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Most Holy Name of Mary: What's In a Name?

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Sep 11, 2014

September 12 marks the Optional Memorial of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a few days following the Memorial of her Nativity. This feast is the counterpart of the Optional Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Honoring the Holy Name of Mary as a feast was originally established around 1513, with variations on the date through the centuries. It was removed during the reform of the General Roman Calendar in 1969 but restored by St. John Paul II as an optional memorial in 2002.

There are two simple points of this feast to draw home today: the honoring of the name of Mary, and also understanding the importance of a name through our baptism.

Revering the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

It is of such importance that we honor Jesus and His Holy Name. Our main inspiration comes from St. Paul to the Philippians 2:9-11:

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Reverence is extended for the Blessed Virgin Mary and her name. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that "[w]e venerate the name of Mary because it belongs to her who is the Mother of God, the holiest of creatures, the Queen of heaven and earth, the Mother of Mercy....[T]he feast commemorates all the privileges given to Mary by God and all the graces we have received through her intercession and mediation."

The Roman Missal includes directives to bow our heads in reverence at the names of Jesus, Mary, and the Saint of the Day when they are mentioned in the prayers of the liturgy. 

In the 18th century the Divine Praises or Laudes Divinae were added to the prayers at Benediction, but can be prayed many times in reparation for the many abuses to the name of Jesus and Mary. Included in the litany, we proclaim, “Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother."

As we are continuing Our Lady's Thirty Days, we can think of simple ways to honor Our Lady today. One idea is designing and coloring a monogram of Mary, such as beautiful "M". Even the image of the back of the Miraculous Medal could be inspiration for contemplation of Our Lady's Name.

Our Name and Baptism

With my apologies to Shakespeare, this feast day and the Holy Name of Jesus  helps us focus on the importance and significance of our own personal names. We are reminded of our reception of the sacrament of Baptism when we were given our name in Christ, which is more significant than our civil name.

How does the Church guide us in choosing names? Canon 761 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law stated "Pastors should take care that a Christian name is given to those whom they baptize; but if they are not able to bring this about, they will add to the name given by the parents the name of some Saint and record both names in the book of baptisms." The 1983 Code of Canon Law which is currently in effect still stresses the importance of a Christian name, Can. 855: "Parents, sponsors and parish priests are to take care that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment."

So much thought and time goes into naming our children. We talk about passing on family names and perhaps naming after important people in our lives. Sometimes the meaning of the name is taken into consideration. We are attracted to some names and repulsed by others. We even try out the initials to make sure they flow well.

Even since Biblical times, the naming of a child was of utmost importance. With the founding of Christianity and the spilling of the blood of the martyrs, the tradition of naming children after saints was two-fold: asking for intercession from the saint for the child, and also a saint for the child to emulate. Earlier this week on the feast of the Birth of Mary, I emphasized the connection with the family of Christ. Our Christian names after saints indicate that association with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So at this feast of the Holy Name of Mary, we praise her greatness and seek her aid at the invocation of her holy name. We also consider our own Christian name which was conferred at our baptism, when we became part of this family of Christ. Through the intercession of Mary and our patron saints, may we deepen our love of Christ our brother and love for our family in Christ, the Mystical Body of Christ.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: stpetric - Sep. 12, 2014 8:22 PM ET USA

    A beautiful homily by St Bernard of Clairvaux was formerly assigned to the office of Vigils for this feast. Read it at http://www.rosarychurch.net/mary/maryname.html