The Name of Mary

I’ll be honest. Before I became a Catholic, what Catholics did with Mary was a real scandal to me. Praying to her was bad enough, but when I witnessed my first May crowning, I was completely shocked. To me, the ceremony was nothing short of idolatry. Placing a wreath on the head of a statue felt a lot like a pagan ritual—certainly not anything that a real Christian would do. Of course, I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing. Sadly, at the time there wasn’t anyone who could really explain it to me either.
When I finally got the story on the communion of saints and Marian devotion in RCIA, I felt a bit better about it all. But I never really understood what the Church teaches about Mary until I ran across the various and numerous titles she has been given over the centuries. Over the years, I’ve returned to the Marian titles that are contained in the litanies, as well as to the more unusual ones in contained in an out-of-print book I’ve used rather often called The Dictionary of Mary.
Marian titles come from all kinds of sources: the Scriptures, the prayers of the Church, and the writings of the saints. Some of them—like Cause of Our Joy—are profoundly beautiful. Others, like Help of Christians or Comforter of the Afflicted, inspire hope. Still others—titles like Mother of Mercy, or Second Eve—lead us to deeper reflections on the mysteries of our faith. My favorites include Loom of the Incarnation, Ark of the Covenant, and Undoer of Knots. While every Marian title instructs, there are, however, some that can be a bit confusing. What it means to refer to Mary as an “Enclosed Garden” is not readily apparent to everyone. Then there’s “Mother Inviolate,” a title which leads just about every child who hears it to conclude that Mary wore a lot of purple!
Running through my lists of Marian titles recently, I found one that struck me as particularly humorous. Under the letter “N” was this: Neck of the Mystical Body. Theologically, it makes perfect sense, as we are all connected to Christ the Head through Mary’s willingness to bring Him into the world. Still, I had to giggle remembering the line from the comedy film My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And the neck can turn the head any way she wants to!” While the intercession of Mary is certainly powerful, the combination of that image with the movie just didn’t express it quite right.
Part of being a Catholic Christian is to honor the little girl from Nazareth who became the Mother of our Lord. For many Catholics, Marian devotion comes as a natural response to faith. Others of us, however, can find the culture surrounding Mary rather foreign and uncomfortable. Whatever the case, Christmas is a good time to ask ourselves who the Blessed Virgin is for us, and what she means to us. With so many titles to consider, I believe that there must be at least one that is meant to capture each heart, a title under which every one of us can find in Mary a mother, a queen, a model of faith, a “Lady” that is truly ours.

© Jaymie Stuart Wolfe, 2016

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe

Author of Adoption: Room for One More? (2015), Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight mostly-grown children. She has written and edited numerous books for both adults and kids, and works for Our Sunday Visitor as an Acquisitions Editor. Under Loaves and Fishes Ministry, Jaymie reaches out through word and song as an author, columnist, speaker, and musician. She is a co-founder of Live + Jesus, a group embracing the spirituality of Saint Francis de Sales and promoting the Works of Mercy in daily life. A graduate of Harvard University, Jaymie also holds a Master of Arts in Ministry degree from St. John's Seminary in Boston. Jaymie lives in Massachusetts with her husband and family (and a continually evolving menagerie of exotic and ordinary animals). Follow Jaymie @YouFeedThem or connect on FB, Amazon, Goodreads.

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