During September, Marian liturgical observances come in rapid succession. On September 8 we celebrate the Nativity of Mary. On the 12th, we have the Name of Mary. The day after the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, there falls on the 15th the second-class feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (a memorial only in the Novus Ordo calendar).
The birth of Mary was a turning point in salvation history. Early Christian writings suggest that Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, were childless for many years. Hence, Mary’s conception and birth hearken to Old Testament symbolism of special women who, having been barren or beyond childbearing, miraculously conceive: she was destined for something great. Mary was the first person ever to have been, through a singular grace from God, born entirely untouched by the stain of Original Sin. God prevented any macula of sin from being passed to her from her father. Hence, she was the perfect future immaculate mother of the Word Incarnate.
Names and naming were important for our ancient Jewish forebears. Names told stories about a relationship with God. When God destined certain figures for a key mission in the history of salvation, they received from Him a new name. Scholars are divided about the root and meaning of the name Miriam, Mary, and its variants.
It could come from the word for “beloved”, or for “rebellious”, or for “bitter”. That last is intriguing, because that root gives us also myrrh, which has heavy connotations. Jewish spouses were bathed and perfumed with myrrh before their wedding nights and the deceased were treated with it before being entombed.
Speaking of Mary’s Sorrows, they are Simeon’s Prophecy, the Flight to Egypt, the Three Day Loss of the Christ Child, Meeting Jesus Carrying His Cross, the Crucifixion and the Deposition. We traditionally celebrate these Seven Sorrows as a feast, which seems counterintuitive. Mary’s sufferings were wholly tied to the will of God and the merits of her Son’s saving Sacrifice. Her will was perfectly harmonised with God, and so her sorrows have great value in grace.
The Holy Cross stands in the midst of these Marian feasts. She stood close beneath it. Holy Church will now undergo a kind of crucifixion. Mary is still standing close. If you choose to stay up on the Church’s Cross, she will be near you. As you watch it loom, ask her help to understand.
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