The Feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an optional memorial celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church on 12 September. It has been a universal Roman Rite feast since 1684, when Pope Innocent XI included it in the General Roman Calendar to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. It was removed from the Church calendar in the liturgical reform following Vatican II but restored by Pope John Paul II in 2002, along with the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.
In Hebrew, the name Mary is “Miryam”. In Aramaic, the language spoken in her own time, the form of the name was “Mariam”. Based on the root “merur”, the name signifies “bitterness”. This is reflected in the words of Naomi, who, after losing a husband and two sons lamented, ” “Do not call me Naomi (‘Sweet’). Call me Mara (‘Bitter’), for the Almighty has made my life very bitter.”(Ruth 1:20)
Meanings ascribed to Mary’s name by the early Christian writers and perpetuated by the Greek Fathers include: “Bitter Sea,” “Myrrh of the Sea”, “The Enlightened One,” “The Light Giver,” and especially “Star of the Sea.” Stella Maris was by far the favored interpretation. Jerome suggested the name meant “Lady”, based on the Aramaic “mar” meaning “Lord”. In the book, The Wondrous Childhood of the Most Holy Mother of God, St. John Eudes offers meditations on seventeen interpretations of the name “Mary,” taken from the writings of “the Holy Fathers and by some celebrated Doctors”. The name of Mary is venerated because it belongs to the Mother of God.
The feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3). Its object is to commemorate all the privileges bestowed upon Mary by God and all the graces received through her intercession and mediation.
The entry in the Roman Martyrology about the feast speaks of it in the following terms:
The Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day on which the inexpressible love of the Mother of God for her Holy Child is recalled, and the eyes of the faithful are directed to the figure of the Mother of the Redeemer, for them to invoke with devotion.
The feast day began in 1513 as a local celebration in Cuenca, Spain, celebrated on 15 September. In 1587 Pope Sixtus V moved the celebration to 17 September. Pope Gregory XV extended the celebration to the Archdiocese of Toledo in 1622. In 1666 the Discalced Carmelites received permission to recite the Divine Office of the Name of Mary four times a year. In 1671 the feast was extended to the whole Kingdom of Spain. From there, the feast spread to all of Spain and to the Kingdom of Naples.
In 1683, the Polish king, John Sobieski, arrived at Vienna with his army. Before the Battle of Vienna, Sobieski placed his troops under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the following year, to celebrate the victory, Pope Innocent XI added the feast to the General Roman Calendar, assigning to it the Sunday within the octave of the Nativity of Mary.
The reform of Pope Pius X in 1911 restored to prominence the celebration of Sundays in their own right, after they had been often replaced by celebrations of the saints. The celebration of the Holy Name of Mary was therefore moved to 12 September. Later in the same century, the feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 in the reform of the Calendar by Pope Paul VI, as something of a duplication of the 8 September feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it did not cease to be a recognized feast of the Roman Rite, being mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on 12 September. In 2002 Pope John Paul II restored the celebration to the General Roman Calendar.
Máire is the Irish language form of the Latin Maria, which was in turn a Latin form of the Greek names Μαριαμ, or Mariam, and Μαρια, or Maria, found in the New Testament. Both New Testament names were forms of the Hebrew name מִרְיָם or Miryam English language name Mary. It was and still is a popular name in Ireland, and is sometimes spelt in its Anglicised forms Maura and Moira. Historically, Maol Muire (devotee of Mary) was the reverential form used by the Irish, just as Giolla Phádraig (servant of Pádraig) was the reverential usage for what subsequently became Pádraig. Following the Norman Invasion of Ireland, Máire gradually replaced Maol Muire as a given name, as Pádraig gradually replaced Giolla Phádraig. Its overwhelming popularity was due to the Irish devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but in recent times Irish religious devotion has waned and far fewer girls are being named Máire or Mary. Due to a very strong devotion of Irish Catholics to the Virgin Mary, a special exception is made for her name. In Irish, she is known as Muire and no one else may take that name similar to the way the name “Jesus” is not used in most languages.
-by Philip Kosloski
“The name Mary means “bitter sea,” and St. Bonaventure saw that meaning as a reference to her role in spiritual warfare. The Blessed Virgin was named Mary, a name in Hebrew that has a very interesting meaning.
The Hebrew form of Mary is miryam. and some biblical scholars have seen in it the Hebrew words mar (bitter) and yam (sea). This first meaning can refer to Mary’s bitter suffering at the cross and her many tears of sorrow.
However, St. Bonaventure believed it was referring to Mary’s role in spiritual warfare, as he explains in his Mirror of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This most holy, sweet, and worthy name was eminently fitting to so holy, sweet, and worthy a virgin. For Mary means a bitter sea, star of the sea, the illuminated or illuminatrix. 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.
He then goes on to expand on this point, diving deeper into the meaning of Mary’s name.
Mary is interpreted: “a bitter sea”; this is excellently suited to her power against the demons. Note in what way Mary is a sea, and in what way she is bitter, and how she is at once a sea and bitter. Mary is a sea by the abundant overflow of her graces; and Mary is a bitter sea by submerging the devil. Mary is indeed a sea by the superabounding Passion of her Son; Mary is a bitter sea by her power over the devil, in which he is, as it were, submerged and drowned.
This reflection by St. Bonaventure, recalling Mary’s power over demons, has been ratified by many exorcists.
Famed exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth confirmed this reality in his dialogues with the devil, when the devil said to him, “I am more afraid when you say the Madonna’s name, because I am more humiliated by being beaten by a simple creature, than by Him.”
While Mary’s name can be interpreted a number of ways, it is interesting to see how one saint saw it in light of spiritual warfare.”
Love, Most Holy Mother of God, protect us from all the traps and deceits of the evil one, pray for us,