When Muslim Turks threatened to take the city of Vienna, it would have given them an entry point to the rest of Western Europe if they succeeded. To avert this threat, the Holy Roman Empire combined forces with the Hasburg Monarchy (of Vienna), and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They were having difficulty at first, but when King John Sobieski of Poland entrusted himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the coalition started defeating the advancing menace. The victory dealt such a devastating blow to the Turks that it weakened them to the point of no longer becoming a threat to Christianity. It is this event that prompted Pope Innocent XI to commemorate the most holy name of Mary each September 12. But why not a memorial to Mary but to her name?
Names in the Bible are quite descriptive of the person to whom they belong. When God told Moses his “name” is YHWH (I am who am) he was describing his eternal nature. Abraham, for example, means “father of many,” for he was to be the patriarch of the Israelite nation. Simon was given the name “Peter,” which means rock for he was to be the cornerstone of the foundation the Church would be built on. Jesus means “YHWH saves” and describes that he is God who redeems humankind. So names mean a lot in Scripture.
The root of Mary can be traced to many ancient languages. In Hebrew, it means “bitter.” It reminds us of Naomi who, after losing her husband and two sons, cried out, “don’t call me Naomi (which means sweet). Call me Mara (which means bitter.)” (Ruth 1:20) In that time and culture, since widows have no husbands to work, they were sure to face financial ruin and starvation. But as we read on, Boaz marries Naomi in what is called a “redeemer-relative.”
It is a foreshadowing of Mary who is a personification of “daughter Israel” who is bitter because her children have been exiled, and whose land has been oppressed by one aggressor or another. But Jesus comes as the bridegroom who would redeem his Church by making her his bride. Since the Church is the larger “expression” of Israel, we can see why we call the Church the Bride of Christ. So when we mention Mary’s name, we are meant to remember Christ our Redeemer.
In the book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Benedict XVI, he comments that the syntax of Gabriel’s greeting to Mary helps us understand God’s name for Mary. The angel’s greeting is, “Hail, Full of Grace,” and the words that come after “Hail” are usually a name or title, for example, “Hail, Caesar,” or in darker years much later, “Heil, Hitler.” So, if we were to follow the syntax, it would indicate that “Full of Grace” is God’s name for Mary. This isn’t a new insight because Benedict XVI only echoes what the Church Fathers have discussed early in the Church’s history. Early scholars suggest that God sees Mary as “Full of Grace” for she was filled with grace from the moment of her conception – basically, the dogma of her Immaculate Conception.
In connection with this, philological studies also suggest that Mary, in Ancient Egyptian, means “beautiful one, or well-beloved.” Spiritual beauty is so loveable to God’s eyes. The spiritual perfection of Mary was so attractive to God that she became the object of the Blessed Trinity’s most tender love that hasn’t been expressed to any other creature. The Father loved Mary so much that he allowed her to be the Mother of his only Son. In this way, he closely united her with his saving plan for humankind.
The Son showed his love to Mary by being subjected to her for thirty years. (Luke 2:51) When it was time for him to step out of his “hidden life,” it was through a spectacular miracle of turning water into wine in Cana at her suggestion. One of the last acts of the Son was to show love to Mary when he provided for her by giving her to the care of St. John.
The idea of Mary, in God’s mind, must have been so loveable that the Holy Spirit foretold of her coming by enlightening the prophets generations before she was conceived. She is like a song in God’s mind whose chorus repeats time and time again on the lips of his spokespersons, the prophets.
While we enjoy the indwelling of the Holy Spirit only from the moment of our baptism, the Holy Spirit showed how much he loved Mary by dwelling in her from the moment of her conception. He could not allow the devil to have dominion over her so he protected her from sin throughout her whole life.
The Father loves the Son because the Son is the perfect expression of the Father. Mary, on the other hand, is the perfect reflection of God’s beauty. From all eternity God saw this, so we can understand why he loves her so much. In the Song of Song, the bridegroom echoes God’s love for his bride as he tells her, “How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride… You have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes.” (Song of Songs 4:9-10)
Mary’s name then should evoke two things in us: God’s love for her and God’s love for all mankind proven by the Passion he suffered for our redemption. Let us speak her name in thanksgiving and praise to God.
BOOK BY THE AUTHOR
A Sky Full of Stars
Learn more about Mary in the book A Sky Full of Stars, where each title of the Litany is explained to understand Mary. Readers in the Philippines may get the paperback version here. Those in the USA can get the Kindle or paperback version here. Those in other countries can check the closest country where it is available here.
Joby finished Theology courses from the University of Notre Dame. He is a contributing writer at www.catholic365.com, and teaches in the De La Salle College of St. Benilde where he engages students in conversations about religion, pop-culture, and food.
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