Several years ago, I earned the pontifical Mariology degree from the International Marian Research Institute, a branch of the Marianum University in Rome, which is located at the University of Dayton in Ohio. Over the years, I have been invited to give talks on our Blessed Mother, most particularly in the months of May and October, and am very happy to share a mini-course which is based on the word, MARIA:
The letter “M” stands for Mother. Mary is Mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true man and was named Theotokos, God-bearer at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. She is the mother of all believers and was given to all of us by Jesus as He hung upon the Cross and said to St. John, “Behold, your mother” (Jn. 19:27).
Pope St. Paul VI named Mary the “Mother of the Church” on November 21, 1964 during his speech at the end of the third session of Vatican Council II. The groundwork had been laid by Venerable Pope Pius XII who in the encyclical, “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” on June 29, 1943, wrote: “Thus she who, according to the flesh was the mother of the Head, through the added title of pain and glory became, according to the Spirit, the mother of His members.” The Litany of Loreto, which was developed in the Middle Ages and approved in 1587, includes these titles: Mother of our Redeemer, Mother most chaste, and Mother most admirable. In 1980, Pope St. John Paul II added the title, Mother of the Church to the Litany of Loreto.
The letter “A” is for Advocate. An advocate pleads our cause to help us. Mary is nearby Her Son Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven and intercedes on our behalf. We see the intervention of Mary at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee where her Son performed His first Miracle at her behest (Jn. 2:1-12). There was no more wine and it would have been an embarrassment to the bride and groom and their families to send the guests home. So Mary approached Jesus and simply states, “They have no more wine.” After this she told the waiters, “Do whatever He tells you.”
This was her farewell address since there will not be another spoken word of Mary recorded in the Scriptures. Even her apparitions over the centuries have reiterated this message: “Listen to my Son.” As our advocate or helper, Mary has encouraged us to pray, make sacrifices for sinners and to not offend God any more, as she told the children in Fatima in 1917.
The letter “R” in the word Maria is for Regina, Latin for Queen. We honor Mary as Queen of the Universe. Through the millennia, she has been depicted in iconography, music and devotion as a Queen. We think of the prayer that begins, “Hail Holy Queen.” This gave doctrinal substance to an idea which recurred frequently in biblical foundations, church teaching and testimony of the Fathers, beginning from the Council of Ephesus in 431 are mentioned to testify to the royal dignity of Mary.
This was made official by Venerable Pope Pius XII who established the Feast of the Queenship of Mary on October 11, 1954. In a prayer composed by him, we are reminded that the gentle reign of Mary can help each of us in the way we live our lives, “Reign over the minds of men, that they may seek what is true; over their wills, that they may follow only what is good; over their hearts, that they may love only what you yourself love.”
The letter “I” in the name Maria stands for Immaculata and represents the privilege of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. From the early centuries, the Church’s attention to Mary focused on her sinlessness. In 1830, St. Catherine Labouré received a vision of a medal, known as the “Miraculous Medal,” with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Blessed Pius IX made this a dogma on December 8, 1854: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.”
The last letter, “A” refers to the Assumption, or taking up into heaven the body and soul of Mary. Venerable Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, solemnly defined the Assumption as a dogma stating that “the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This feast is celebrated each year on August 15. Her Assumption is connected to her Immaculate Conception since she, who was preserved from all sin, was also preserved from the corruption in the grave. We ask her help to help us that we too can be faithful to her Son on this earth, may we one day, like Mary, receive the crown of glory and be with Him forever in heaven.
By Rev. Matthew R. Mauriello, S.T.L.