National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

The Meaning of ‘Mary’

Our Lady’s Holy Name Has a Power All Its Own


September 7-13, 2008 Issue | Posted 9/2/08 at 12:37 PM


Midway through 1683, Western Europe was on the brink of being overrun by Turkish invaders from the Ottoman Empire. Everyone, including the papal nuncio, pleaded for help to John III Sobieski, King of Poland and devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sobieski marched his army toward Vienna, Austria, for the decisive showdown. On the way, under a banner of Our Lady, they prayed for assistance at her shrine in Czestochowa, Poland. On the morning of Sept. 12, Sobieski worshipped at Mass, then confidently told his outnumbered army, “Let us march with confidence under the protection of heaven and with the aid of the most holy Virgin!”

Sobieski led the charge and sent the Turk invaders packing. Vienna and the Christian world saved, Sobieski credited the victory to God alone.

In 1683 Pope Innocent XI extended the celebration of the feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, observed in Spain since 1513, to the universal Church.

The memorial ended after Vatican II but was reinstituted in 2002 by Pope John Paul II. Looking back, it would be hard to see John Paul’s move as anything less than prescient — maybe even prophetic.

Innocent XI requested a Rosary to be said before the battle and asked everyone to pray for the defense of Christian Europe, noted Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception Father Kazimierz Chwalek, director of evangelization and development for his order.

“Our founder, Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski, a confessor at the royal court, is the one who blessed the army,” he explains.

“When we’re overwhelmed and there seems no way out, God sends his Mother to assist us,” adds Father Chwalek. “He sent a king who loved Our Lady and had a great devotion to her.”

As the Church celebrates this memorial every Sept. 12, more and more Catholics are resolving to honor the Most Holy Name of Mary always — recalling her qualities and calling ceaselessly upon her assistance and protection.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri was way ahead of us on this score. “After the most sacred name of Jesus,” he wrote in his 18th-century classic The Glories of Mary, “the name of Mary is so rich in every good thing that on earth and in heaven there is no other from which devout souls receive so much grace, hope and sweetness.”

What’s in Her Name?

“Names are significant,” reminds Marianist Father Thomas Thompson of the University of Dayton’s Marian Library. In biblical times a person’s name represented the very nature of the person. When we say “Jesus,” we think about his whole person, adds the priest. Similarly, with Mary, calling on her name is “an opportunity to reflect upon all the qualities of a person and all the various aspects of a person’s personality. … We think of Mary’s faith, suffering, love, cooperation with God — all summed up in Mary.”

Explains Father Chwalek, “From this title, Holy Name of Mary, we unpack the dimensions of who she is to us.”

Calling her by different titles is the explication of the Most Holy Name of Mary.

In the Church, he points out, her name is used throughout generations with reverence and love as the Mother of God and our mother — and for the extraordinary intercessory powers God granted her.

Maternal Protection

In Westlake Village, Calif., the Lauer Family — Paul, Laura and their five children ages 7 to 17 — know the results that come from honoring Mary’s name and calling upon her many times each day.

In their hectic lives between work and family activities, the family is guaranteed tranquility and peace when they sit to pray their family Rosary. “The message I hope my kids will have when they get older is that when we spend time with Mary, she comforts us and calms things down,” Paul says.

The family finds plenty of opportunities to call on Mary. During family vacation in Yosemite National Park this summer, Paul took the two older teens on a hike up Half Dome mountain, with its precarious cables up the granite face. “For my 17-year-old daughter Corinne Marie to go up these cables was a major commitment,” says Paul.

The whole way up she kept praying Hail Marys. “Climbing that precarious mountain, my daughter turned to the Blessed Mother,” he says. “It’s a testament to the fact she has a relationship with the Blessed Mother from the years of our praying the family Rosary and talking about the Blessed Mother. Not only does Mary give us peace, she gives us strength.”

Paul Lauer also recognizes Mary as the power we need if we are to defeat evil and conquer whatever stands between us and heaven. That means calling on Mary in times of temptation.

“The tradition of the Church is that, when you call upon her name in moral depravity, she is especially efficacious in this area,” says Father Chwalek, noting that our society is plagued with this problem. “In Mary we see how we can become, by the gift of redemptive grace of Christ, totally faithful and pure from the heart before the Lord.”

Indeed, St. Alphonsus recognized that her powerful name gives strength to turn from near occasions of impurity. And, centuries earlier, Thomas à Kempis affirmed that devils fear Mary so much that, on hearing her name, they run like escapees from a raging fire.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s advice? “In dangers, in perplexities, in doubtful cases, think of Mary, call on Mary; let her not leave your lips; let her not depart from your heart.”

Laura Lauer shows her family how to do that every day.

For starters, she tells the children to call on Mary when they’re restless and can’t sleep, as well as before tests, when afraid and when they need some help.

“Even the youngest one knows to call on Mary,” she says. “It’s nice to have another mother, even for me as a mom.”

As Paul observes, one of the first words a baby says is “Mama.” It’s just as natural for Catholics of all ages — Mary’s spiritual children — to call on her holy name.

When we do, we have Sobieski-esque victories of our own to tell the world about.

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen

is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.