to the star – call on Mary!
O Almighty God, Who beholds Thy servants earnestly desiring to place themselves under the shadow of the name and protection of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, grant, we beseech You, that by her charitable intercession, we may be delivered from all evil on earth, and may arrive at everlasting joys in Heaven, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.