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 Israel 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.
Philological studies 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 spokesmen, 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.
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.
Did you ever wonder how Mary is the Seat of Wisdom or a Spiritual Vessel?
Mary's titles express how the Church presents her, but some are obscured by language and culture. The book A Sky Full of Stars, explains all her titles in the litany so we get to meet Mary face to face.
Bishop Socrates Villegas says, "A Sky Full of Stars must be an obligatory reference material for religion teachers and seminarians. It helps the reader to see the Virgin Mary within the perspective of sound biblical theology and solid Catholic tradition... [and is] also easy to understand."