What Do You Call Mary?

Author: Michael Monshau, OP

What Do You Call Mary?

Michael Monshau, OP
Professor of Liturgy, Homiletics and Spirituality at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas (The Angelicum), in Rome

Drawing closer to Our Mother during May

For most Catholic hearts, the beauty of springtime that continues to unfold with the arrival of May is enhanced by the recognition that this particular month is dedicated perennially to Our Blessed Mother. The month will begin with "May Crownings" (i.e. ritual celebrations performed early in May at which an image of the Blessed Mother is reverently crowned, typically with a beautiful arrangement of flowers) in Catholic homes and parishes around the world, often to the refrain of Mary E. Walsh's 19th-century hymn, "O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May".

In many ways, expressions of love for Mary rank among the products of Catholic devotional spirituality at its best. As Our Lord assured us from the Cross, Mary is our Mother. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est,"Mary has truly become the Mother of all believers. Men and women of every time and place have recourse to her motherly kindness and her virginal purity and grace, in all their needs and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their moments of loneliness and their common endeavors.... Mary, Virgin and Mother, shows us what love is and whence it draws its origin and its constantly renewed power". The Pope's carefully chosen words — "Mary has truly become the Mother of all believers" — with its inclusion of the expression "all believers" introduces an intimate aspect of Marian devotion that can intensify and personalize one's relationship to Mary.

If Mary is mother to us all, it stands to reason that many of us will use a particularly beloved name for Our Mother, and indeed, it is part of our Catholic devotional patrimony to do so. Whereas Mary has many names and titles, and whereas many of us use many of these names and titles for her, the favored use of a particular name for her draws each of us individually into greater intimacy with her. The same is true for the various communities to which we belong.

When any group, including a family, chooses a particular name or title for Our Lady, their use of that title draws them closer to Mary and to the mystery represented by the title in question. For example, if a family prays to the Madonna under the title of "Our Lady of Peace", the designation of that title presents an image of Mary who has a mission: the mission of peace. It is well known that many friendships (and even marriages) are formed because people become more intimately acquainted with each other by working together, by sharing a project; it becomes easier to relate to another if we share a mission with them.

By calling upon Mary as Our Lady of Peace, it is reasonable to believe that not only will the believer find peace in his life through Our Lady's intercession, but that person will somehow become more intimately grounded in peace and become more of a peacemaker himself. One cannot pray to Our Lady of Peace without being reformed into a more ardent peacemaker himself or herself. Any title used in prayer for Mary draws one more intimately into the virtue or mystery represented by that title. Therefore, it behooves one to identify one's own favored title for Mary. Nations, religious communities, municipalities and families have been doing precisely that for centuries, and in doing so have been drawn into a closer relationship with Mary while simultaneously finding themselves drawn more deeply into her work.

Consider the special bond that exists between Our Lady and various nations through the unique titles by which she is known in certain lands. For years Slovakia was victim to invasion and pillaging from foreign sources and was sustained in hope through the devotion of her people to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Accordingly, in 1717, the Slovak Bishops asked the Pope, Benedict XIII, to proclaim Mary as the Patroness of Slovakia under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows. She who had endured suffering throughout her own life lent strength to a nation that was on all-too-familiar terms with suffering.

A 17th-century Luxembourg, afflicted by plague, famine and the Thirty Years War, turned for consolation to Mary, as Comforter of the Afflicted, and in doing so found a symbol for national identity as well as an understanding mother to guide her through such trying times. In Costa Rica she is Our Lady of Angels, in Cuba, she is Our Lady of Charity and in Mexico she is Our Lady. of Guadalupe.

The faith flourished under atheistic Communism among the Polish people, who knew that politics notwithstanding, their nation was truly ruled by Our Lady, Queen of Poland. La Virgen de la Altagracia is her special title in the Dominican Republic, while her name is Our Lady of the Assumption in South Africa, Paraguay, Lebanon, Malta, Jamaica and France, where 15 August is the national feast day. The Albanians approach Mary as Our Lady of Good Counsel. The national patroness of the United States is the Immaculate Conception, by which title she is also well known in Argentina, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, France, Korea, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, Tanzania, Zaire and parts of the Philippines. The Swiss are devoted to the unusual title of Our Lady of the Hermits. These are, of course, only a small number of examples. Whatever name a nation uses most commonly for Our Lady creates special bonds for them with Mary, for in having their own unique name for her, they possess a special sign of intimacy with her.

Religious orders also frequently honor Mary under a particular title. For nearly eight centuries, the Gospel preaching of the Dominicans has been inspired by Our Lady of the Rosary, the mysteries of which provide an outline for the Gospel those friars are called to preach. The Servites promote devotion to the Sorrowful Mother whereas the Redemptorists are the faithful servants of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Ever since the young St Francis tried to repair the abandoned church of Our Lady of the Angels, Franciscans have flocked to Our Lady under that title. Of course, in the case of several institutes of consecrated life, their special title for Mary is proudly displayed in the name of the institute itself, such as the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Assumptionists. Every Cistercian abbey is to have its own title for Mary after which that particular abbey is named.

All religious are closely bonded to Our Lady, and for many of them, their Order's use of a particular name or title for Mary is an important symbol that helps to solidify the members of that community to her and to her work in the world, whether that work be promoting Eucharistic Adoration (Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament), devotion to the Heart of Her Son (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart), peace, faith, hope, charity or any number of other virtues or mysteries.

Families, too, can place their homes and family life under the patronage of Mary using a particular name or title, and when they do so, they are also responding to Our Mother's desire to grow closer to each of us and to have us assist her in her work. A family of Polish heritage living in an English-speaking part of the world might find that their home culture as well as the faith that flourishes in that culture is strengthened in their family by claiming Our Lady of Czestochowa as the patroness of their home. People of Mexican heritage living outside of Mexico can do the same with Our Lady of Guadalupe. A family trying to overcome woundedness among its own members may find that Our Lady of Consolation helps to establish healing in that home. Families expecting a new child soon will find that Our Lady of the Visitation teaches them to continue to care for others (i.e. Elizabeth) while they devote much attention to the health of the mother and to preparations in the home for the new arrival. Families in crisis may well find grounding in Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt, the Sorrowful Mother or Our Lady of Hope.

What does it mean to claim a Marian title for one's individual or family patronage? How is that accomplished? To begin with, it can be a highly significant sharing time for a family to sit together and discuss which title for Mary is the most appropriate one for their family. Listening to the other members of the family exposes family members anew to some of the values held by the person who is speaking. Families can meet their own members in a new way simply by listening to the values that emerge as they discuss this topic. It could be a good idea to take several weeks to ponder together the appropriate choice. Perhaps a family pilgrimage to a Marian shrine, altar or church can feature in the discernment process.

Next, the family will want to choose a statue, picture, icon or other image of Mary under the title chosen. This image should be placed in an important location in the home, reminding family members of their choice to place their family and home under Mary's patronage under that particular title. This may well be the image used by the family for its own May Crowning prayer. It might become the family custom to end every family prayer with an aspiration to Mary under that title. For example, concluding the meal prayer with an aspiration to Mary or with the conclusion of the meal prayer and its "Amen", being immediately followed with the words, "Our Lady of Joy [or whatever title has been chosen], pray for us". The family might even choose to follow that custom when they attend Mass together. After Mass, before leaving their pew, one of the parents might quietly intone the family Marian title to which family members will respond "Pray for us". This can happen so quickly and discreetly that it would hardly be observable to anyone else and surely would not disrupt the flow of foot traffic out of the church, yet it could be just enough to bond the family closer to each other and to Our Lady.

Each title for Mary has a feast day of its own in the annual calendar. Some of the more obscure titles might take a bit of research to find the date; searching the internet or the parish library for that date can be a good catechetical activity for youngsters. Furthermore, most dioceses have a diocesan library of some kind that one can visit if arrangements are made ahead of time; in some instances the diocesan office of religious education has a similar collection of resource materials. An arranged visit to such a library can serve to introduce the youngsters (and perhaps the adults) in the family to the chancery office or diocesan center.

Once the Marian feast day in question has been determined, this day can become an annual family celebration, a tradition maintained as family time surrounding an important element of our faith. There are many ways in which such a special day can be observed within the home: a special meal, a special entertainment or treat, gifts designated for the mother; the inclusion of a specially chosen guest — perhaps the parish priest — for dinner. The godparents of the children (or other specially chosen guests) might be invited in for a family Rosary and refreshments that evening. The family may want to have a discussion identifying ways in which they are assisting Mary in her mission under the family title (for example, if the title Our Lady of Peace has been chosen, family members might reflect on her feast day about how successfully they have been peacemakers in the recent past.)

A family might decide to choose a different family title for Mary each year, using a day like 8 December, Mary's birthday near the end of the year, to choose the next year's title. Finally, when Catholic neighbors or friends learn about this custom in the home, they too might want to establish it in their own homes. What a fine gift it would be to Our Lady in May to tell her that you were somehow responsible for encouraging devotion to her in another home.

May is Our Blessed Mother's special month. When the Church institutes such observances, it is her intention that the faithful find ways to participate in that observance. Choosing a particular name for Mary can draw all Catholics into a closer observance of Mary's month. Does your family have its own favorite title or name for Our Blessed Mother? For that matter, do you?

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12 May 2010, page 6

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